The Nature of Cities

Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 7:00 pm

Ferndale Library, 222 East Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI

A 39-minute video, which will leave plenty of time for discussion.

From the film’s text introduction:

How can we make better cities than ever, better workplaces, better schools… how can we immerse ourselves in nature everyday instead of thinking we have to get in SUV and drive 50 miles? There is no doubt that we need nature. It’s absolutely essential to daily life. We can find it in the cities where we live, it’s all around us if we look, but there are also many innovative ways in which nature can be designed into urban environments.

This is the story of both the nature in our own backyards as well as that being built into to cities of the future. We’ve got to rethink everything that we do in cities today to make them profoundly more resilient. We know in fact that we need daily contact with the natural environment and we have to overcome this sort of bifurcation that cities and nature can’t coexist.

[end quote from film]

Our discussion will start with: How might we apply these ideas here? How have people around here already started?

Free. Open to the public. Light refreshments provided.

Save the date:  Sunday, August 3, 2014

1:00 PM to 5:00 PM

The Mercy Center, 28650 W. 11 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI

•Transition, Eco-Village, Climate Change, Plant Medicine, Gardening, Biodynamics, Sustainable Living, Permaculture… and being the change we need.

The vision is to become closer through better knowing each other and having more clarity about resources and people power in the area. Together we can accomplish more than anyone can ever predict or imagine.

We will come together to hear our collective voices, and listen deeply to our heart’s calling. It is an opportunity to connect, share what you’re doing and envisioning, to learn what actions others are involved in, be introduced to other groups, and to network.

Please bring your ideas, dreams, campaigns, cooperative venture ideas, recipes, services, brochures, charities, projects and favorite music, poetry, herbs, talents & seeds to share. This can become a multidimensional ‘vision board’ for each of us to share our goals and dreams for the near and distant future. It can be as exciting or as quiet and intimate as we chose to make it. Let’s create it together. …

We have a big room that will seat about thirty with powerpoint and internet facilities & an intimate treatment room in an old school with plenty of free parking, open nature space, a kitchen, and wheelchair access.

Everyone is asked to bring a plate to share for a potluck.

If your goal is to build a local community organization – like Transition Ferndale, for instance – then you need to have some idea how to go about it. On Wednesday, June 18, we’ll meet at 7:00 pm to explore a relatively new possibility in the “how to” category – Twitter. It may be that most people who have Twitter accounts use it for the most trivial of purposes, but that is already changing.

As usual for the third Wednesday of the month, we’ll meet in the Ferndale Library, 222 East Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI.

Often for these meetings, we have a relevant video to show and discuss. Less often (though we should do it more often), we have a presentation by a local person with some useful knowledge to share.

In this case, the local person will be Sean Yalda, a graphic and web site designer who has some experience running a Twitter account. Better yet, he has put in some time studying the possibilities and the effects of a well-run Twitter account, and he is willing to discuss his conclusions. Of course, tweets (the correct term for the product) do not exist in isolation from other social media such as Facebook and Pinterest. Neither are they isolated from older media – websites, television, radio, print publications and even billboards.

Here at Transition Ferndale, we have been using printed flyers, our own blog/website and an e-mail announcements list as complements to monthly face-to-face meetings. Twitter is something that we’ve never really considered. However, it turns out that a Twitter account is free, and you don’t even need a smartphone to have an account or to send and receive tweets. Apparently, we have something to learn in this area.

You don’t need to be a supporter of the Transition Towns movement to attend, or to find this a useful meeting. It doesn’t matter whether your interest is the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3’s efforts to prevent Detroit Edison from constructing a new nuclear reactor, recruiting people to your local Time Bank, getting out the vote for a particular candidate in this fall’s election, or perhaps something completely different.

Sean is going to discuss how a local organization might use Twitter. It’s a tool. What purpose you have for the tool is up to you. The meeting is free, and open to the public. Some light refreshments will be available.

The library has a free internet connection. You’ll get the most out of the meeting if you bring your device – laptop, tablet or smartphone – and try doing some things with Twitter during the meeting, while Sean is available to answer questions.

