Friday, June 24, 2011

It's easy to forget the value of clean water until you don't have any

Water is life. Without water we die, within a couple days. Today I was at home working on the book I'm writing, and the landscaper (paid for by the landlord) comes knocking on my door that the water sprinkler system in the back yard was spewing water. One thing led to another and currently the water is entirely cut off at the house and it's unclear when the handyman will come over to fix things. In the meantime I have various gizmos around the house like toilet, kitchen sink, and washing machine that are no longer functioning. It's gifting me an exercise in recognizing the value of clean water.

WAKE UP! One of the things modern society infrastructure has misled us into believing is an infinite supply of clean water. We just go to the faucet, turn the handle, and out comes some water. But what happens when the faucet no longer works? How will we survive?

The faucet will stop working for any of several reasons. A widespread disaster for example will knock the water system out of whack until it can be repaired. Those instances will hopefully be rare, and short lived, but I wonder how many people in Japan are still surviving on bottled water?

Another potential cause is population growth outstripping the water supply system. Or financial collapse rendering governments unable to continue maintaining the water supply systems. Or changing rainfall patterns due to global warming induced climate change rendering water sources unable to provide more water.

It's quite an experience - over 50 years of life during which I could always go to the faucet to get more water, and now the faucet doesn't work.

If this were a real emergency (I live in an earthquake zone, the San Andreas Fault less than 6 miles away) the firehouse across the street would be distributing emergency supplies, and I suppose I might be volunteering to help.

It's the other systemic failures (population growth, climate change, etc) which are the more troublesome. Here in California we don't get rain between April and November, and we rely on snowfall in the mountains being captured in reservoirs then pumped hundreds of mails across the state to reach the cities. Obviously the system could fail for any number of reasons, such as no more fuel to run the pumps. It's clear we can survive short term water supply disruptions but what about longer term ones? Where is California going to get water for the 10's of millions of people living here when climate change enforces a permanent rainfall reduction?

Anyway .. for those worried about me, don't. I know how to go out to the house water connection and turn it on. Turning it on means wasting water in the back yard, so I'll turn the water on in the morning when it's time to flush the toilet and hopefully take a shower. In the meantime I went to the drug store and bought 2 gallons of water.

Here's a conundrum for you about water supply. Flush toilets consume 2-3 gallons of water per flush. How much does that water cost?

With the municipal water you flush with, the cost is too small to worry about. Hence on municipal water we don't have any monetary incentive to be careful with water, and there is a lot of water wastage going on.

The 2 gallons of bottled water I just bought cost $2.18. If it cost you $3.27 per flush for the water, what would you do?

That's kind of the outrageousness of bottled water. Municipal water is extremely good quality, has actual safety standards that are actually enforced, unlike the complete lack of bottled water safety standards and complete lack of enforcement. Yet bottled water costs a zillion times more than municipal water. What's going on? For a wonderful movie on this question see: Tapped, a look at the dangers of bottled water

Also for a blog post about water supplies in post nuclear accident Japan: Panic over water in Japan based on official lies or on official confusion?

Thursday, June 23, 2011


To have another Fukushima-like nuclear accident doesn't require a massive earthquake followed by a massive tsunami. It can occur under many conditions, including a massive snowfall that leads to flooding massive enough to threaten dams with breaking. A broken dam would lead to a rapid flooding and any nuclear reactor unfortunate enough to happen to be downstream (say, in Nebraska) would be threatened with a sudden inundation of water leading to a potential catastrophe of the sort occurring today in Japan.

At least that's what this weeks cheerful news from Alex Smith (Radio Ecoshock) is warning us over. Oh, and he has a bit about sea level rise, the dieoff of fish in the ocean, the egregiously bad oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ... it's enough to make me quip that "Business Friendly means Bad for People"

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Many of the words below are copied wholesale from Alex Smith's transcript. There was a couple sections where I wrote a summary pulling together threads from several places in the episode.

Professor Chris Reid, Marine Institute, the University of Plymouth in Britain, talking about a report that must be the greatest headline of our times. A new report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, or IPSO, features 27 top experts on the oceans. They warn the oceans are in a state of dying from multiple causes, all of them human. See:

Climate change is not coming. It is here.

Carbon is not only flooding the atmosphere but the deep sea. The oceans, stripped of the big species we eat, poisoned by our waste into expanding dead zone, with corals richness turning into white deserts - but changing chemically, becoming more acid.

Dr. Peter Ward from the University of Washington makes a career studying the five previous mass deaths on planet Earth. His book "Under A Green Sky" set the scientific world on edge, as he proposed the way a change in ocean life could extinguish almost everything that breathes on land. Judging by the geological record, Life, Ward said in a later book, "The Medea Hypothesis" - tends toward mass suicide.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to enforce regulations on American nuclear plants since 1999. From multiple sources, lax regulation has left well-known dangerous problems unfixed in U.S. reactors for decades. An American Fukushima nuclear disaster is just waiting to happen. Three sources back that up.

