Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Paranoid?... Maybe...

I don't know. I could just be paranoid. I could just be an alarmist... I don't know, but I do know that I'd do more than kick myself for not being at least somewhat prepared...

I was watching CNN tonight (and maybe I should just stop doing that and stick with Jon and Steven) and they were reporting on the impending 300,000,000 benchmark in American population growth and future predictions of reaching 600,000,000 by the end of this century. Mmm-hmm... This gets me thinking...

Dense population and rapid population boom coupled with an increase in average global temperature (even of just a few degrees) have traditionally lead to two things within 200 years or less. 1.) A drop in temperature back to "normal" or "sub-normal" levels, resulting in a rapid decrease in production of food resources worldwide (i.e. a famine) due to changes in the agricultural practices during the warm period. 2.) The rapid spread of contagion which results in high fatality rates among humans and the animals they use for food, most especially in areas that are more densely populated (i.e. cities). If either of these events coincide with political instability and economic depression, populations are usually screwed, to use the vernacular.

To me, this seems to be an inevitability. If it doesn't occur before the end of the 21st century, I would be surprised. It could just be "millennial paranoia" on my part... but history does repeat itself. The fact that we're "modern" doesn't mean it couldn't continue to do so. It would be especially dangerous for us with the increase of "globalism". Rapid travel leads to faster spread of disease. Human population is at an all time high. More dangerous weapons are in the hands of people who could have a far reach should the factors which hold them in check were suddenly absent. The media, with its instantaneous news reporting, would spread the kind of panic which would lead to anarchy and riots faster than local authorities could even hope to control it. And local communities rely on national or international producers for their food (and in some cases, even their water). Yeah... any half-way intelligent person could see that we'd totally be more than screwed. Most of us would very quickly find ourselves *very* dead.

It is interesting to note that presently, Iceland is only 1 degree colder than it was during the Medieval warming period which preceded the Black Death sweeping across Asia and Europe.

At the time, the Black Death had an average 90% fatality rate of those who contracted the disease. Ironically, the Black Death is most commonly associated with Bubonic Plague, actually the least fatal (*only* 30 - 75% fatality rate of those who contract the disease) of the three types of Plague infection. There is also Pneumonic Plague, which is concentrated in the lungs (90 - 95% fatal), and Septicemic Plague, the most rare, which is a blood infection (99% fatal). (Present day: According to the CDC, the Plague's average fatality rate in the United States is less than 15% - including cases that go untreated. For those who know they have been exposed (only about 5 - 15 cases occur every year, most often in parts of the country where the prairie dogs are infected), immediate treatment with antibiotics for seven days is usually effective before symptoms even appear. Incubation period is 2 to 6 days.)

So is there any good news? Yes... Those who survive a pandemic are left with less competition for natural and man-made resources (due to the rapid decrease in population) and this has in the past caused a resurgence of life, like the first flowers of Spring after a hard Winter, raising the standard of living and the overall health of the remaining population.

So what can we do? As far as I see it, we prepare as best we can. Personally, I want to go as rural and as self-sufficient as possible. Off the beaten track and with as little dependence on outside resources as I can possibly get. Or at least the ability to switch to self-sufficiency quickly as needed. (Iceland would be really nice for this now that I think on it. It's a pretty small island and so would be able to cut itself off from the rest of the world quickly and efficiently should an international disaster like this happen. Although, it does have the problem of not being able to grow most [or maybe even any] grains in the open...) I want to know how to produce my own food, at least in theory, to can and preserve for the winter lean season, to make cheese... Eventually, I'll probably even want to learn how to slaughter my own meat if I had to, just so I'll know how... though I think, if I could manage it at all, I'd pretty quickly stick with just chickens. Cows look too cute and so do lambs... I'm not sure if I could handle doing that myself. I also want to know how to produce my own clothing if necessary... and also because I like the idea of being able to make my own clothes. I've got the spinning down pretty well, at least for a beginner... all part of my plan of preparedness. I also want to learn how to weave on a Viking warp-weighted loom. Being able to produce items that can be traded for what I couldn't produce myself is very important in my little paranoid "what to do if dooms day happens plan."