If you are planning to attend, please send an RSVP note to almyatt@outlook.com.

Note this is not my normal email address. I hope to have RSVPs and only RSVPs at this outlook address. That will make it easier to for me to see how many people will attend, and to reply to them if the number happens to be larger than the room will handle. Please do not send an “I will attend” message to my normal email.

Thanks,

Art Myatt

In today’s culture, noise is all around us.

In the based-on-real life film, NOISE, actor Tim Robbins’ character is set off every time a car alarm is set off in New York City. It drives him mad. The 88 minute film is classified as Drama but it has many amusing scenes and the resolution is unforgettably astounding. Join us at the Ferndale Library – 222 E. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, MI – to see it. Light refreshments and maybe popcorn again, like last month!

Wednesday, May 21, 7 pm. Free, open to the public. Discussion follows the film.

Transition Ferndale will have its next meeting in the Ferndale Library, 222 E Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI, at 7:00 Wednesday evening, April 16.

We’ll be showing a one-hour video, “Transition 2.0,” with stories from 16 different Transition Town organizations in 7 different countries. Then we’ll have a discussion focused (we hope) on what is being done locally, and what else we might do. The meeting is free and open to the public.

So, what is this transition movement? It’s about making the transition to a society much less dependent on consuming fossil fuel energies. Making many transitions might be a more accurate expression, because every locality will have somewhat different problems, and will evolve different ways of adapting. Concern about climate change, peak oil and economic collapse is a common thread tying all the different locations together.

The transition movement got started with people realizing there is good reason to be worried about both climate change and peak oil. Further, the globalized economy which depends on increasing consumption of fossil fuels is guaranteed to fail as the supply of fuels declines and the ability of the biosphere to absorb industrial waste products also declines.

This is not some abstract notion about the possibility of economic collapse at some distant future date. The economic collapse, in fits and starts, is already happening. Our financial system has already produced far more claims on real wealth than there is real wealth.

Think of dollars as players in a game of musical chairs, with real resources being the chairs. In the child’s game of musical chairs, chairs are removed one at a time, and players are also removed one at a time, in an orderly fashion with no awful consequences.

In our financial system, half or two-thirds of the chairs are already removed. When this round of music stops, the consequences will be extensive and not much fun at all. The scramble for chairs will not be orderly. Most people will not want to continue playing the bank/mortgage/stock market game. That’s one way to describe the coming economic collapse.

Will the collapse of our economy lead directly to the extinction of mankind? Well, if fighting over resources takes the form of nuclear war, then yes. We can hope everybody in charge of nuclear weapons understands there are no winners in a nuclear war.

Now, some people want to believe wars are not fought over control of critical resources. These people don’t have a coherent explanation of World Wars I and II, the multiple wars originating in the Middle East, or border wars from USA-Mexico to Russia-Ukraine. Control of resources is not the only reason for wars, but it is a critical element of every war, and the naked reason for some wars.

But the question is, does our current wrecking of the planet mean that we are headed directly for our own extinction? Collapse, yes; extinction, no, or at least, not necessarily. It’s certainly possible, especially if our reactions are stupid, but the extinction of humanity is not at all certain.

Here’s an excellent explanation of why, from http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/03/american-delusionalism-or-why-history.html

[begin block quote]

That insistence [humanity will soon be extinct] bespeaks an embarrassing lack of knowledge about paleoclimatology. Vast quantities of greenhouse gases being dumped into the atmosphere over a century or two? Check; the usual culprit is vulcanism, specifically the kind of flood-basalt eruption that opens a crack in the earth many miles in length and turns an area the size of a European nation into a lake of lava. The most recent of those, a smallish one, happened about 6 million years ago in the Columbia River basin of eastern Washington and Oregon states. Further back, in the Aptian, Toarcian, and Turonian-Cenomanian epochs of the late Mesozoic, that same process on a much larger scale boosted atmospheric CO2 levels to three times the present figure and triggered what paleoclimatologists call “super-greenhouse events.” Did those cause the extinction of all life on earth? Not hardly; as far as the paleontological evidence shows, it didn’t even slow the brontosaurs down.

