Power Outage

I’ve been spending most of my time at the mud hut. Issues with the Internet connection, along with a steady diet of manual labor, have precluded regular postings here. But difficulties with the off-grid solar system inspired this particular post. If all goes according to plan, both issues will be resolved shortly.

We received a batch of day-old chicks during the middle of the week, and we put them under a heat lamp 24 hours a day. By Friday night, the combination of the heat lamp and the massive electrical use by the power tools I was using to build a goat shed had drawn down the batteries on the solar system. We noticed when the power went out at about 11:00 p.m.

About that goat shed: It will hold two milk goats, starting this summer. Stunningly, given my lack of skills with all things non-academic, I built it myself. It’s fully insulated, the same size as the office I’ve occupied at the university for 15 years, and protected from predators. It has a poultry-netting sub-floor beneath the dirt floor, just in case we want to use the pen for a second flock of chickens (which is a good idea, especially when younger chickens are about to be introduced into an existing flock). The pen has an east-facing window and a west-opening Dutch door. Obviously, I’m as proud as a new mother. But I digress.

Back to the Friday-night power failure: It took us a while to figure out we couldn’t solve the problem without more sunlight hitting the solar panels. By that time, it was approaching midnight under a moon that was nearly full on a beautiful summer night. Since the six-year-old was sleeping soundly, and the adults were all fully awake, the next step was obvious: time to eat.

As we know, man cannot live on bread alone. Occasionally, there must be a beverage.

So, we ate, drank, kibitzed, and communed in the light of the monster moon at the edge of our breezeway. Several hours later, drunk on conversation within and about nature, I collapsed in a satiated heap of fatigue produced by a long day of honest work. The incident reminded me that electrical power is a nice luxury — we’ll all have a difficult time without it, for sure — but the absence of electricity, at least temporarily, has its own rewards.

As regular readers are aware by now, I’m Mr. Silver Lining, the ultimate optimist.

Meanwhile, a dear friend and colleague sent me a note about a forthcoming documentary film. Blind Spot will be shown by Sustainable Tucson this week (it can be viewed free of charge here).

According to the film, we have put ourselves at a crossroad, which offers two paths with dire consequences. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent ecological collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. The film then goes on to offer a choice: your money or your life. As if we you and I have the opportunity to make that decision. As if we have free will. As if, even if we chose economic collapse to save the planet and our species, the world’s politicians will go along. As if.

As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (ecological collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.

Later this week, I’m headed out for a personal research excursion. I’ll be visiting the heart of the Renaissance, peering straight into the birthplace of western civilization: Florence, Italy. And also to Venice and Rome. I’d like to see where it all got started, before it all comes down.

Comments 29

  • Can I trade both of the above for what’s in the box?
    When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. ~Daniel Webster, Remarks on Agriculture
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. ~H.G. Wells, The Outline of History

  • While I am here trying to watch this “Blind Spot” movie link, there are these pesky Citibank commercials. (!)

  • Hi Guy —
    Our family made a European vacation when I was seventeen years old, and one of the stops was Florence. I thought it was a very fascinating place and I definitely found the Renaissance era more personally fascinating than the Roman Empire artifacts in Rome. If I went there now I would try to get into the countryside as well as the city. Raptors :)
    Today I was hungry when heading out in the morning to work. I wanted a breakfast sandwich at McDonalds or Jack-In-The-Box. I drove up to three different restaurants in Petaluma before hitting the highway. The restaurants were all closed at 8:30 in the morning because of a power outage. I don’t know what cause the blackout, but the businesses in several shopping centers were closed because they cannot even open their doors without electricity. I wonder what financial losses were experienced by stressed business owners because of circumstances completely beyond their control. Cheap abundant electricity has followed cheap abundant petroleum. Now many businesses literally have electric doors, electric faucets and paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms, computerized, electric cash registers, computerized ordering systems for restaurants, etc. A change in the power availabilty will cause hardship unimaginable just ten years ago. Yes, we are atop a cliff with a slope downwards ahead of us.
    Have fun overseas and bring us back some condensed knowledge.
    Stan Moore

  • Guy, What did the baby chicks do for heat when the power went down? Bantam hens do a great job of incubating eggs and rearing chicks without having to turn sunlight or oil into electrons.
    Please keep us posted on the details of your learning curve with solar. In my new real estate “career” the first two properties I sold were solar homesteads here in Portal, and just listed another one. I know way less about solar than I should as I can’t answer many questions from clients re. solar. A number of people here are already living very well off the grid, and more are choosing that way of life every day. What is making it possible is that quite a few of the local handyman types are up to speed now on all things solar, and it’s reached a critical mass of some sort, so that newcomers have a broad base of expertise they can draw on. Do you have this kind of local help where you are?