Democracy need not apply. You are not allowed to ask about safety. Neither are the State governments, or Governors. No matter how dangerous, we can argue about the esthetics or economics of nuclear plants, but nobody can present safety issues.

David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, gives a story explaining how it came to be that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped regulating the Nuclear Industry. On June 4, 1998 an ultimatum was presented to the NRC by Congress that the Senate threatened to cut the NRC's budget by 40 percent if they did not change their ways on enforcing the regulations.

The message was "either lose your job, or stop doing your job" and the NRC chose to do the latter.

Before this (before 1998) the NRC had a tough attitude of either nuclear plants operate by the rules, or they stop operating.

In the podcast this story was not only told by David Lochbaum, but was confirmed by Vermont Law School, Adjunct Professor Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC. He was on the NRC at the time and confirmed the change in regulatory attitude.

As a result we have a nuclear industry that has captured the agency which is supposed to be doing regulatory oversight over the industry. Captured as in, the NRC doesn't take a tough regulatory attitude, but a complacent attitude under which the industry does whatever it wants.

Part of the systemic dysfunction is the opacity of regulatory actions. Nobody is allowed to raise safety concerns about nuclear reactors. Safety concerns can only be raised by the NRC staff. States can only raise economic issues or other concerns not related to safety. Such as the leaking Tritium from the Vermont Yankee plant. The Vermont State Legislature voted unanimously to insist this plant be shut down, it's past its end of life date and it's the same design as the ones that blew up in Japan.

Long-time nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen on the flooding threat to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Reactor in late June 2011. It has been surrounded by the flood-waters of the Missouri river. It may be an under-reported nuclear accident.

There was a fire at the reactor last week, and the FAA ordered no fly-overs. Apparently cooling to the heavily stocked spent fuel pool was unavailable for several hours.

Plant operators declared a Level Four alert, while denying there was any real problem. Photos of the Fort Calhoun reactor show the site entirely flooded by the Missouri River, although operators claim the actual reactor buildings are still protected by sand bags.

Record snow-fall in the Rocky Mountains has forced six dams upstream of Fort Calhoun to open their floodways. I believe two of those dams are just earthen dams, rather than concrete. Gundersen says if any of those dams give way, Fort Calhoun will turn into a major nuclear accident. That is how close it is.

The global warming deniers point at "record snowfall" and then exclaim that's proof that global warming is a hoax.

Instead what's happened is that lots of water has gone into the atmosphere due to global warming, and during the winter it creates huge snowfalls

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Urban Danger, alerting to fragility of urban areas and complete collapse, or sheer alarmism?

There's a lot of people predicting a collapse of our society. Perhaps it's peak oil, perhaps it's the fragile infrastructure and just in time delivery of supplies being disrupted, perhaps it's a global pandemic or disease, or whatever, there are plenty of possible causes. Urban Danger is an online movie talking about the dangers and telling us to be afraid and telling us to move to the country and get an off-grid homestead going.

What they say is:

Danger is stalking the city.
Like it or not, its a fact... life in urban areas is about to radically change due to developments most people are not aware of. Find out what the issues are and what YOU can do to not only survive but also thrive.
Far from a survivalist film, Urban Danger takes a common-sense look at our roots, finding practical solutions to problems we face today. You will meet many people from all walks of life who show you the common-sense preparations they are making for difficult times ahead. And in the process, they have found a superior quality of life. They have found what real living is all about.

The thrust of this movie is that the infrastructure of American Society is fragile, and can easily be disrupted. Cities are more dangerous than rural areas because in a rural area you can grow your own food, run your own solar electricity system, store up wood for the winter, can your own food, etc.

In other words this movie series is selling us on survival fear, and that we'd better go off the grid and learn how to live without money in order to survive.

Maybe this is fearism hyping up false fears that appear real. Or maybe it's a real honest warning of something that's likely to be happening in the not too distant future. How can we predict the future?


Part 1:

Begins with pictures of the Great Depression.. "no money" etc. It was a tough life, no money, little food, etc.

It was worse in the cities. Out in the country people living on farms were more self sufficient.

Today a dramatically smaller percentage of people live in the country on farms. Farming today is dependent on heavy machinery and fossil fuels. If the food supply system gets disrupted store shelves will empty out in about three days.

In other words they're making the case that our society is extremely susceptible to immediate collapse at any time of disruption.

Part 2:

Unfortunately food supply is not the only problem. The cities are going to be targets for terrorism which isn't just big bomb type weapons, but bioterrorism.

Again they're focusing on rural areas as the safe places - rural areas aren't where terrorists are going to strike, instead they'll strike in urban areas.

Part 3:

The electricity grid is fragile and can be disrupted. Think of all the electrical stuff we depend on - if the flow of electricity is cut off it'll disrupt everything.

Very vulnerable to terrorists - supposedly a dozen substations in the U.S. so critical to "the grid" that if those substations were taken out it would blacken the whole grid without recovery in any reasonable time. Take this as a major disruption and the whole system falls apart.

It would involve what they call a "black start" which is to restart the grid without electricity. Supposedly the grid elements can't themselves restart unless there is an electricity supply to get them running.