New Year, New Normal?

I’m referring to our weather.

There’s a basic difference between weather (the stuff that goes on from day to day) and climate (defined as averages taken over at least a 3-decade period). Admittedly, what we’ve been experiencing recently by way of floods might just be weather.

On the other hand, the fingerprints of climate change appear to be all over this year’s weather (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors).

It gets wet in the wintertime. This is not news. Being an island sat in the path of prevailing maritime winds, the UK can achieve ‘wet’ all year round but generally we do get more in the winter than the summer. We had floods in 2012-13 that were pretty devastating. We had floods in 2013-14 that were even worse. Now we’ve had record flooding across a massive sweep of the country starting in 2015 and more still forecast for the next few days at least.

In case anyone missed it, there was a hurricane in the Atlantic in January 2016. They aren’t supposed to show up until June. There was also an iceberg spotted off Newfoundland, where it shouldn’t have been until April. Greenland suffered a mysterious melt-water event just after Storm Frank dumped a load of hot air over that area of the world, at the beginning of the month. Hurricane Alex dumped more hot air into the Arctic last week. Arctic sea-ice, which should be growing rapidly in the depths of the Arctic winter, is at very low levels and practically stalled for a bit in early January (look at the graph of sea-ice extent on the link and you can see the growth of ice flat-lined for several days).

I’m not just listing random events, by the way. All will become clear.

All of this brings me to Storm Jonas. Like Storm Frank, Jonas started life by walloping the US East Coast and is now moving offshore, through very much warmer than usual North Atlantic waters, heading for a meeting with a pool of colder than usual water in mid-Atlantic. When Frank encountered the cool pool, the effect was to supercharge the storm with increased winds and moisture, and Frank then blew right into Britain. Jonas is forecast to do exactly the same, and should (if the forecasts are correct) be landing on our heads from about Tuesday onwards, before swinging up the coast of Norway and delivering, yet again, a dollop of hot air from lower latitudes into the Arctic.

There’s two different points here.

The first one is, should the UK be expecting storms to come off the US continent, spin up again in mid-Atlantic and smack heavily into the UK as a regular thing from now on? We’re on the side of a hill, well above local water courses, but we now know which of our sheds goes below the water table level first and if it rains non-stop for eight days, as it did during/after Frank in this area, we’re going to need a sump-pump in that shed. I’m still in the process of fitting a raised floor to Jet’s cage, because he did not take kindly to 2 inches of water underfoot! The freezers are up on bricks as a temporary measure to keep them running safely. (Bailing out a shed, on and off, for two days is not an activity that I enjoy very much.) Should we be planning for average precipitation to go up from here on in?

Of course, the point about storms gaining force in mid-Atlantic before they hit us brings us to the cool pool. This is an area of the North Atlantic that’s been anomalously colder than average (one of the very few places in the world that still is!) for a couple of years now. It seems to be cooler because it’s fresher water than the normal run of Atlantic seawater, and it’s fresh, cold water because it’s melting off Greenland. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so Greenland’s run-off is sitting on top of the warmer Atlantic salt water like a lid.

This brings us to the second point about these storms. Since the 1940s, when the Arctic temperatures started being recorded regularly, the temperature in the Arctic has risen to or above freezing 3 times, all in December. Storm Frank made it four times, just barely getting under the bar at the very end of 2015. Jonas might do it again this coming week, which would be a first for the records. (Hurricane Alex, incidentally, pumped air across Western Greenland that was 16-22 degrees C above average – but didn’t quite get the temperatures above freezing).

The more hot air goes into the Arctic, the faster the ice melts. The faster the ice melts, the more fresh, cold water goes into the North Atlantic cool pool. The bigger the cool pool, the bigger the storms, and the bigger the storms, the more hot air goes into the Arctic? (Note that question mark – it’s not proven yet, but I’m starting to wonder!)

As a side note, the bigger the cool pool the more it stalls the Gulf Stream going up into northern waters, so there’s a sort of backlog of hot water sat alongside the US east coast as a result, both raising sea levels and providing lots of energy and water vapour for coastal storms like Jonas.

This is beginning to look suspiciously like a positive feedback loop or, as my mother prefers to call it, a vicious circle.

