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Kevin's Thoughts!

Maybe you agree, maybe you don't… find out!

Over the past few decades, but especially the past few years, I’ve read a lot of books on why things are going downhill. Several of those are mentioned elsewhere in the book section of this Blog. However, only ONE man has offered a well thought out, if contrarian, solution to this problem: Wendel Berry.

If you only read one book from all of them listed on this blog, please beg, borrow, or buy and READ this one. I don’t normally post the full Amazon “Buy now” link, but for this book I think its worth it. The book is not expensive, and not the least bit laborious to read cover to cover.

Basically, Wendel details why we MUST return to sustainable small-scale farming and how that will  both invigorate the rural economy an led us back to locally produced food for our cities.  One example concept is “acres per eyes”: If a man is plowing a field of 10 acres with a small tractor and sees a 1/2 acre of ground that is too wet – ground which if plowed would be compacted and damaged – he will go around it and perhaps plow it when conditions are better. If a man is contracted to sit on a 250 HP tractor and plow a 1000 acres, he is never even going to see that 1/2 acre. Even if he did, he was hired to plow and plow he will.  That year, one small piece of ground is damage, year after year more and more ground is likewise damaged.

I’m not doing the book justice with that example. Please find a copy and read it for yourself. I simply can not recommend it highly enough.

Kevin

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Short Term Emergency Power

– Jun 22, 2010 –

For the short term, buy a diesel generator for the farm (see farm posts). Since people like to eat, I could see farmers getting a fairly big share of any rationed diesel.

For the long term: commercially built solar electric with home build wind power.

Why home built wind? Unlike a solar panel, wind systems have a lot of moving parts. That means they will break. One needs the ability to fix them without a dependance on parts or custom molds that only exist in other parts of the world.

I think draft horses will make a big comeback in rural areas. An hour ride into town (10 miles?) is very acceptible. At the slow speeds, our roads will hold up for a long time too.

– Jun 28, 2010 –

A generator of some type is probably my next major investment. We own a 5KW gas unit which I’ll be taking up to the farm soon – but thats good for tens of hours only (it will run for about 8 hours on 5 gallons of gas).

I’ve been looking at larger units, in the 25KW range, that could pretty much run the house. A tractor PTO unit is one of the cheaper ways to go – but after reading one of the owners manual, I’m pretty sure I’m not thrilled with the concept of shutting everything down every 8 hours to grease the PTO shaft. Voltage is likely to fluctuate a fair amount as load does unless someone is monitoring it full time.

Standalone diesel is an option, but much more expensive. Still, if people want to eat, they will make diesel available to the farmers, so the raw fuel is likely to be available.

Most of the units I’m seeing are propane/LP based. I suppose I could get a large tank and use that. The biggest electrical loads in my house (based on breaker current) is the Range, the Water Heater, and the GSHP. If I had propane anyhow, I could put a gas range and water heater in to keep the supplier comfortable. Suspect such a tank would run a generator for weeks if not longer. The range and water heater are really optional loads anyhow. The GSHP, at 30amps, is pretty light duty honestly (unless, of course, you don’t have those 30 amps).

Lots to think about.

Long term, one needs a hybrid solar/wind system, but thats another post.

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GMO for Biomass?

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
Posted in EnergyFarm & Prairie  | Tagged With: , , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

GMO for Biomass?

/* Originally posted on December 14th, 2009 */

1) Do we want to optimize growth for harvestable biomass? If so, GMO may
help.

2) Do we want to optimize growth for carbon sequestering in the root
system? If so, then THIS branch of GMO research may not help, but others
could.

3) Do we want to mono-crop biomass to optimize productivity of a single
species? I believe that to be THE key question.

Most of modern agriculture is designed around mono-cropping and driving
towards maximum yields for that crop. Our equipment is tuned for it, our
mindsets are fixed on it. I think we all are a bit guilty. Who hasn’t
looked at a recently hayed field and think “Isn’t that pretty!” – it looks
like a big lawn! How many of us see that field and think “OMG – that’s a
wildlife disaster!”???

As long as we are in a mono-crop/use artificial fertilizers to replace the
nutrients we harvest/maximize production and economic yield mindset,
things like GMO are going to have a play. The use of GMO to tweak
fermentablility of corn is proof of that: monocropped, specific target
usage, premium price for farmers, ethanol craze – you bet there was
acceptance of GMO “highly fermentable” corn seed. Of course, you have to
buy that seed every year, so there was economic incentive for the bio-tech
companies to create the seed in the first place.

When we talk about using Prairie fields for bio-mass we have a couple of
problems.

First, its bio-diverse. That means our equipment isn’t as well
suited to harvest it as a highly tuned mono-culture tool would be.

Second, its bio-diverse. That means that some species are likely to be at
their prime for harvesting and fermentation at different times than other
species.

Third, its bio-diverse. That means that any fixed harvesting schedule is
going to favor some species over others, eventually changing the mix in
the fields, which would require retuning our processes. People don’t like
such variability.