  • I hope you enjoy the trip. I hope you’ll bring back pictures, if you’re so inclined :)
    As for the homestead, congratulations on your continued efforts!

  • Bubbleboy, sorry about those pesky commercials. And from Citibank, no less!
    Stan, thanks for your comment, insightful as usual.
    Helen, fortunately we still have grid-tied power in the mobile home on the property, so we put the chicks under the heat lamp in a spare bedroom. In the future, we’ll either leave it up to the chickens to raise chicks or we’ll figure out a less intensive system for heating the chicks. In the old days, people put them behind the wood stove to keep them warm.
    We had our solar system installed by Pete Noce of Positive Resources. He’s an excellent designer/engineer, and he worked with a local installer. We’re quite pleased with the panels, Outback inverter, charge controller, and deep-cycle batteries he recommended. Unfortunately, we had to rely on somebody from eastern New Mexico because the locals don’t come highly recommended. But he was prompt, professional, and willing to come across the state to help us. There are a couple local folks who are relatively knowledgeable about solar systems, but they’re making too much money doing other things to spend time on installation or maintenance of solar systems. Hopefully, they’ll be able to help us out down the road.
    Charlene, I don’t take pictures. But my wife will be taking a camera. I’ll try to post a photo or two. I’ve been meaning to post an update from the mud hut, complete with a few photos, so I’ll try to make that happen this summer, too.

  • Well, Citibank plays such an unwitting accomplice in the whole message. It could not be more perfect. Even the revolution is sponsored by our inescapable shipmates.

  • Way to go, Guy. Your over-use of power tools knocked out power all the way to Petaluma, and ruined Stan’s breakfast! I’d say you owe him a fried egg once your chickens mature. :)
    What sort of personal “research” will you be doing in Florence? I’m glad you are taking the opportunity to do some travel while it’s still possible. There are a lot of wonders to be seen in this world. And I’ll second Charlene’s request – doesn’t matter who takes them, we want to see some pictures!

  • It is good to know that someone had a sheltered life:
    – the office I’ve occupied at the university for 15 years, and protected from predators –

  • It’s been a week since the last blog–are you people all comotose out there ?
    If our Professor Emeritus can humble himself by getting muddy at the mud hut,the least the rest of you can do is keep this site alive in his absence.
    I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and know how to take care of uncooperative people—so get with or else !!

  • we have a life frank,
    have you read orlov’s latest?

  • Hey Frank… I’ll second matt’s thoughts, but wish ya well.

  • Professor Guy —
    I hope you are having a grand time in Old Firenze and its environs. I am posting this because I have the library book in hand right now and want to mention it for archival purposes.
    The book is called: “When Giants Fall: An Economic Roadmap for the End of the American Era” by a veteran economist named Michael J. Panzer, who is described as “a twenty-five year veteran of the global stock, bond and currency markets. He is also what might be called a “financial doomer” and author of a recent book called “Financial Armageddon”. I think it is important to note that the current characteristics of our world financial, securities, banking, credit … systems are so precarious that insiders such as this man can see the reality of impending collapse.
    Here is a small quote from his concluding chapter:
    “The (spasm) that now seems to be unfolding is unlikely to be narrow in scope, shallow in depth, or short-lived in duration. In fact, myriad strains taht have built up over the past several decades will continue to break loose in seemingly endless sequence, careening into one another like a long line of cascading dominoes. Tensions and imbalances that have been repeatedly ignored or otherwise kept under wraps will swell up and split open, triggering far-reaching economic, social, political and geopolitical disturbances that spur further irruptions.”
    This guy understands the concept of Peak Oil, but I don’t think he understands it fully or associates it with the financial crisis at a philosophical level. But he sees enough evidence in the architecture and behavior of the financial community and world governments to see it all falling apart in short order. Imagine what he might think if he was an ecological economist and if he factored in global climate change! He might be even more pessimistic!
    Stan Moore