Oceanic acidification leading to the collapse of calcium-shelled plankton populations? Check; those three super-greenhouse events, along with a great many less drastic climate spikes, did that. The ocean also contains very large numbers of single-celled organisms that don’t have calcium shells, such as blue-green algae, which aren’t particularly sensitive to shifts in the pH level of seawater; when such shifts happen, these other organisms expand to fill the empty niches, and everybody further up the food chain gets used to a change in diet. When the acidification goes away, whatever species of calcium-shelled plankton have managed to survive elbow their way back into their former niches and undergo a burst of evolutionary radiation; this makes life easy for geologists today, who can figure out the age of any rock laid down in an ancient ocean by checking the remains of foraminifers and other calcium-loving plankton against a chart of what existed when.

Sudden climate change recently enough to be experienced by human beings? Check; most people have heard of the end of the last ice age, though you have to read the technical literature or one of a very few popular treatments to get some idea of just how drastically the climate changed, or how fast. The old saw about a slow, gradual warming over millennia got chucked into the dumpster decades ago, when ice cores from Greenland upset that particular theory. The ratio between different isotopes of oxygen in the ice laid down in different years provides a sensitive measure of the average global temperature at sea level during those same years. According to that measure, at the end of the Younger Dryas period about 11,800 years ago, global temperatures shot up by 20° F. in less than a decade.

[end excerpt from Greer]

Clearly, climate change plus peak oil/gas/coal means we are in for a number of rough decades as both population and the industrial economy repeatedly decline in step with declining supplies of affordable fuels. Globalism will disappear, and then perhaps “nations” as they are defined today, with no exception for America. If ‘America’ means the two-party system of George W. Obama Clinton, it’s not a loss to be mourned. But humanity has a shot at surviving.

“Preparing for collapse” sounds a lot like survivalism. There’s a reason for that. Transition towns and survivalism are both responses to the same reasons for anxiety. Climate change, resource depletion (for which peak oil is a specific example) and an unsustainable economy are real problems that are not going away. We’ll all have to respond, both individually and collectively.

The Transition Towns movement generally takes the position that strengthening the local community and the local economy – especially the ability of the local economy to produce food – is the best thing we can do now to prepare for survival. That’s very different than the survivalist approach of hoarding food, ammunition and duct tape for individual survival while the community perishes.

Comments are open below, if you want to disscuss over the internet.

Or, if you’re in the area, you may want to come to the regular Transition Ferndale monthly meeting for a face-to-face discussion. It’s in the Ferndale Library (222 E Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI) at 7:00 pm on the third Wednesday of each month. If you can’t make it this month, then maybe later.

If you have a Facebook account, you might take a look at the Transition Michigan group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TransitionMichigan/.

At our last meeting in Ferndale (about as southern as you can get and still be in Oakland County), there was a fair amount of interest in permaculture. In northern Oakland County, there is an active and organized group of permaculture enthusiasts. From Ferndale, it takes some driving, but just in case anyone is interested, I’m reproducing below a message from Dana Driscoll. As you will see, they use Meetup, and you do need a Meetup account to use the links:

Hi everyone,

Our OCPM [Oakland County Permaculture Meetup] Monthly Meetup will be next Wednesday [April 9, 2014] at 6:30 PM. We’ll be doing fermented veggies and krauts. Along with the hands-on skill share, we’ll have a potluck (bring any food, labeled), a sale table (bring things to sell if you have them and $$ to buy if you would like) and general community building and conversation. Parking is limited in Dana’s driveway, but there is lots of it out on the road. More info can be found here:
http://www.meetup.com/Oakland-County-Permaculture/events/173172822/

On Sunday, April 27th we are having our 100 Yarden Dash kick off event. The 100 Yarden dash is local challenge to increase the number of food producing yards and landscapes across Oakland County. We challenge you to start a garden if you don’t have one, or expand your current garden if you already do, or create edible landscaping and reduce the amount of “yard”. It’s as simple as growing some vegetables and herbs, planting fruit trees, edible shrubs, or removing your lawn to grow food. Sort-of like Victory Gardening meets the 21st century. YARDening! For this event, we’ll show examples of converted lawn spaces, make signs for our YARDens, and eat some good food. More info on the Dash can be found here: http://clarkston.100yardendash.com/about-the-dash/

