Peak Oil, Peak Water, Peak….. Chicken?

I came across this article from the Smithsonian today and it did make me do a slight double-take. I’m familiar with the concept of ‘peak’ commodities – the idea that on a finite planet, there’s got to be a limit to how much of any one item you can produce. Peak Oil, for example, is the (commonsense) idea that, given a finite resource that only regenerates over billions of years and yet gets pumped out at amazing volumes, sooner or later the world will have reached its limit on the amount of oil you can produce per day. Depending on how you define “oil”, that peak is generally accepted to have come and gone – 2005, in fact, was the point in time when the oil companies were producing their maimum output of oil-barrels-per-day. Since then the definitions have been stretched a bit to include oil-equivalents (condensates from natural gas, tar boiled into something that flows, etc) but natural crude oil is on the decline. Slowly, but still going down.

Peak Water is a concerning idea for anyone in water-short areas (not most of the UK, at the moment!) as sooner or later you have to face the fact that there’s only so much potable water to go down an ever-increasing number of throats.

But Peak Chicken? That’s a new one on me. Still, the idea is as valid as any of the other ‘peaks’ – sooner or later, you can’t grow any more chickens per day. Here’s a few other ‘peaks’ from the article:

peak corn 1985

peak rice 1988

peak poultry eggs 1993

peak milk and peak wheat both in 2004

peak cassava and peak chicken 2006

peak soy 2009.

Unfortunately, while there seem to be many things we can’t produce in greater quantities, Peak Humans isn’t expected before at least the middle of the century. Simple commonsense suggests that if there’s no more to go round but more people expecting a share, it’s not going to end nicely. All the more reason to try and secure your food supplies while you still can!

SNP – Scotland, No Privacy.

I make no apologies for this utterly political digression from climate change issues. The political situation, legal situation and other factors of the country also play a large part in the thinking of any prepper worth the name.

I dispair of the stupidity and sleep-walking acceptance of Orwellian (and draconian) government interference in private lives in this country. There was Kenny MacAskill’s lunatic plan to force air-rifle owners to register and licence their weapons (thankfully, since he was turfed out as Injustice Minister that seems to have gone on the back burner!) but there’s two more pieces of legislation that Orwell would have been proud of on the cards here at the moment.

Firstly, there’s the Named Person policy, which comes into force next year. Sounds innocuous, masquerades as ‘protection for children’ but is the slim and innocent end of a very big wedge.

In principle, it’s simple. Every child under 18 in Scotland will have a ‘named person’ responsible for their welfare. Well, heck, that’s a parent’s job, right?

Except here the word of a social worker, headteacher or doctor will overule the wishes of the parents, with legal force behind it. Merely because they think a child could be doing better, the Named Person will be able to access any relevant data on the child and his/her family (and I’ll come back to data issues in a minute!) and order changes to the way that child is raised/medicated/educated or whatever.

And how many paedophiles have been unmasked recently amongst the ranks of doctors, teachers, social workers, politicians? The very people who are now being handed ultimate authority over every child in Scotland?

Admittedly, there are some dysfunctional families and some adults with kids aren’t fit to have charge of a pushchair, let alone the contents, but the scope for abuse in this legislation is stunning. A lot of home-educating families I know in Scotland are now planning on leaving this beautiful country – not because they’re abusing their children, but because their children will automatically fall under the ‘named person’ guardianship of their local headteacher – a person manifestly unlikely to appreciate that home education will almost invariably produce a young person who is years ahead of their classroom educated ‘peers’ in every intellectual and social field you can measure. Home-ed kids learn to think for themselves, which immediately puts anyone in the government system against the concept.

And what about the ridiculous situation that 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in elections, but will still be ruled by a state-appointed guardian?

Yesterday a legal challenge to this policy was thrown out by a judge. The challenge was backed by a coalition of various organisations and individuals and claimed that the legislation contravened the European Convention on Human Rights (as the Guardian, indeed, suggested last year) –

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks

I’m just glad my daughter (home-educated after the age of 14) is beyond getting caught up in this, as she’s now in her 20s and away at university.