If it is a positive feedback loop, then each time anything increases in that loop, everything else increases too, which means we can expect more ice melt to lead to more cool pool, leading to bigger storms, leading to more warm air going north, leading to more ice melt….. etc.

It’s always been said by climatologists that the Arctic will see most climate change, faster than the rest of the planet. Feedback loops (all, alas, positive ones) will kick in there before anywhere else. There’s another feedback loop that might tie in with the cool-pool/bigger storms/more ice melt loop, and that’s the simple fact that dark water reflects only 10% of the light (and heat) that falls on it, whereas white snow/ice reflects 90%. Replace Arctic ice and snow with water and the energy absorbed in the Arctic rises, which causes temperature rise, which causes more melting….. you get the picture.

Last week, NASA and NOAA joined the various other meteorological/climate science organisations in unveiling their analysis of 2015 global temperatures and, if you line up the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them come since 2000 (and the other was 1998, which was freakishly hot due to a very big El Nino that year). Greenland ice melt has been accelerating and Antarctic melt looks like it will be, too.

Time to get that sump-pump fitted in the shed.

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Intelligence and Information Sources

A bit of a change from routine here but relevant and important to anyone trying to plan for the future.

Where do you get your information from? Do you read the newspapers, watch TV, listen to friends in the pub? How good is their grip on reality? Are you hearing a load of opinionated BS, or are you hearing thoughtful, insightful comment, or are you getting anywhere within spitting distance of an actual fact?

Let’s be honest; it’s practically impossible to sift out fact from fiction in any mainstream news organisation these days, unless you know the difference before you start reading/listening to begin with. All the same, you can get a long way in the process by considering the source of your information. Is it believable? Is it coherent? And who said it?

I’m going to use a story from yesterday as my case in point. This one had some preppers I know metaphorically diving into bunkers, fearing imminent nuke exchanges as WWIII kicked off and NATO rushed to Turkey’s aid against Russian attacks.

Russian Jet Shot Down by Turkey

What happened? Who knows?

(Just as an aside, I still haven’t worked out how, assuming it was true, the Turks shooting down a Russian jet could be construed as Russia attacking NATO. Boot’s on the other foot, surely?)

For most of yesterday, various media organisations picked up this headline and regurgitated it in various ways, with varying degrees of confidence, bombast and caution, depending on their editorial policy and political leanings. I spent most of the day filtering through various sites where I’ve learned to go and find alternative information and what it boils down to is this.

Someone on Twitter reported seeing a flash in the night sky in northern Syria, near Aleppo, after seeing some fighters go by.

This was picked up by social media as “three eyewitnesses in Turkey saw Russian MiG-29 shot down in Turkish airspace by 3 Turkish F-16s which were hovering”.

Hang on a minute…. since when did F-16s hover? Being charitable, this could be a translation error and they might mean ‘circle’, I suppose. Or maybe they can’t tell the difference between a fighter jet and a chopper?

Hang on another minute…. how did eyewitnesses in Turkey see a plane shot down near Aleppo, nearly 30 miles from Syria’s border??

Hang on another minute again….. since when did Aleppo, 30 miles inside Syria, count as ‘Turkish airspace’???

And hang on just one more minute…. hands up anyone who can identify a Russian MiG-29 in the dark as it’s shot down 25-30 miles away!

I envy their eyesight.

Quick check of news reports from the past week or so and I can’t find any mention of the Russians fielding MiG-29s in Syria – they seem to be using Sukhoi 20s, 25s, 30s and 34s.

Could be a Syrian Mig-29, the Syrian airforce does use MiG-29s.

Anything on radio traffic? Apparently not – I regularly check out a forum called DEFCONWARNINGSYSTEM as they have quite a few members who monitor US military radio frequencies; even if the actual communications are coded, you can still note an uptick in activity and correlate that with something actually happening. Apparently the US military is business as usual, nobody’s excited about anything, comms traffic is normal everyday stuff.

What was the US President doing yesterday? Burning up the hotline to Moscow heading off WWIII? Nope, apparently (if you believe his own twitter feed) he was talking about the Trans Pacific Partnership being good for US jobs and workers.

Anything by way of comment from the Russians about losing an expensive warplane? Nope. Not even a ‘no comment’.