  • I was thinking of buying treasury bonds,
    trying to get my head around the fear of inflation,
    anyway, a good book has just been published called
    ‘Resilient Cities. Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change.’
    by Peter Newman. The author is somewhat a sceptic of the die off
    scenario, acknowledges the enormous challenges none the less.
    Just found out our Mayor here is a peak oil sceptic.
    What can you do?
    Frank, this brings me to the reason for the lack of blogging –
    1. I tie of my bullshit, probably as much as you do.
    2. I have been busy doing very ‘important’ things at
    wotk – designing land mangement plans for horse and pony clubs.
    3. Busy reading Orlov.
    4. It feels like a dead end sometimes, – ‘environmentalism is dead’,
    meaning it is easy to be critical, very difficult to be constructive
    and come up with solutions. Orlov said something like the ‘purchasing
    of industrially made environmental products is an oxymoron’. The thing
    I like would to see from Orlov is more solutions, answers, a way forward.
    There you go I have rambled again.
    at the end of the day our collective economic conundrum
    is purely about bio physical limits – we are biological
    automatons, we are intelligent, but not wise

  • Aw come on, Frank, you know we all go comatose when our fearless leader, Prof Em Guy, is MIA.
    Seriously though, it’s springtime here and I’ve been spending all my available time in my garden and orchard, planting, weeding, nurturing. Anyone know how to fight mildew in a way that does not require buying chemical fungicides?

  • Congratulations Wendy,you are forgiven.
    I’m so proud that I alone took the initiative to wake this group up!!
    For one whole week this group was totally silent.Look at all the blogs since then—
    Just proves that one person can make a difference.
    Prof Em Guy,continue your heroic work at the front,your faithful servant Frank will take care of the home front.

  • besides, the reason for ones absence,
    at the risk of offending everybody,
    the obsequiousness and fawing shown
    on this blog is downright un australian! :)
    All forms of authority are questioned
    here. (I just sent an auto cad file to my
    manager entitled ‘poof cakes’, he requested
    some changes to an engineering dwg.
    We have a love hate relationship).
    A friend commented about a friend,
    that the reason that aussies dont too
    well in high up in the corporate world
    in the US, is that we ask too many
    questions and challenge authority far too
    often (he worked for Exxon). In his experience,
    the US corporate culture found the questioning
    refreshing, amusing, challenging,
    but not particularly well appreciated
    in the upper end of the corporate world.
    Interestingly/conversely we have far more corporate
    transparency than you guys. The reason that
    Australia is the only country in the OECD/advanced
    economy not in a recession is down to good luck,
    good management and decent corporate governance.
    Besides, our bankers were collectively risk adverse
    when it came to those ‘weapons of mass destructions’/derivatives,
    credit default swaps, WTF etc.
    get back to turning your compost Frank

  • Matt:
    You haven’t been paying attention.I am more critical Of Prof Em Guy than anyone else here by far.To wit: I told him he was a Narcissistic Egomaniac, that he engaged in shameless nepotism,that he was immature for thinking that his family was “mocking him ” by playing Christmas carols during the holidays,that he was uncivilized for not appreciating the culture engendered thru the drop.
    Guy,did I leave anything out ?
    And Matt, the word is fawning.Just be grateful you are Australian,one of my favorite peoples.
    Also Matt on at least one occasion I told you that you were an idiot and “you should be ashamed of yourself”–remember.
    As the conscience of this blog site,I’m fully aware of the burden that I’m to bear for undertaking that responsibility.
    And Prof Em Guy,you don’t have to delete this–Matt knows that I’m not being personal,
    but merely offering constructive criticism.

  • Matt:
    Americans take great pride in bragging about their ancestors who came over on the Mayflower.My friend Mary has two.
    Likewise Australians take the greatest pride in crowing about their convict ancestors.
    Do you have any?

  • Now don’t we have fun ???

  • thank god somebody is alive on this blog!
    For all the bullshit I blog, finally
    somebody bites back, ah Frank you have
    made my day.
    Excuse the typos, I should
    write the comment in word and then
    paste it in.
    Every white Australian would have convict
    heritage. This goes without saying,
    simple genealogical arithmetic.
    (stealing a loaf of bread was enough to put
    you on a ship to Australia – the punishment!?
    now the poms want to migrate here).
    Hence our robust disrespect for authority.
    Similarly we have tall poppy syndrome here, similar
    to Jantes Law. The reason why Greg Norman loves the US
    so much. Success is applauded, here people
    try to pull you back down. We are like
    the Dutch and the Scandinavians more than we think.
    Downside – the culture does not foster entrepreneurs,
    risk takers, and in Australia there is a bit of
    anti intellectual culture. The best discussions
    on peak oil, environmentalism comes from Britain
    and the US. There is a dearth of real and sustained
    debate on the big issues here.
    You still like Australians even after all
    my nonsense, I havent been trying hard enough. :)

  • Surely Guy is off hiking the Appalachian Trail!
    He’ll be back later. -You know.
    Who can pass up Naked Hiking Day?