The second piece of Orwellian meddling by the Scottish Government is in the field of data collection. They plan on establishing an ID database on which every citizen in Scotland will be identified by an ID number and all their data accessible via that number. Allegedly it’s ‘only’ an extension of the existing NHS central registry, which holds information on about 30% of Scotland’s population, but the SNP (does it stand for Snooping Nosy Parkers, I wonder?) wants it not only to include everyone and all their details, but to be accessible by every government agency, including the quangos such as the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

So, in theory, if you drive into the Cairngorms the CCTV will pick up your numberplate and by the time you reach the visitor centre the staff will know your name, address, date of birth, whether your Council Tax is up to date and when you last had a flu jab.

Why do people continue to vote for these intrusive, controlling meglomaniacs? Could it be because the education system teaches them not to read, write, and certainly not to think?

Just imagine what would have happened if the referendum had gone the other way last September. By now, the signs on the border would read: Welcome to Independent Scotland. No knives, no guns, no kids, no privacy, no land ownership, no freedom. Have a nice day.

Off the Scale….

I came across an article in the Guardian today (The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists’ charts) that is lightly-written, yet sobering to read.

Basically, the problem with climate change/global warming is that the Earth’s systems, in combination, hold more heat energy than they used to. In the past, there have been confusions because air temperatures rose for a while, then stopped rising, and denialists assumed this meant that global warming had stopped, too.

Alas, not so. The heat was still accumulating but in a different place, and when scientists looked in the right place, they found that the air temperatures has stopped rising because the oceans had taken over and were warming instead.

So, to get a more accurate idea of how much global warming is taking place, you need to measure both the rise in air temperatures and the rise in ocean temperatures, and NOAA has been doing that. The combined figures reveal how much more energy is being held at Earth’s surface (give or take a few thousand metres either way) as time passes and climate change really digs its teeth in.

Soberingly, NOAA have had to rescale their ocean temperature graphs, as the figures are now off the scale, and this is not the first time they’ve had to do so.

NOAA’s webpage on ocean heat content is here.

 

Back to Prepping

A major part of food security is being able to store what you grow or buy for the future. It’s fine while you can pop down to the shops if you run short of something, but what if you can’t? It’s easy enough to disrupt the remarkable supply chain that ensures food is on the supermarket shelf when you walk in – floods or heavy snow blocking roads and preventing deliveries can happen any time, and more serious problems might ensue from crop failures, fuel crises, war, disease and other geopolitical and climatic events.

One of my criteria for “ideal” storage foods is that you shouldn’t have to do anything to preserve them – they shouldn’t need freezing or chilling. They should just sit in a dark cupboard or a box and not change. If I need to use them in an emergency, the less cooking they need, the better – I might not have the means to cook them, or might not want to advertise “get your grub here!!” with the smell of hot food, if others in the area are likely to be hungry. Tinned foods are one of the “traditional” prepper foods, either shop-bought or home-canned (bottled, in the UK, usually), but dried foods are also good.

The other day, we decided we had a backlog of eggs. There’s only the two of us in the house and despite it being winter, the chickens are still laying quietly away to themselves, although somewhat less determinedly than during the summer! All the same, 20 eggs a week does get a bit beyond us from time to time, so the other day I scrambled a dozen eggs in a very little butter, then put them in the dehydrator. The following day, I ground them to a coarse powder and vacuum-packed six portions of dried egg, which just need a dob of hot water and a stir to reconstitute as scrambled eggs again – or could be eaten as they are, or mixed with cold water. Sealed up as it is and stored in a cool, dry, dark place, it should have a shelf-life of 5 years or so.

Today I’ve started on a new batch of pemmican, which involved boning and mincing 1kg of rabbit meat (from our own bunnies, of course!) and putting that in the dehydrator. Once it’s dried thoroughly, probably tomorrow night, I’ll grind it to a powder and mix with an equal weight of melted beef dripping (doesn’t matter what sort of fat you use, but I like beef dripping) and then seal it up in 300g portions. Each 300g of pemmican will be within a whisker of 2,000 calories, shelf-stable in storage for years, doesn’t need refrigeration and contains everything a human needs to power a very active lifestyle. Pemmican’s not to everyone’s taste but it’s probably the oldest method of preserving meat known. It was the mainstay of the diet of the voyageurs, the canoe-paddling fur-traders of Canada, who burned through 5,000 calories a day (1.5lbs of pemmican) on their journeys. I don’t usually add anything to my pemmican but you can add dried fruit, chopped nuts or honey for variety, or marinade the meat before drying to change the flavour of that ingredient.