Anything from the Turks about starting an international shooting war with a country they’ve recently been doing a lot of expensive infrastructure deals with? Have they ticked off the Russians just before the Russians build them a new nuke power station and a whopping big oil/gas pipeline? Not even a ‘no comment’. They’ve got their hands full with terrorist bombings in Ankara, certainly, but you’d think they’d remember if they’d also shot down a Russian fighter.

Anything from Syria? Not that I can find, but then nobody’s reporting anything Syria says anyway. No cheering self-congratulatory back-slapping reported from any of the rebel groups or IS (not that I can actually tell the difference between any of them!) about downing a fighter, either.

No ambassadors recalled for discussions, no diplomatic notes about millions of roubles’ worth of missing jet, no jumping up and down making propaganda hay by the US – in fact, they’re withdrawing their carrier in the Med for routine maintenance and have just pulled their Patriot batteries from Turkey. Worried much? Doesn’t look like it.

My conclusion? Probably nothing happened, or if anything did happen, it most likely wasn’t the Russians and it probably wasn’t the Turks. Could have been a rebel group downing a Syrian jet inside Syria.

Move along, nothing to see here.

I did notice that almost all the mainstream media did put the word ‘unconfirmed’ in front of ‘reports’ in covering this, and the longer that ‘unconfirmed’ lingered without any confirmation, the less seriously I took the original story. It’s a classic example of Chinese Whispers, when you get down to it – but still underlines the basic principle.

The value of the information you get depends on its source. If the source is undependable, you have to treat the information warily. If the information is dependable, then you can weight the information accordingly. If it’s the Express saying the coming winter will be the worst for 50 years, I ignore it completely. The tabloid press in the UK have been running that headline yearly for the past couple of decades and they’ve yet to be correct once. If it’s the Met Office saying there’s a major storm inbound, then I take notice.

Just to lighten the mood (but stay on topic!) here’s a quick summary of the British press:

Another Referendum

And I’m not referring to the mutterings about Indyref 2 that the SNP are, inevitably, making. They’re as much a one-trick-pony as UKIP and one of these days I’ll do a post about the screw-up they are as a government. Scottish NHS barely getting by, police quitting in droves, education standards plummetting, teacher numbers falling, universities losing staff, GP practices closing…. but that’s another post, another day.

This time it’s the EU referendum, if Cameron ever puts his money (sorry, that should read ‘our’ money) where his mouth is and if the EU doesn’t implode (or explode) first under the current stresses of migration and Eurozone crisis. In a way, I’d be quite pleased if it fell apart by itself since that would save us all the trouble of arguing the issues and falling out amongst ourselves. As a survivor of the Indyref, I know from experience that a referendum is a bitterly divisive process when it involves something that ordinary people care about. The AV referendum back in 2011 was dry technical stuff that only constitutional anoraks got heated about – the rest of us didn’t really see the point of getting worked up about which way to mark a ballot paper.

I will say straight out that I don’t like the EU. I never voted to enter it (I wasn’t old enough) and I would dearly love, for many reasons, to be able to vote to get out of it. Like the Indyref last year, however, there are reasons being advanced both to stay in the EU and to leave it. Some may be specious works of fantasy, as were many arguments last year. Rather than put my brain on the shelf and let my emotions mark the ballot paper, I intend to work through all the reasons on both sides that I can find and come to a reasoned, balanced decision, rather than being blackmailed or brainwashed into things by someone else’s blarney. Or even my own heart.

I think each of the many issues deserves its own post (or, indeed, several) and, in any case, writing about each one will help me get (or keep) my own head straight.

Without further ado, then – the issues as I’ve come across them and thought of them so far (and I may add others if, as and when I come across them):

Sovereignty – the right of a nation or state to govern itself without outside imposition or interference. Leading on from sovereignty, ever-tighter Union and the Euro monetary policy, the woes of the PIIGS and the nature of a federal state.

Business arguments – both for and against. The balance of trade with the EU and outside it, free markets and the common market. The role of Business As Usual in exacerbating climate change, globalism and whether we should abandon current economic/fiscal theories in order to survive.