Fourth, its bio-diverse and those raising it are
wildlife conservation oriented. That means that optimal harvest type and
techniques may well be in conflict with wildlife goals. Think GRP – you
can’t harvest until July 15th, but most hay grass peaks in
nutrition in June. July hay is still good (I have many, many bales of
it!), but its not as good as June hay (lower protein content, less
digestibility, etc.).

Fifth, its not sustainable. You can’t remove plant
mass and the associated nutrients on a regular basis without replacing
those elements not associated with rain and air. Every good farmer knows
you want to bring hay to your fields for your cows to eat, not sell it to
your neighbor. The first improves your fields, the second, however
slightly per year, degrades it.

So what to do? Two options occur to me:

1) Create a sustainable program where items like mulch are added to fields
on a regular basis to replace nutrients removed as bio-mass. NPR ran a
report on that option, as part of mulching to sequester carbon and
generate revenue (some industries would pay to dispose of their waste, our
mulch, on our fields), last week. This would be key. Perhaps it could
even be closed cycle, with the fermenting plants returning their waste
material to the farmer (which I think they currently sell as cattle
feed?). In any case, some source of nutrients would be required, and
would have to be provided in a balance with nutrient removal for
sustainability. That’s just simple chemistry.

2) Shift from Biomass generation to meat generation. The trick here is
providing equal grazing pressure to avoid the cattle favoring one species
over another. Management Intensive Grazing would do that… but as the
name implies, is manpower intensive. Supplemental mineral blocks and the
like would go a long way to replacing the nutrients taken off the land
when the cattle are sold. Again, recycling the cattle waste, in the form
of bone-meal and similar products, would be required to make this practice
sustainable.

I do believe sustainability is the key: having a system in place where all
material going out is balanced with new material being added back into our
environments. The good news is that the primary elements – CO2, water,
sunshine, even some nitrogen (bacterial nitrogen fixation and compliments
of lightening storms), come to us for free. The rest (trace elements,
phosphates, calcium, potash, etc.) needs to be balanced or eventually our
fields will fail.

Currently there is a grant proposal pending that will form the Nature
Friendly Meat Producers Organization if approved. It is my hope, as board
president of that organization, to consume some of its energy addressing
this issue as well as its primary goal of creating a value add marketing
label.

Please share your thoughts!

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Its the 11th hour…

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
Posted in Energy  | Tagged With: , | No Comments yet, please leave one

Its the 11th hour...

/* Originally posted in November, 2009 – but still very relevant */

Highly suggest anyone reading this watch the videos at:

http://blog.green-life-innovators.org/2009/11/07/the-brutal-end-of-the-growth-paradigm/

I’ve had the concerns reflected in these videos for 30+ years and suspect its really 11:59pm (the meaning of that will become clear when you watch the videos). Its not good news, but that doesn’t mean its not real.

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On sustainability, oil, consumerism, and the American way of life...

Originally posted on November 28th, 2007.

Yeah… that’s a lot to talk about, but I have some strong feeling that I thought I’d post.

First, sooner rather than later we need to learn how, at least as an American society but eventually as a species, to live in balance with the planet. Its my understanding that approximately half of the oil predicted to be contained in the planet has already been pumped and burned. We did most of that since about 1920. For a large part of that time, the USA was the biggest consumer. In the last decade or so, China and India have been trying desperately to catch up. Some provinces in China, for instance, have banned e-bikes on the flimsy excuse their lead based batteries pollute – but cars are just fine! In any case, we are sucking the planet dry much faster now than in years past. What took us 80 years to do (the first 1/2 of the planets oil), I fear we are likely to match in the next 15 or so years.

Of course, hydrogen is the long term solution – but hydrogen takes power to produce, power generated today by gas, coal, and oil. Nuclear Fission plants could help – but I’m believe this is only about 100 year supply of Uranium on the planet AT CURRENT UTILIZATION RATES. E.g. Use the Uranium 10X faster, and 100 years becomes 10. Nuclear Fusion would be a nice long term solution – but we have been working on that for decades with little progress.

Wind and solar can make up about 15% of our need, shy of some unparallelled improvement in solar cell performance.

Conservation, as most people think of it, isn’t going to do it either. I think we need to learn to live on something like 1/5th the power we use today, not just a little bit less – a WHOLE LOT less.

Perhaps technology will help, at least for some workers. The Information Age employees a large number of people that honestly could work from home if they had good teleconferencing and collaboration systems. If those folks could truly never have to come into work, they could forgo cars altogether if they lived in a city with other services within walking distance.

Such changes will not be popular. The “Will of the People” can not be served and achieve this. Democracy is going to have a hard time doing this. Imagine a politician that recommended highways be REDUCED in traffic capacity to encourage more people to work from home! If he wasn’t shot, he sure would never get re-elected.