So, that’s two good sources of home-grown shelf-stable long-term stored foods for the future.

Migration

We’ve always been a nation of immigrants.

The first humans arrived here in the UK (on foot) sometime before 8,000 BCE, probably ambling over from the French/Spanish coastal plains as the ice retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, in search of mammoths to hunt.

The Celts arrived from the Belgium/France direction sometime around 750 BCE, bringing the Iron Age with them along with the ancestor of Scottish, Irish and Manx Gaelic. Another batch arrived about 500BCE, speaking a different dialect that went on to become Welsh, Breton and Cornish.

The Romans arrived in 55BCE. They came, saw, conquored, left around 450 years later, but left us our first evidence of cross-cultural marriage: the tomb of a Palestinian-born Roman soldier at one end of Hadrian’s Wall, his British-born wife’s grave at the other.

The Anglo-Saxons arrived, possibly before the Romans, certainly some came while the Romans were in residence, more again after the Romans left.

The Normans, famously, turned up in 1066AD.

I could go on – the first British Jewish community arrived in 1066AD, the Roma arrived sometime about 1500AD, etc.

The point about all these invasions, settlements, immigrations and arrivals is that they arrived in moderate numbers. A few dozen here, a hundred there. They settled down and became part of their communities – albeit, in the case of the Normans, as lords and masters. We’re used to economic migrants, asylum seekers, people looking for safety and security here after leaving somewhere worse off. We’ve also produced plenty of migrants of our own – Canadians, Americans, Patagonians (Welsh-speaking Patagonians, even!), Australians, New Zealanders, and so forth.

More recently, we’ve started to see increasing unhappiness in the UK with the current migration situation. It’s not as if we native-born British are exactly a minority in our own country – latest census data suggests we still form the overwhelming majority of the population, about 91.7%. Yet we still don’t like to see headlines like illegal immigrants quadruple in 3 years or Home Office loses 174,000 illegal immigrants. I certainly don’t like it when people arrive from other countries in search of that ‘better society’ and promptly import all the religious, legal, social, etc values of the society they’re fleeing, then insist that we extend tolerance to these values. If you want to come to the UK to work, settle, raise your family, become part of the British community, then fine. If you want to bring your own language, religion and so forth, keep ’em to yourself and off the street. (And anyone who wants to go off and become a terrorist, just stay there. You’re not welcome here and I deeply resent paying for your luxurious stay in a UK jail out of my taxes.)

Yet if we’re having trouble with the current rate of migration, what’s it going to be like in a few decades, when potentially “hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people would have to move” from environmentally unsustainable countries because of climate change? It’s not just a few Inuit villages sliding into the sea as the permafrost melts, or Tuvaluans as their islands are inundated – it’ll be the entire population of the Tropics as the temperatures rise beyond endurance, crops fail and water supplies run low.

People who face death by thirst, starvation or inundation by rising waters don’t really have many choices. They can stay where they are and die, or they can migrate to somewhere that they believe may be better. How many choose to sit and die?

Which means, of course, that all the places currently wrestling with increasing migration are going to see the problem go exponential in coming years. Europe already has an ‘under siege’ mentality developing as thousands of North Africans head across the Mediterranean on anything that floats, and despite the hundreds who die trying, they still prefer to risk it than stay in their own countries in poverty. How hard will they try when it’s a matter of life and death, not just more money?

How do we handle that many immigrants? They won’t accept being told to go home (I wouldn’t, under those circumstances!), they won’t wait patiently for paperwork before arriving, they won’t allow themselves to be rounded up and repatriated.

We’re in a slightly better position here than most of Europe, at least in theory. We’re an island. If things get desperate, we can at least consider blowing up the Chunnel, stopping cross-channel ferries and grounding aircraft. They’ll have to swim to get here, or build boats – you can walk to mainland Europe from Africa or Asia, just as our distant ancestors walked out of Africa and settled the rest of the world.

They’ll still get here, though, and then what? My imagination’s vivid enough to see what’s coming. Don’t politicians have imaginations?

On The Up: The Keeling Curve

Some time ago I posted a bit about the Keeling Curve. It’s a simple little thing, not hard to understand – every day, someone goes up to the top of Mauna Loa and takes an air sample, then measures the amount of carbon dioxide in it. When Charles Keeling started doing this back in 1958, the average CO2 was about 313ppm (parts per million),with a little seasonal variation.