Immigration, Migration and Border Controls. The right to travel freely, Schengen, etc. A contentious subject that needs discussion on many levels. Involved in this are not just racism, human rights, religion, infrastructure and the Welfare State, but also health, law and order, global overpopulation/overshoot, planetary limits, resources, climate change and a great deal of futurology.

I will try to be objective about each subject but no promises. I am, after all, already biassed and know it, and I’m also a survivalist and an environmentalist so I’ll be approaching each topic from those directions, not from the the normal sheeple perspective.

What Do You Do When The Taps Don’t Work?

This post is inspired by some reports from the States, not anything amiss in the state of our supplies here – yet, anyway!

I came across an article on the current problems in water supply in Baltimore and Detroit that sparked a bit of thinking on my part. Unlike California, the problem isn’t lack of water, per se. Both Baltimore and Detroit have plenty of water available. The problem here is that maintaining the infrastructure to collect, purify and supply water to a city is an expensive job – maintenance costs, wages, etc – that needs to be paid for, and both Detroit and Baltimore choose to pay for this process via billing customers for their water (Don’t get excited about “free” water in the UK – it’s not free, we just pay for our supply via our taxes). If you can’t pay your water bill, the water supply gets shut off.

It’s in the nature of cities in economically depressed areas to have a fair proportion of long-term unemployed, jobless and generally poor people who can’t afford to pay for much. In the case of both Baltimore and Detroit, they’re seriously economically depressed (part of America’s “rustbucket” belt where the death of heavy industry and off-shoring to the Far East has stripped jobs away from the area) and as a result, a certain number of people default on their water bills. There are, by the looks of things, some schemes for assisting those in financial difficulties, but at the end of the day those water pipes still cost money to keep in one piece with clean water flowing through them, so the water companies have to find the money somewhere to keep operating. If people aren’t paying the bills, where does the money come from to pay the workers to fix leaks or operate the treatment plants?

I’m not that interested in the whys and wherefores or the philosophy of paying directly for water or having it tucked into the tax bills. What exercised my mind was scenario planning. Take this a little further (as I suspect will happen to all major cities at some point in the future) and play the mind-games: suppose this happened where I live? Suppose there wasn’t the money to pay for clean water to fall out of taps in endless quantities? As a survivalist, what would I do if the water supply failed, long-term?

Short term, say a few days or weeks, is no challenge at all. We have a big water-butt in the garden and the climate here is soggy enough it stays full, or near-full, all the time, even through we’re using it for gardening and for the bunnies and chooks. We could easily fill up a bucket and pour it into the Berky filter in the kitchen and we’d have pure, clean, safe water for ourselves. If we lived in a city and had some warning (like knowing we’d just had a shut-off notice!) we could fill up containers and store water to tide us over a short break in supply.

But if the supply’s out for months? Or forever? What then?

The usual recommendations are that a human needs 2 litres of water to drink per say, plus washing and cooking water, say about 4 litres a day, per person. 4kg of water. In a week, that’s 28L of water per person. 126L per month. 1,512L per year. Multiply by however many are in your household and then think about the weight-bearing capability of your floors. You really can’t store that much water upstairs!

What if you live in a flat?

And then there’s that perennial problem, the neighbours. If the water’s out for a couple of hours, you can bet someone will pop round to ask if you could let them fill the kettle, because they didn’t have any water stored! All very well when you know they’ll fix the problem in a couple of hours, but what do you do when you’re the only one in the area with a water butt and a filter and the neighbours haven’t had any water for a few days? You can’t go without water for very long – even in a fairly damp, cool climate like the UK, people get thirsty after a few hours and dehydrated after a few more. Bottled water and soft drinks will only last so long and then the local shops will be stripped bare.

After a day or two your neighbours will be losing the plot. Dehydration affects brain function and irrationality will set in. If it’s a choice between drink untreated water or die of thirst, people will drink the dirty water, and since there won’t be water spare for washing, it’ll encourage the outbreak of the diseases of poor hygiene – cholera, typhoid, typhus, E coli and salmonella.

I’ll admit to a big advantage here (and it’s not accidental!); I live in a smallish village in a rural area, not in the middle of a city. We have natural water sources available by way of a small river, various springs and some old wells. I’m not planning on sharing my filter with the village but I can teach people how to build their own, using sand, gravel, charcoal and a bucket, so if (when) our taps run dry in the aftermath of civilisation, hopefully I can reduce the risk of being mobbed by neighbours desperate for a drink.

