Off the keyboard of RE
Discuss this article at the SUN Table inside the Diner
A couple of weeks ago we held the first Convocation of Diners down in Texas. We did this in conjunction with a workshop held at Monolithic Domes, a 1 week intensive course where you learn the principles and practical aspects of building ferro-cement domes, for use as Domiciles, Grow-Domes and pretty much any type of use imaginable for a structure. This article is partially about that, but really more about the wonderful time those of us who went down had there and what the purpose is for coming together as a community.
I don’t leave the Last Great Frontier too often anymore, it makes me nervous every time I board a plane for a trip to the lower 48. First off I hate going through the TSA checkpoints like everybody does. This time, I was carrying a boatload of electronic equipment and was sure I would get the Full Monte from the Goons, but happily it wasn’t too bad, they only ran one of my bags through the scanner twice and I only set off the alarm once forgetting to drop my cell phone in a plastic bin. On the way back, I was REALLY fortunate, winning the LOTTO of TSA Pre-Approval on my Boarding Pass, which allowed me to not have to take off my shoes or take my Laptop out of its bag for separate scanning, and get on the much shorter line at Austin’s airport for Flight Crews and various VIPs with lots of airline miles who pass through these checkpoints on a weekly basis because they travel so much and burn so much Jet Fuel. Not sure why I was so designated as a SAFE Flyer, but it certainly was nice not to have to take my shoes off for the trip home.
The arrival in Austin had just about everything go according to plan, we were in communication regularly through the marvel of the internet to coordinate the Pickups at the Airport and then make the drive to Eddie’s McMansion through the Austin Traffic. We were wedged in pretty tight in the rental mini-van LD & GM drove in from South Carolina, with their two boys in car kid-seats and 3 doomers wedged into the back seat. Sidestepping the traffic was a challenge, and the GPS and Cell Phones were out in force as we worked our way around it to finally make it to Eddie’s place.
This was a first IRL meeting for all of us, so there was a little nervousness about the meeting, but for the Doomers from the Diner, everybody turned out to be pretty much just like the personality on the Diner, so we relaxed with each other pretty quickly. More worrisome was Eddie’s family, since they are not 100% on board with Doom, so we did not want to make a nuisance of ourselves there.
I did get a chance to do a walk around of this space though, to have a look at some of the projects Eddie is pursuing there. Eddie is Mr. Project, he is SERIOUS about actually doing stuff to try to achieve some food and energy security for his family. He’s also a pretty well to do Dentist, so he has options on this most people do not have, but at the same time is a very generous and open guy who wants to try to make the things he experiments with available to more people.
After the Meet & Greet at his house, we headed out for the “Toothstead”, a 40 acre part of a Ranch Eddie bought a few years ago as a Retreat for when TSHTF. As Texas type property goes, it is quite beautiful with a stream running through it that flows when there is decent water falling on Texas, which unfortunately is not too regular these days. After our Convocation Party and Rain Dance on Saturday though, we had a downpour on Sunday morning. Even with the drought there though, it’s still a very pleasant and bucolic place, and not all that far out of Austin proper either.
This caused me to ponder some on the Zombie issue. It is difficult enough to negotiate your way to one of these outlier properties with a car and GPS unit, its pretty hard to imagine how people who have no cars will get out there in a SHTF scenario. You would have to ride MILES on bicycles, all along the way vulnerable to attack. After the first wave comes flowing out of the Big Shitty, locals will have the Shoot to Kill and Take No Prisoners attitude pretty quick. I don’t think it is realistic to figure that roving gangs could make it more than 20 miles outside of suburbia.
So you probably are reasonable safe on such a property, if you have enough people to protect and defend it, not so much from roving Zombies as from other Locals. This means many areas even fairly close to Big Shities might be survivable.
Zombie defense was not a real big concern during the Convocation though, what was much more a problem was just how far you had to go and how much time it took just to get a Six-Pack of BEER! The closest convenience store selling beer was like 30 minutes away BY CAR!
Now, if you are truly self-sufficient, you will of course be brewing your own beer, but this reinforces how big a change you will face after TSHTF even if you happen to be fortunate enough to have a remote retreat you can get to while you still have a tank of gas left. Is life worth living without On Demand Beer available at least until midnite every day? I wonder about that.
Fortunately though we did have working Carz with full tanks of gas, and mostly stayed well stocked with the Elixir of Life. Saturday morning we had the first of the fabulous breakfasts whipped up by LD, who established himself as King of the Kitchen and flipped over some delicious eggs courtesy of his South Carolina based Chickens. These eggs travelled several hundred miles safely in the rented mini-van though, so they were not exactly fossil fuel free food before final consumption.