In May 2013, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400ppm for the first time. Last year, it exceeded that amount on March 12. This year’s benchmark crossing-400ppm-date?

January 1st.

It’s going to rise all the way from here to May or June before it falls. What’s this year’s record top figure going to be?

Remember that initial starting figure of 313ppm, in 1958? That wasn’t a lowest-figure-of-the-year, that was an annual average. So, what was the lowest figure recorded 2014/15, remembering that the Curve generally hits its low point in about September/October?

396ppm.

In 2013/14 that low point was 393ppm.

It’s well worth having a look at the record of atmospheric CO2 over the last 800,000 years. Most of that record, of course, is derived from ice core samples and not direct measurements, but if that spike at the end doesn’t worry you, all I can say is: you’re not like me. It worries me a lot.

It re-inforces other recent research results indicating that climate change has jammed its foot on the throttle and is heading straight for the edge of the cliff, and we’re still worrying about our economies and whether or not we’re paying enough into our pension pots.

Shouldn’t we be thinking about uncontrollable mass migrations on a scale never before seen, as approximately 23% of the world’s population decides living within 30 feet of sea level isn’t clever in a more hurricane/typhoon prone world? Not to mention the dropping crop yields as heat-stressed rice and wheat fail to grow normally? Does anyone think those hundreds of millions of climate refugees will wait for visas and immigration paperwork?

Don’t forget, the warmer it gets, the more positive feedback loops kick in to ensure it continues getting hotter, faster. Replacing reflective white sea-ice with heat-absorbing dark water, melting perma-frost releasing the frozen bogs of the tundra to rot and produce methane, destabilising methane clathrates to release (yet more) methane…. these all push the foot harder on the climate change pedal.

What about brakes?

Sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions can cause short-term climate cooling by preventing sunshine from reaching the ground, reflecting it back into space high in the atmosphere – but do we want lots of volcanic eruptions? Are we willing to bet on nature conveniently tipping off a few thousand extra large volcanos just when we need them? (At any time, about 1,500 volcanoes in the world are active – and they’re not slowing things down any at the moment!) And in any case, lots of sulfur dioxide in the air means lots of acid rain coming back down, sooner or later. Remember the troubles that caused, back in the 70s and early 80s?

How about more clouds? Clouds also block sunlight and reduce the temperature at the surface. Unfortunately, to get more clouds, we’d need more water vapour in the air and water vapour (unlike the water droplets in clouds) is a greenhouse gas, so that one may not work so well either.

Eventually, the Earth’s natural cycles will deal with all the carbon we’ve liberated into the air – but it will take hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years. Eventually, sea creatures building their shells from carbonates and dying, sinking to the seabed and forming silt will become new chalk and limestone deposits. Eventually, rocks weathering in the mild carbonic acid of rain will chemically react to remove the cardon dioxide from the air.

Any volunteers to wait that long? No?

There’s only one way to slow down the acceleration of climate change, and that’s to stop putting more carbon dioxide (and soot, and methane, and water vapour) into the air to begin with, which means we (humans) need to stop burning fossil fuels. Still no sign of any movement in that direction on the part of humans as a whole, so I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Which means, logically enough, that we’re still heading towards that cliff, pedal to the metal.

We ain’t seen nothing yet. But we’re going to, and I’ll bet we see it sooner than anyone’s expecting.

And it’s official….

2014 was the warmest year on record, globally, according to NASA.

The BBC are reporting that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century. Since we’ve only had 15 years since the turn of the century (allowing 2000 to count in there, of course) and the instrumental temperature records go back to 1880,  that’s fairly damning. (In case you’re wondering, that other ‘warmest’ year was 1998 – so not very far back!)

Couple that with the research that was published a few days ago on sea level rise trends that indicates the sea is rising 25% faster that was thought (3.2mm per year may not sound like a terrifying amount but it’s worse than the previous estimate!) and it looks like climate change is still accelerating – and the rate of acceleration is increasing.

Bad news for the kids. Not good for the rest of us, either, but we won’t have to live with the consequences for so long, since “the rest of your life” gets shorter as you get older.

If you’re planning on moving to the seaside, have a think about rising tides and storm surges – and don’t live too close to the tideline!

The End of Oil?