But what do you do if you live in a flat in a city? How do you supply your water needs without the infrastructure and utilities we all take for granted?

In other news: the bunnies all seem fine and the kits are opening their eyes and beginning to stagger around their cages, beginning the process of driving their mothers slightly demented. I had to pick Jezebel up to get her back in her cage this morning, she wasn’t going back in with those ‘orrible little monsters willingly! In the garden we’re pricking out brassicas and netting them at the moment – both butterflies and birds liking brassica leaves! – and the peas and beans are sprouting nicely. The parsnips haven’t put their shoots up yet but parsnips are often slow so we’re not worrying about it. They’ll turn up in their own good time! We’ve also ordered this year’s tomatoes – last year we were disappointed in our crop from plants bought locally, so we’ve gone back to the mail-order company which supplied our plants the year before, when we had bumper harvests from grafted plants. They should arrive mid-June and we’re looking forward to more big, delicious harvests!

Last August I put some eggs into waterglass as an experiment: my grandmother used to preserve eggs this way during WWII and I’m always interested in food storage methods that don’t rely on a constant supply of electricity so I put 4 dozen away to see how it works. I fished them out a couple of days ago to see the results of the experiment and I’m very pleased: they all looked like eggs, smelled like good eggs, and although when broken the white is very runny and the yolk breaks rather easily (it’d be difficult to get good fried eggs out of them), they taste normal and delicious.

All very good – but then I had 4 dozen eggs to use up! An orgy of cooking and baking ensued and we now have over 9lbs of cakes and another 9lbs of quiche in the freezer.

A Note on Some “Traditional” Prepper Activity.

In other words, the hype and buzz that is ‘bugging out’. (If you’re not familiar with Prepping/Survivalist terminology, I have a small glossary here.)

Bugging out is, quite simply, leaving your home and going somewhere else because it seems a safer alternative than staying holed up in your own abode. Traditionally it’s taken for granted that anyone bugging out plans on living in the wilds like some Rambo-clone, up to the eyebrows in weaponry. For me, the most important question to ask, when some newbie prepper proudly says they’ve packed their BOB and can go in ten minutes, is “where are you going to?”. That, in turn, depends on another question: why are you bugging out to begin with?

The most likely reasons to need to leave your home fast? House fire, gas leak, chemical spill, collapsed ceilings. That kind of thing. You probably need to leave fast, you probably need to go all of a couple of miles to be out of danger and you’ll probably be back in a day or two.

For me, bugging out wouldn’t be in the face of most disasters. I might relocate to a local B&B if the ceilings came down in the house, or if we had a house fire. But if WW III kicks off, a hurricane blows in, we’re snowed in… why abandon a perfectly good weatherproof, warm house in a village where we have friends and neighbours to go hunker in a wood somewhere getting exposure? We’d have to leave most of our supplies behind, our security…. everything that we can’t carry with us! As long as the house is sound, it’s safer and better to stay in it.

Having said that, I do have several bug-out locations (BOLs) planned out in case of need. They’re not spots in the wilds, though. They’re houses belonging to friends and family where I know I’ll be welcome in a crisis. Places I’ve already stashed a few necessities – a change of clothes, for example, a few days’ food so I’m not a burden on my hosts. Equally, those people know that they’re welcome at my place if they’re in need of a bed for a few days. Some are close by, others at the far end of the country and one, even, the other side of the Atlantic (currently…. it’s a yacht and can move around whenever my brother fancies different scenery).

Generally speaking, those pre-positioned caches are simply a useful way to ensure that if I’m travelling around the country, I know where I can break my journey, sleep, scoff a meal, wash and get clean clothes, then move on. Checking on my BOL stashes involves visiting friends or siblings, switching out any older food stores for fresh ones while I’m there. Having a few essentials pre-positioned means I can travel lighter if I need to leave home fast; it may seem unlikely, but as this story shows, sometimes you just don’t have time to round up the pets, grab the kids, pack a suitcase and make an orderly exit.