To signup for the meetup, go here: http://www.meetup.com/Oakland-County-Permaculture/events/173319322/

Our OCPM May meeting will be held at Strawbale Studio in Oxford, Mi. There will be a short tour of the property and various sustainable and natural building projects. We’ll also focus on a land restoration design discussion/charette centered on a portion of the Strawbale Studio land that was recently disturbed by a pipeline repair project carried out by Enbridge. We hope to gather ideas and strategies that can be propagated across the length of the disturbance of the pipeline that offer ecological and potentially economic yields (food, fiber, habitat, etc.) More info about this meetup is here:
http://www.meetup.com/Oakland-County-Permaculture/events/173318892/

Finally, our OCPM Monthly meeting for June will take place at Bittersweet Farm in Clarkston, MI. We’ll be touring bittersweet farm and learning about biointensive gardening and community food projects. Bittersweet farm produces thousands of pounds of produce for the local food banks each year–this is a wonderful site to visit. More info about this meetup can be found here:
http://www.meetup.com/Oakland-County-Permaculture/events/173173512/

Hope to see you at our upcoming events!
Trevor, Dana, Paul, and Mark

Wednesday, March 19, 7:00 pm

Ferndale Public Library, 222 East Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI

This is Transition Ferndale’s regular “third Wednesday of the month” meeting for March.

Ferndale’s Becky Hammond will talk about back yard and front yard gardens, and “weeds” that turn out to be edible; even tasty. Sherry Wells will talk about the Ferndale Time Bank Garden Group. Live in an apartment, with no space for gardening? Maybe a community garden is the way to go. We’ll talk about it.

The meeting is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be available. of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

For an unusual instance of planning ahead, next month’s third Wednesday meeting (April 16, 7:00 pm) will feature a 1 hour and 7 minute video, “Transition 2.0.” It features 16 stories from 7 countries around the world. You’ll hear about communities printing their own money, growing food, building localized economies and even setting up community power stations. Transition is a social experiment about responding to uncertain times with community solutions. After the video, we’ll discuss how we might go about solving some local problems. Bring your ideas and your talents to share.

It’s been a tough winter, and it’s not over yet. We need a break. This month’s Transition Ferndale video – “No Impact Man” – has been selected to provide a bit of a break: WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 7:00 pm at the Ferndale Library, 222 East Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, MI. [Date corrected from previous error - sorry.]

We’re not getting away entirely from our idea that we need to build a resilient local community. This video is funny, mostly without intending to be humorous, in illustrating how NOT to go about being green.

Let’s set the stage. A middle-class, educated and well intentioned couple lives in a 9th-floor apartment in New York City. They want to see how far they can go to lower their impact on the planet. It’s a noble goal. They didn’t actually set out to make a comedy.

The fun comes from seeing how many of the things they try just do not work at all. The learning experience comes from seeing that some things actually do work. The suspense comes from wondering if this whole experiment will cause them to get a divorce, because after all, just how much unnecessary inconvenience and occasional outright misery will human beings take?

As far as we are concerned, it demonstrates that you can’t do well developing a sustainable lifestyle as a single family going against the current of the society you live in. The wonder is in the lengths this family goes to illustrate the point for the rest of us.

Now, if we can get a whole community moving in this direction, or even just a substantial minority of the local community, it can be a different story – especially if we can agree that if you live on the 9th floor, it’s OK to use the elevators.

The meeting is free, open to the public, with some light refreshments provided. Ready for a break?

Art Myatt

A few days ago, a friend asked for my opinion on the article http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/01/09-7. My reply is below.

Some number of commentators have declared that “the peak oil theory” is dead. The peak oil dogma that died is the vulgar, or grossly oversimplified version. We might even call it the straw man version.