  • Sorry, I’m deployed to the Middle East right now; this is the first time I’ve had time to post…
    This is at Stan’s June 8th post:
    Stan electrical power is far more important than you know, or maybe you do know and are just keeping all others in the dark. (Hehe get it?) Electrical power not only powers the machines you’ve talked about, it also powers the water treatment facilities that all large metropolitan areas are totally reliant on for clean water. Without them all water in metropolitan areas would be totally unpotable within a week. Imagine how *THAT* would go over with the masses! Outlying areas in the US still largely use well water so they’d probably be spared until the cities exodus.
    Matt: There’s loads of Aussies here with me. Decent people and I’ve found that we (Americans and Aussies) actually have far more in common than Americans and those from the UK. Well, except Vegemite. Tastes like rotten beer with extra butt funk for highlights. The Grilled cheese and Vegemite was actually pretty good, but I’m not going to be making that stuff a habit.
    Guy, Are the predators around those parts thick? When we had problems with poultry it was usually the rats stealing the chicken feed. The coyotes were dispatched with nightvision. The rats found their demise from the working mind of my friend’s eight year old son who he told would get two dollars per rat. This was later refered to as “Gary’s Great Economic Mistake.” The rats knew where the feed was so they chewed a hole in the top of the fifty gallon garbage can just large enough for them to get in. The kid removed all the feed and instead filled the garbage can half full of water and left it for the night. The next morning, Gary said, his son came screaming for Dad to “Come see this!” He expected to only find one or two rats drowned in the container, instead he was disgusted by nearly fifty dead rats and others floating on the mass of corpses like a disgusting raft. After putting the live rats out of Gary’s misery, they counted out fifty eight corpses. $116 to an eight year old is BIG money, and nothing breeds ingenuity quite like an eight year old with money held under his nose.

  • Turbo,
    good to hear from you, I was wondering what happened to you.
    Dont be too surprised by the aussies, we have a tendency to speak
    our mind far too much, we are unfortunately very open and we lack subtlety.
    I noticed this about myself/aussies when I was in Denmark.
    good luck with your deployment, – be safe.
    What will you be doing there specifically?
    I like my vegemite with crumpets,
    my daughter likes it stirred with pasta
    and butter. (italian/aussie cuisine!)

  • Turbo,
    good to hear from you, I was wondering what happened to you.
    Dont be too surprised by the aussies, we have a tendency to speak
    our mind far too much, we are unfortunately very open and we lack subtlety.
    I noticed this about myself/aussies when I was in Denmark.
    good luck with your deployment, – be safe.
    What will you be doing there specifically?
    I like my vegemite with crumpets,
    my daughter likes it stirred with pasta
    and butter. (italian/aussie cuisine!)

  • Dear Professor Guy —
    Thought you might be back from Italy by now. I was out of town for a few days, visiting the Tejon Ranch in southern California, which is an amazing place that I think you would appreciate as an ecologist. It is the largest privately owned parcel of land in California, around 400 square miles at the confluence of several life zones. Mojave Desert Joshua Trees converge with Great Basin Big Sagebrush and junipers with large swatches of coastal oak savannah (11 different oak species on the ranch!) and high elevation spruce and fir. The ranch was founded in its current form in 1843 and grazed, but the damage from grazing appears impressively minimal. The native grasses are mostly missing and cheatgrass is pervasive in certain areas. But riparian areas are in good shape and water runs in creeks year round in most places. Best of all, I saw lots of hawks and a number of golden eagles and some owls and some of the best remaining foraging habitat for California Condors, which is the primary reason I went there. The oldest California Condor was flying overhead one day, as detected by radio signal, but he stayed out of view. Maybe it was because my host was the man who trapped the same bird from the wild in the late 1980’s and took it into captivity for captive breeding. That bird is now living free in the wild and parenting wild offspring, which is a testament to the successful aspects of California Condor conservation to date.
    I hope your current travels are as enjoyable and satisfying as mine…
    Stan Moore

  • Finally back to the mud hut and able to reply, but I’m still suffering Internet issues at the mud hut. I’ll try to post a new entry later today.
    Wendy, your question about personal research should be answered when and if I’m able to post an entry.
    Turboguy, predators are very thick here, and range from mountain lions and coyotes to skunks and rats. But the coop is well-designed and is essentially predator-proof. Ditto for the feed, for which I built a box elevated by sturdy, pressure-treated legs and encased in corrugated tin. So far, so good.