I’ve never been a big fan of the theory that you need to bury a plastic drum with a complete camp packed into it, somewhere in the woods, either. They can get found by others, or lost because someone builds a supermarket on them. I’d rather put my emergency stashes in the hands of people I trust to stick them in a cupboard out of the way and out of the weather.

The whole concept of bugging out, of course, also brings us to that other prepper must-have, the bug-out bag. I’ve seen some dillies in my time on various prepping sites – the one that I think took the biscuit for me was the sedentary office worker who packed a 75L military bergen with tins of food, a complete cookset including the kettle, a 6-man tent, half a dozen different knives, a stonking big axe and (I had to laugh at this one) his rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.He didn’t have a sleeping bag or waterproofs.  He’d never even picked it up and put it on his back, let alone found out how far he could hike with it!

Some people watch too many films.

Clean clothes, washkit, phone card, a week’s meds if you need meds, a spare pair of glasses if you use them, perhaps a street-legal penknife, a bottle of water, waterproofs maybe, and enough cash to book into the nearest Premier Inn or Travelodge, or buy a bus ticket to a mate’s place. I keep some pemmican in mine but a packet of boiled sweets, or other long-life food that’s easy to store without it melting (don’t pack chocolate!) and needs little or no cooking is useful. If you’re technologically minded, scan all your important documents (insurance papers, birth certificate, driving licence, that kind of thing) and put them on a thumb-drive.

While we’re on the subject of things worth saving, I recently watched a couple of big, tough he-man preppers discussing things they absolutely could not bear to leave behind in an evacuation. These heart-breaking items of value? The family photo album for one bloke and a collection of shoes spanning several years of an infant daughter’s life for the other.

Get a grip, guys! Sentiment will get you killed. If the house is on fire, delaying your escape to grab your daughter is understandable, but risking your life to rescue outgrown shoes? That’s just insane.

Keep it simple, and keep it relevant. If you’ve packed so much kit that you can’t lift it, you might as well not pack any at all. I make sure I can still sprint for a bus, as a useful rule of thumb.

For longer-term evacuations, such as might be caused by TEOTWAWKI, the traditional BOB, designed to cover you for 72 hours, isn’t suitable either. If the country is invaded, WWIII kicks off, civilisation crashes and burns, it’s not going to be over in 72 hours. The whole idea of the 72 hour bag is borrowed from US government advice for natural diasters. If you’re in California and an earthquake strikes, then having 3 days of supplies handy might be all you need. In the UK,  you’re either going to need a lot less because it’s not that serious, or you’ll need to be prepped for a lot longer. Even in the States, Hurricane Katrina proved that 72 hours is a complete misconception – it took a lot longer to rescue everyone from New Orleans than that! If you think back to spring 2014, when there was extensive flooding across southern England, it was May before some places had dried out enough to get the insurance assessors in, let alone fix the damage.

At that point, the INCH bag would be more appropriate and I’ll cover that some other time.

In other news today:- 6 more bunnies in the freezer, the garlic is looking good in the garden and I’ve just been tipped off to a ferretting opportunity that needs chasing up! Ironically, the rifle range is overrun with rabbits….

Drought in the Amazon

I’ve been keeping an eye on a long-running story in the Amazon basin over the past several months; an intense drought which has brought water-rationing to large areas of Brasil and just a few days ago threatened to depopulate Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America and home to 20 million people.

It’s not the first time drought has hit the Amazon basin. In 2010, the Amazon was hit by a devastating drought which caused major rivers to run dry, trees to die and led to extensive fires as the dry, dead wood was set alight by lightning strikes. There were astounding pictures of the Brazilian government flying water supplies to villages normally on the banks of the world’s biggest river, because there was nothing but sand in the riverbed. There was a lot of discussion at the time about climate change in the Amazon basin and what it could mean for the rest of the planet if we allowed the Amazon rainforest to disappear.

As we can now see, the net result of all that worry was….. nothing happened. No new reservoirs, no restrictions on logging, illegal or legal, and as a consequence, here’s another drought and it’s nearly brought Brazil’s biggest city to the point of rationing water to just 2 days a week to all its 20 million residents.