Most especially (aside from the ability to produce most of my own food), I do not want to depend on the public energy infrastructure for my creature comforts. I want to go totally green - for more reasons than are tied to my millennial paranoia though... political and ideological reasons more tied in with my immediate distaste for oil companies, lobbyists and those who damage the environment. There's also the practical advantage of not loosing power during hurricanes! (which I happen to know from personal experience really, really sucks.) Wind or solar powered everything. No power lines for me! And I want a dream house that will last for generations to come, so that at the very least, should the worst happen, my children and grandchildren would not have to worry about finding suitable, lasting shelter... and because lasting construction also happens to be the most eco-friendly. I've considered earth-sheltered housing (which really is my favorite - Yes, I want a hobbit house... I really do want to live in Hobbiton, to be perfectly honest. I am a hobbit at heart, after all is said and done), rammed earth and also "earthships".

"Earthships" are houses constructed out of old car tires which have dirt compacted inside them, essentially making them rammed earth bricks (which must be put in place before the dirt is compacted!). With the right equipment, a crew of seven people can fill and compact about 100 tires per hour, making the construction faster than rammed earth. The number of tires needed, of course, varies with the size of the house that is being built. Building materials cost very little. In most locations, according to what I've found out, slab foundations are not necessary, so concrete cost is minimal. Dirt is free or close to it, and most of the time, old tires can also be had for free. If the homeowner does the work themselves, construction costs can also be minimal. There are drawbacks with "Earthship" construction however. Ventilation has been a problem for some builders, as well as water leaks... This may be due to the fact that a lot of people who have attempted this method of construction were amateurs and not trained professionals, or even under the guidance of trained professionals. The work requires some amount of precision in order to have sound walls, floor, windows, doors and roof without leaks. There is some work that should be done by professionals - plumbing, well and septic, as well as electrical work in most cases. And most people would probably want professional plasterers and stucco-ers to apply the inside and outside wall surfaces and put the roof on. Dry wall cannot be used with "earthship" construction at all. However, if built correctly, "earthships" require little maintenance and are usually worth many times the amount of money initially invested in their construction, unlike conventionally built homes. I'm not quite sure that I understand the physics that make the "earthships" different from solid rammed earth structures, but apparently there is enough difference that "earthships" are much more complicated to successfully construct.

Rammed earth homes are potentially the most expensive, and yet potentially the cheapest of all the construction methods I've mentioned. To build one, from what I understand, you need only a foundation, a tamper (hand or powered), a few (potentially dozen) truck-loads of dirt and maybe some concrete (in addition to the internal wall materials, electrical and plumbing). All told, building materials for an average house would probably run only a few thousand dollars, max (not counting interior stuff like fixtures, cabinetry and flooring). Then comes the hard part: the sweat equity. Rammed earth construction is very, *very* labor intensive. So much so that most people wouldn't want to do it themselves but the cost of paying someone else to do it would be prohibitive. Construction could potentially take years just to get the outer walls raised if you do it in your own free time, though I have heard tell of one man doing just that and the house has stood for over 60 years now, sound as the day he and his wife moved into it. From what I understand, rammed earth is extremely durable once it is built, and it can probably be done with the least amount of skilled labor of the three methods I've mentioned. Of course, on top of the labor involved in raising the outer walls, there's the skilled labor involved in the inner walls, roof, plumbing, electricity, (possibly) a heating and cooling system and other similar issues, as with a conventional house.

Earth-sheltered homes are built at least partially underground and have a roof which is sometimes covered by dirt and grass... Think "BagEnd" from Tolkien's books and you have my dream in a nut shell, or you can look at this picture of an Icelandic earth-sheltered house (or this one). The cost of Earth-sheltered homes falls in between "earthships" and rammed earth (assuming you hire someone else do the bulk of the work on your rammed earth house), costing about 10% more than conventional construction methods for a house of comparable size, all things told, on average. (Fun Fact: Bill Gates lives in an earth-sheltered home... well, "mansion" really.) The hardest thing about building an earth-sheltered home is planning it out because that has to be precise and is difficult to change once the home is being or has been constructed. Obtaining the interior shell material and a builder who knows what they're doing can also be very difficult depending on your location. Having an architect and engineer with experience in building earth-sheltered homes is crucial really because issues of water-seepage from the roof, internal condensation from the walls and cave-like acoustics can be project killing. Still, if done correctly, like rammed earth construction, the structure should last for generations without major maintenance.

There are other green methods of construction. Cob and Adobe are limited to certain climates. Compressed earth blocks, like rammed earth, but with factory made, transportable bricks, is likewise expensive and at the moment can only be done in areas within close proximity of the factory which makes the blocks (in Mexico). Straw bale construction is an interesting idea... but I haven't seen enough information about it to make a determination. I would think potential for rot and insect damage would be considerable, but I could be wrong.

Now, to bed with me! I have class tomorrow.

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