Well, no – not quite yet. But, following my post the other day about the amount of fossil fuels we can’t afford to burn, I came across an interesting piece on the reasons for the current oil price crash that makes sense to me.

I should put in a disclaimer – I’m no economics whizz and I don’t really understand the oil industry even though I live near Europe’s Oil Capital (Aberdeen) but I’ve been wondering what the Saudi game was for weeks now.

I’ve known for years that you can judge the rough price of oil by looking out to sea as you drive along the A90 north of Aberdeen. If there’s not a ship in sight, the oil price is high and they’re all in harbour, cheerfully paying harbour dues, or out at work around the rigs. If it’s low, they start anchoring in Aberdeen bay with just an anchorwatch on board, avoiding the charges but also without the work.

I have never, in 20 years up here, seen so many ships sat in the bay as I saw this afternoon, on my way to drop my daughter at the train station.

The oil price has been plummetting ever since OPEC failed to agree to limit their production, which is fine for the motorist and when the heating oil bill arrived the other day we certainly had no objection at all – but it does have bad effects for other people. So why did the Saudis decide not to limit oil flow this time, for the first time, in order to protect the price of oil?

Was it a way to drive the US fracking/Canadian oil sands firms out of business so the Saudis could have a bigger share of the pie afterwards? Was it to make life difficult for the Russians? Was it to put pressure on their great rivals, Iran, who also rely heavily on oil exports for income?

Possibly all of the above – but possibly they have another ploy in mind.

Think about this. If you know that 82% of all the world’s hydrocarbons will have to be left in the ground, and you know that the world’s governments are (very, very slowly) creeping towards agreements on limiting and taxing carbon emissions, then what’s the worst thing you could have? Large unexploited oil reserves, maybe?

Better get them out, sold and convert the currency into something tangible, perhaps, before anyone starts restricting the oil market?

Is this the Saudi game? Are they pumping oil at full volume on an exceedingly slim profit margin just to get some return while they can?

If it is, I doubt they’ll ever admit it. In the meantime, it’s squeezing Russia’s profit margins, it’s bankrupting US fracking companies and it’s hammering North Sea oil companies. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the first warning that the end of oil could be coming to an economy near you, sometime in the not too distant future.

Flowers on New Year’s Day

The BBC is carrying a story tonight about the annual survey of British plants in bloom on January 1st. I’ve been vaguely aware of this survey before but I’ve never seen anything like the results they’ve had in this year. Short of hitting us on the head with a sledgehammer, could nature drop a heavier hint about climate change? Actually, now I think about it, this is hitting us on the head with a sledgehammer!

This year, 2015, saw a grand total of 358 species of flowering plant, in the UK, in flower on January 1st. That might not sound too startling…… until you find out the average number from previous years is 20 or 30!

Here’s the story. Now let’s hope that the fruit trees don’t follow suit – they could get walloped with frost in February and March (given that there’s an inch of snow here at the moment!) and wreck the 2015 fruit harvest before it even gets started.

Ten White Rabbits….

…have just left their mum. They haven’t fallen off any walls, they’ve just moved across the shed to their own big, spacious cage under the window, with a litter tray at each end. They haven’t stopped running joyously around since I moved them!

Jezebel looks relieved, and did a few joyous prances of her own on the floor as I was cleaning out her hutch.

They’re a good size, a nice warm weight in the hand when picked up. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say they’re nearly a pound apiece already, so Jezebel’s been feeding them splendidly! They’re also nicely even, without any obviously bigger or smaller ones. All in all, a very nice litter, and Jezebel’s held her condition despite doing so well by them.

Silver’s bad leg is starting to take some weight again and we’ve reached the end of the meds, to our joint relief. Catching him twice a day and persuading him to swallow the end of a syringe while I squirt stuff down his throat wasn’t something either of us really enjoyed very much. He’s still limping, but he’s definitely improving today. He exited his cage this morning with the old flair, leered at Jezebel, sneered at Tigger, rubbed his chin on everything in reach, rolled in all his favourite spots and touched noses with all the babies, so he’s feeling back to his normal feisty self, anyway!

And after yesterday’s milder weather, today the wind is back and has brought some snow to play with it, too! It’s sticking, for the first time this winter, so we’ll have to see how things look tomorrow. My daughter’s due to catch the lunchtime train back to Glasgow, so fingers crossed (a) we can get there and (b) it’s running!