Let’s take one paragraph of the article, and dissect it a bit:

“From this perspective, the world supply of petroleum is essentially boundless. In addition to “conventional” oil — the sort that comes gushing out of the ground — the IEA identifies six other potential streams of petroleum liquids: natural gas liquids; tar sands and extra-heavy oil; kerogen oil (petroleum solids derived from shale that must be melted to become usable); shale oil; coal-to-liquids (CTL); and gas-to-liquids (GTL). Together, these “unconventional” streams could theoretically add several trillion barrels of potentially recoverable petroleum to the global supply, conceivably extending the Oil Age hundreds of years into the future (and in the process, via climate change, turning the planet into an uninhabitable desert).”

Even if all these “potential streams of petroleum liquids” become actual streams of petroleum liquids, it does not mean the supply is “essentially boundless.” If the entire volume of the earth could potentially be turned into oil, the whole earth is a finite volume. All potential sources of oil are some tiny fraction of the earth’s crust, which is itself a small fraction of the earth.

There is in fact some upper limit to how much material can be turned into liquid fuel. If conventional petroleum deposits are the only source, then the limit is less than if other mineral deposits can also be used, but a larger limit is not boundless. A serious approach would then try to determine what the practical limit is.

There are many other flaws just in the one quoted paragraph. For instance, if all the natural gas is to be turned into liquid fuel, then we had better stop heating our buildings with it immediately. Looking at it from the other end, if natural gas is most useful as a heating fuel without the expense of turning it into a liquid fuel, then why would it ever be turned into a liquid fuel? The real answer is, on occasion, sources of gas isolated from the gas pipeline system by hundreds of miles have been turned into liquid fuels so they could be transported by ship or rail.

The point is, any estimate of resources that assumes all natural gas, coal, kerogen, bitumen, etc. will be turned into liquid fuels is making a giant overestimate. There is some limit, and that limit is much closer to Marion King Hubbert’s original estimate of 0.8 – 1.2 trillion barrels than “several trillion [additional] barrels. And if so, then Hubbert’s prediction of the time of the peak [first decade of the 21st century] might be a bit early, but there will still be a definite peak.

Remember that the limit for an individual well is reached, not when it is not technically possible to extract more oil, but when it is no longer profitable to extract oil. The kerogen deposits of the Green River formation in Colorado and Wyoming have been known for more than a century. It has never been economical to extract the kerogen and turn it into liquid fuel. If it never does become economical, then a couple of trillion barrels of speculatively potential oil should disappear from the estimates.

What this article leaves out entirely is any explanation of net energy. Now, net energy is not any harder to understand than net profit. In fact they are entirely parallel concepts. In financial terms, it is more desirable to run a business with a high rate of net profit than a low rate. If the business has a very low rate of profit, or a negative one, then that business should simply close.

Net profit counts the initial investment and the amount returned for that investment. Net energy for the oil business counts the amount of energy it takes to create a saleable fuel, and the amount of energy that fuel, when burned, produces.

Technology to turn kerogen into liguid fuel has been known for many decades. Occasionally, someone or some company believes they have come up with some new wrinkle to makle it cheaper and more efficient. The reason kerogen has never been used to produce liquid fuels on any commercial scale is that the net energy of the produced fuel has so far always been negative. It has literally been a waste of energy, and consequently a waste of money, to turn kerogen into liquid fuel. For instance, you can read about the “Colony Shale Oil Project” in Wikipedia.

About the same time as nuclear-powered submarines were being developed, nuclear-powered airplanes were also thought to have numerous practical advantages over conventional military aircraft. The technologists of the time were very enthusiastic and hopeful. No nuclear-power aircraft were ever flown.

It’s not possible to prove that kerogen will never be a practical source of liquid fuel. What is certain is that nobody today know how to do it. There are tremendous problems in separating kerogen form inert rock, in disposing of the rock if it is dug up or leaving 90% of the kerogen in the ground if it is heated in situ, and so on. I believe it is reasonable to suppose that a hundred year track record means it is never going to be economical.

There’s a good explanation of net energy, along with a chart of the “net energy cliff,” at http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2013/10/plundering-planet-report-to-club-of-rome.html.