2 days a week. Think about that. How would you cope if you turned the taps on and nothing came out? You’d be okay for a day, perhaps, maybe go buy some bottled water? (Except there are other people with the same idea). Every human needs 2L of clean, potable water a day to survive – more in hot climates or if you’re working hard and losing fluids through sweat. You need more to cook food, wash clothes, clean your teeth, flush the toilet…. the average UK household uses 150L of water a day.

Do you have 150L of water stored in your home? It weighs 150kg, plus packaging, so be careful where you stack those bottles! Upstairs is not a good idea. Ideally you want it in a dark, cool place (to restrict the growth of algae) and on a solid floor, not the loft. You need to rotate your water stash – about every 18 months or so – otherwise when you crack open the bottle, you’re might find a complex ecosystem flourishing in there. A couple of drops of thin unscented household bleach per litre helps prevent it all going green, but over time the chlorine wears off and you need to empty the bottles, scrub them out and refill them.

That’s a fair bit of work, though you can spread the load over time by doing a few bottles a month rather than all at once. You can lessen the load by conserving water! 50L a day to flush the loo with clean drinking water? Do you really need a long hot shower every day? And don’t even think about watering the garden or washing the car….

Back in the mid-70s, we had a severe drought in the UK – the first I was aware of.  I remember my parents taking us for a picnic at one of the reservoirs for Manchester, up in the Peak District. I remember the cracked mud that stretched for such a long way (I was only small!) from the grass at the top to the not-very-much water at the bottom. Cars had bumper stickers reading ‘Save Water – Have a Dirty Weekend’ to remind everyone only to bathe when necessary. We shared bathwater – eldest brother had first dip, then next brother used the same (cooling) water for his bath, then my sister and I shared the (tepid and somewhat grimy) water for our quick splash around. We put a brick in the toilet cistern to reduce the capacity, so less water was used in flushing the toilet (you can get the same effect with a plastic bag of water – or anything else that displaes water and don’t bung the works up). As things continued, we had a rule that you only flushed for excrement, not urine. Then we went on to saving the washing-up water in a bucket to pour down the loo so we weren’t using drinking water for flushing at all. I’ve retained the habit of having a daily wash rather than a daily shower ever since. You can get just as clean from a basin of hot water, a bar of soap and a flannel as you can from a shower or a bath, and it saves an immense amount of water and heating energy!

Most people in the UK don’t store water. You turn the taps and it falls out, no problem. But the people of Sao Paulo thought that, too, a few months ago. Now they’re facing reservoirs with only 8.9% of their water and the taps don’t work. Restaurants can’t wash plates, people can’t wash clothes, schools can’t cook dinners. People are reduced to trudging to whatever water sources they can locate and filling up every container they can carry. The Brazilian government were getting close to telling people to leave the city and flee, apparently.

It’s now started raining there, apparently, so they’re breathing sighs of relief, but what odds they don’t learn from this lesson either? In which case, in a few years, it’ll happen again, when the next drought arrives.

I wonder if anyone in Sao Paulo will think to start storing clean drinking water?

And before everyone outside Brazil starts feeling smug, remember those drought predictions for the US? Here’s a good site to start doing some research, too. Pay attention to that throwaway comment on the fifth line about the Brazilian coffee crop not happening this year! (Hint: price of coffee likely to rise so stock up now, coffee drinkers!)

IPCC AR5 indicated that the dry areas would get drier, so a good guess as to future conditions can be made by looking at current drought areas and simply enlarging them over time. If (when?) the Amazon rainforest succumbs to drought, fire and logging, we can probably expect tropical and subtropical droughts to get much more severe and prolonged – the Amazon, like other large rainforests, creates its own climate and without it, rainfall is going to drop.

Think it can’t happen here? Think again. Think hard, particularly if you live in an area already prone to droughts, like the south-east of England. London already gets less rain than Istanbul!

There’s another question here that I’m mulling over, and that’s…. how long will people cling to their homes, jobs, businesses, when they know they face not having any water? (three days without water and your body starts to die!) And why? Did anyone look at the reservoir levels and think, blow this for a game of soldiers, I’m offski? Or do humans have this irrational attachment to place, even over survival? How bad does it have to get before you give up your belongings in favour of safeguarding your life?

More importantly yet, when dire circumstances do finally get people on the move….. how desperate are they and what will they do if you’re in the way?

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?

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.