Running out of oil will probably be the savior of many politician’s careers though. It will be SO dramatic, it will overshadow our consumerism economy collapsing. Sure, in the great depression, buying things was a great way to reignite the economy – the vast majority of the money simply flowed from hand-to-hand. Today it flows from hand-to-China. We gave them the money, but buying their lower cost products, for them to in turn buy $1T (yes, that’s 1000 Billion dollars) of our debt. Now we can’t afford to tick them off, or they can retaliate and crush our economy. We basically sold them the USA one Barbie Doll at a time. We don’t need a balanced budget, we need a healthy surprise to pay down our national debt!!! Only then will we truly be in control of our economy, and our national priorities, again. Instead, today we fight a $250 Billion/Year war in Iraq that we borrow money to fund. It was recently reported that next year, its predicted we will spend about $1 MILLION PER SOLDIER in Iraq! This is not sustainable. We will bankrupt ourselves trying to do the “right thing”.

I’d like to think the world will be a better place for my children, but I fear at best it will be a very different place. I suspect the Amish have it right – or at least they are closer than we are. Faith aside, they live a much more sustainable lifestyle than most of the rest of the USA.

Me? I’m planning on exploiting the system for the very selfish goal of providing a foundation for MY family to survive the upcoming change. Surviving is fundamental. I seriously fear many will not. I can’t guarantee my family will – but I can try and tip the balance in their favor. This is at least part of why we have recently purchased land, and will soon be domesticating it into something like an Amish farm – fairly self supporting. Good luck to the rest of you.

Kevin

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Life Beyond Oil? Whats that all about?

Posted by Kevin on August 19, 2011
Posted in EconomyEnergy  | Tagged With: , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

Life Beyond Oil?  Whats that all about?

The world has peaked on oil production. Consumption rates are up, and oil, as a non-renewable resource, is rapidly being depleted. A few points:

1) New Technology: Yes, new methods of extraction will probably be able to recover a fraction of the 1/2 or so of oil left in the planet. However, the easy, cheap-to-get-to-half has already been burned. Where we once extracted oil at an energy cost ration of 28:1, its now closer to 3:1. At 1:1 it makes no sense to continue even if its technologically possible.

2) Shrinking Planet: A common concept is that the world is shrinking – not physically of course, but its becoming easier and easier to teleconference around the world, get fresh fruit from other hemispheres, etc. In fact, compliments of cheap oil and Internet technology, I meet and married my wife from half-way around the world. Once oil becomes rare, and the cost goes up, the world will get bigger again. The airlines are struggling now, what will happen to them if fuel cost skyrocket? They simply go out of business. Atomic powered airplanes are not likely…

3) Growth: Growth is good right? Its required by common thought: City’s must grow to thrive, companies are either growing or dying, New Home Starts are a primary indicator of economic well being. Its all based on cheap oil. We saw it briefly around 2008-2009 when gas jumped to $4/gallon. What happens when its $10/gallon? Will people still want to commute 50 miles a day to work?

4) Food: Modern agriculture has been defined as the process of turning oil into food. We use natural gas (methane – often found under oil where the pressure and temperature break down the more complex oil hydrocarbons to simple CH4) as a feedstock for nitrogen fertilizer (via the Haber process that converts nitrogen gas (80% of air) and hydrogen into ammonia). We use massive amounts of diesel to power water pumps, plow fields, spray chemicals, spread fertilizer, cut hay, bale hay, move hay, ship grain, dry grain… not to mention trucking and flying the products to where they are needed.

5) Electricity: Natural gas is viewed as the “clean” fuel for running electric generators. Alas, its non-renewable. Recent discoveries have bought us some time in the USA, but that too will run out. The USA has NO new nuclear plans in progress (an Apollo class effort to use our remaining oil to build breeder reactors and power plants would help a lot). Fusion would be great, but other than H-bombs, we haven’t made a lot of progress in that space in the past 30+ years.

6) Plastics, pharmaceutical, etc.: Oil is the basis for Plastics, and for many pharmaceuticals.

So what happens when oil becomes rare?

A) The world gets larger again. More things will need to be done locally. Walmart’s “Rolling Warehouse” stops rolling.

B) Mechanized “efficiency” dies: Manual labor replaces or augments mechanized labor. Farms become MUCH smaller, possible horse driven again. Mega school districts break up into smaller ones with walking distance of homes as the school bus system breaks down. On the positive side: Many new jobs will be created. Suburbia contracts, painfully, towns need to be (re) created with smaller shops within walking distance of most homes. Can’t do that when the homes are spread around on 1/2 acre lots.

C) Big cities are in real trouble. Any building over about 5 stories tall becomes unusable.

D) Life expectancy will probably go down. More manual labor means more accidents – there will be a toll in human life.

E) The population will decline to the solar and natural carrying capacity of a region. Good-by Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc.

So when will all this start? How long will it take? Thats anyones guess, but my feeling is that we are at the proverbal “knee in the curve”. I doubt we have 10 more years of life as we know it.

Thoughts?

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