In short, the proliferation of energy-intensive and therefore very expensive ways to make liquid fues that we see today is a symptom of peak oil, not a refutation of it. Like any actual scientific idea, while there are people with various degrees of expertise, nobody owns the idea and no person or institution is an authority on it. As I see it, the desperate attempts to find new sources of oil or oil-like substances and to develop them at a very high financial, environmental and political cost is a very big clue that world peak oil is approaching. The political and social consequences are beginning to show in Alberta, in North Dakota, in unwinnable wars in the Middle East, and so on.

Art Myatt

James Howard Kunstler, in his Monday, January 6 column (weekly at http://kunstler.com/), gave his opinion on the future of Japan. In part, he said: “Japan’s ultimate destination is to “go medieval.” They’re never going to recover from Fukushima, their economy is unraveling, they have no fossil fuels of their own and have to import everything, and their balance of payments is completely out of whack. The best course for them will be to just throw in the towel on modernity.” Earlier, he referred to the “mystical horrors of Fukushima,” a striking and accurate turn of phrase.

There’s one big problem with Japan going medieval. The mystical horrors of Fukushima are the result of 3 nuclear reactor meltdowns. Japan has a total of 54 nuclear reactors, of which “only” 3 have melted down so far. The only thing that keeps the other 51 from similarly melting down is, in nuclear industry parlance, “station power.” That is, each reactor and spent fuel pool needs a supply of electricity to run pumps which circulate cooling water to prevent a meltdown.

This is true even at Fukushima reactor #4, which did not have fuel in the reactor at the time of the tsunami. It had fuel rods in the cooling pool, and that cooling pool has pumps to circulate cooling water to prevent a meltdown. It’s true that a cooling pool meltdown in the absence of circulating water might take longer to get started. This is a matter of something like a month for a cooling pool as opposed to a day or less for an operating reactor core.

However, when a cooling pool does melt down, much more highly radioactive material gets released than with a reactor core meltdown. A reactor is typically loaded with several years’ worth of fuel. A cooling pool typically accumulates several decades’ worth.

As bad as the radioactive release of Fukushima is today, 51 more meltdowns, all of which would eventually involve spent fuel as well as reactor cores, would be worse. Most of these other Japanese reactors are not located on the coast, so that runoff goes into the ocean, either. Many are located upwind and upstream of major population centers.

If going medieval means complete collapse of the electrical grid, then Japan is in for a 54-reactor meltdown which will leave the entire country uninhabitable. The same is true for the United States, which has over a hundred reactors. It seems to me that most of the United States would be uninhabitable for this reason. So would Europe; particularly France, which uses nuclear reactors for over 75% of its electrical power.

There is no easy solution for this problem. The best we can do would be to get as much fuel as possible out of cooling pools and into hardened dry cask storage, as fast as possible. this is not anything like a satisfactory solution to the spent fuel issue, but it is much better than continued storage in pools. Of course, we should shut down existing reactors, to avoid making more new and spent fuel rods. Finally, we should certainly not build any new nuclear reactors.

In the longer term, spent fuel stored in casks could be vitrified on site before it is moved anywhere. “Vitrified” means the radioactive elements would be used as a component in making glass pellets. The other ingredients – mostly sand – would both dilute the fuel so that meltdown is no longer possible and encapsulate the radioactive isotopes, keeping them out of our air, water and soil. It is again, not a perfect solution, but it is better than trying to leave the fuel rods permanently in dry cask storage.

Whether, even further down the road, there is some suitable final repository such as Yucca Mountain was intended to be, or if the landscape will forever be burdened with numerous “exclusion zones” zones around the site of every former reactor is unknown. What is known is that if, as a society, we do not take the steps we can take to minimize the danger, it won’t matter. The entire continent will become an exclusion zone.

This topic may seem far from the usual concerns of the Transition movement. However, it will not do us much good to encourage local gardens and other elements of a resilient community, if that community will be destroyed by radioactive fallout. It’s certain we can’t put the nuclear genie back in the bottle (or glass pellets, in this case) if we don’t even try.

Comments on this blog are open.

Art Myatt

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