Saturday Night was our Big Party, complete with singing and dancing courtesy of WHD and lots of good musing about Doom. We went into the wee hours, until finally retiring to sleep on mostly Air Beds, courtesy of some factory in China made from fossil fuels by the magic of polymer chemistry.
I’m not trying to highlight the hypocrisy involved all along the way here of a bunch of people all concerned with sustainable living flying in to meet from places as far away as California and Alaska, but rather the dependance we have on fossil fuels and easy travel to live the life style we do. The lifestyle change involved for all when this goes bye-bye cannot be understated, and nobody will adjust to that overnight. Really what you need to concern yourself with is how to manage the transition, what things are needed and how to best prep up for the transition period.
The biggest part of that Prepping up which motivated this convocation was the Workshop at Monolithic Dome Institute, run by David South who has been in the biz of building Domes since way back in the 70s. Over time Monolithic has become the premier Dome construction company in the world, with over 4000 of them sprinkled around the globe used for everything from Warehouses to Schools & Churches and many homes as well.
These domes also are highly dependent on the embedded energy now available from fossil fuels to build, though once built are very durable and energy efficient structures. In terms of preparing for transition, the energy spent in building these structures is way better spent than in simply Happy Motoring each day around to Walmart and Mickey D’s.
The Domes also provide a reasonable transitionary form of housing in a world where Climate Change brings danger from many corners. They are resistant to wildfires and earthquakes, often the only buildings left standing in the aftermath of one of these calamities. In places vulnerable to floods and hurricanes, they stand up to them also, and Monolithic has been involved in building replacement housing everywhere from Haiti to the Phillipines in the aftermath of the cyclonic storms which hit those neighborhoods over the last few years.
Besides their use as domiciles, the Domes also represent about the best chance we have for maintaining food supply through climate change. Inside a dome, you can control everything from humidity to CO2 content of the atmosphere, and through intensive techniques like hydroponics and aquaculture achieve yields 40X what typical industrial agriculture achieves, using a small fraction of the amount of water and fertilizer that this method does. With both water and fertilizer more difficult to come by at higher prices all the time, it only makes sense to start transitioning to these methods ASAP. Grow domes are not just being built here in the FsoA, but places like Bahrain and Oman as well, where their water supply and food security is in EXTREME danger right now. The more places that grow domes can be built NOW, the better that we can transition into a world where Climate Change is wreaking havoc with traditional forms of food production.
With all of this in mind, we are working on setting up a company to build domes, mainly at the moment with the idea of providing affordable housing as more people slide out of the middle class, but long term with the idea of using them as a means to develop sustainable communities with secure housing structures. The techniques that Monolithic currently uses for Dome construction have a limited lifespan here, and there is only a short window of opportunity to put up as many as possible, so the more people involved in building them, the better.
Over the weeks and months to come, we hope to have good models available at reasonable prices which provide good and comfortable living spaces that will LAST for generations, much like some of the older housing in places like Wales, built out of stone and lived in by generations now for centuries.
Ideally in my mind, as a society and civilization, we would martial up here a construction project that was national if not global in scope, much like the WPA built infrastructure like the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, this is not how the economic system is set up these days, so it falls to individuals to take on this work, and the only way to do that is to set up companies to do it. Like it or not, under the current economic model everything costs money, so to build domes you have to figure out how to pay for them. Like flying down from Alaska to learn how to do it, helping to develop a building company for domes can be seen by some as hypocrisy in action. I will live with this criticism, because there is no better alternative I can see, though I am always looking for one and open to new ideas.
It remains an open question as to how deeply climate change and the disappearance of copious quantities of available energy will affect the existence of Homo Sapiens. There are more than a few people these days who think it will all end quite soon, in Near Term Human Extinction. This may be true, but it doesn’t mean you need to give up today on trying to find a way out of the deep mess our civilization and the planet is currently in. In the very worst case scenario that NTHE is a correct hypothesis, the effort may buy a bit more time for the great experiment with Sapience that is Homo Sapiens, and it gives you something to do also.
In the best case scenario, we will find a way to weather the storm, and build a Better Tomorrow.
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4 June 2014, Wyoming, debate with H. Leighton Steward, who often represents the fossil-fuel industry. Read about Steward here.
Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 30 readers at Amazon.