A submission for the ArchDruid

One of my links is to The ArchDruid Report, a blog run by a genuine
modern day archdruid who posts erudite commentaries on Peak Oil, climate change, political stagnation and other topics. Many blogs discussing these subjects often post hysterical, conspiracy laden screeds that offer nothing substantive about how to address the issues or if they do, the solutions are useless or worse.

Thankfully John Michael Greer’s blog is an antidote to these various unhelpful rants, and irregardless of whether you agree with him or not, it is always a great relief to read one of his weekly posts lucidly discussing whatever topic he chooses to address. As Peak Oil and its consequences draw many comments both for and against his position. John keeps a tight rein on the discussion, deleting any posts that are pointless, vituperative or out and out flaming obscene, contributing to a civility that is often hard to find on other blog commentaries.

Several years ago, noting the great interest in the collapse of modern civilization (which according to John is occurring in very slow but inexorable motion even as we type), he issued a challenge to his readers to come up with fictional stories set in the near and distant future that depict what things might eventually look like. He detailed the requirements to ensure that contributors didn’t head off into La-La land over their personal interpretations of the future but kept close to a plausible scenario.

The results produced several collections of these stories in the near and more distant future. As with any short story books, there were stories that were quite good and others on the banal side.

Last spring the Archdruid Greer issued yet another call for fiction stories about what the future might look like after peak oil.  He reprinted the story requirements this time with an extra twist.

“Stories should be between 2500 and 7500 words in length;

They should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work;

They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation;

They should be stories—narratives with a plot and characters—and not simply a guided tour of some corner of the future as the author imagines it;

They should be set in our future, not in an alternate history or on some other planet; They should be works of realistic fiction or science fiction, not magical or supernatural fantasy—that is, the setting and story should follow the laws of nature as those are presently understood;

They should take place in settings subject to thermodynamic, ecological, and economic limits to growth; and as before,

They must not rely on “alien space bats”—that is, dei ex machina inserted to allow humanity to dodge the consequences of the limits to growth. (Aspiring authors might want to read the whole “Alien Space Bats” post for a more detailed explanation of what I mean here; reading the stories from one or both of the published After Oil volumes might also be a good plan.)

This time, though, I’m adding an additional rule:

Stories submitted for this contest must be set at least one thousand years in the future—that is, after March 25, 3015 in our calendar.

That’s partly a reflection of a common pattern in entries for the two previous contests, and partly something deeper. The common pattern? A great many authors submitted stories that were set during or immediately after the collapse of industrial civilization; there’s certainly room for those, enough so that the entire second volume is basically devoted to them, but tales of surviving decline and fall are only a small fraction of the galaxy of potential stories that would fit within the rules listed above.  I’d like to encourage entrants to consider telling something different, at least this time.

The deeper dimension? That’s a reflection of the blindness of the imagination discussed earlier in this post, the inability of so many people to think of a future that isn’t simply a prolongation of the present. Stories set in the immediate aftermath of our civilization don’t necessarily challenge that, and I think it’s high time to start talking about futures that are genuinely other—neither utopia nor oblivion, but different, radically different, from the linear extrapolations from the present that fill so many people’s imaginations these days, and have an embarrassingly large role even in science fiction. “

This started the aging rusty gears in my brain to begin grinding ponderously away as I thought about what things might actually look like after a millenium. While it sadly wouldn’t be Star Trek, it certainly wouldn’t be some dystopic version of Mad Max either. Just life going on, but with some excess baggage it didn’t have before.

So, yes, I started writing a story. I did my best to keep within the ArchDruid’s guidelines, though given my tendency to color outside the lines probably not 100 percent successfully. Irregardless of whether it gets accepted or not (though I would die of happiness if it did), it definitely exercised (or maybe strained) my brain cells while I tried to create a future world that was reasonably plausible based on current developments and their most likely outcomes(which never seem to be what the experts think) within the constraints of a presumably interesting story.

I read a good deal of history so hopefully that gives me some sense of how cultures tend to flourish or go under over the long term. I also had to keep in mind that many of the resources that cultures in the past routinely took advantage of will either not be there or be in short supply. In addition there will be the vast detritus of our culture which unfortunately we will be bequeathing them whether they want it or not. It wouldn’t have been difficult for this whole thing to eventually evolve into a short novel but as the word limit is 7500 and the deadline is the end of this month, I have naturally been forced to keep my
speculations within the limits of a short story.

Just click on the Story link to the left and with any luck you will enjoy what you read.

Northern Pass

One of the main topics occupying people’s attention here in northern New Hampshire is the Northern Pass Project. For those who haven’t heard of this, Northern Pass is a partnership between Eversource Energy and HydroQuebec whose goal is to run power lines from Canada down through New Hampshire, beginning in Pittsburg NH, which is near the top of the state and run through Northern Grafton county and the center of NH and ending up in Deerfield. The nature of this project has many people up in arms because this will consist of above ground lines on towers nearly 100 feet in height and in some instances taller. Major eyesore is one of the main complaints about this project as well as the usual concerns about environmental impact. Northern Pass proponents claim this project will add needed electricity for the regional power grid as well as create jobs and tax revenue for the state coffers.

I won’t bother to sum up all the protests about this thing, as a Google search will bring up all the arguments for and against it. The US Department of Energy recently released the draft environmental impact statement for this project. In the time honored manner of bureaucracies it is a 1000 page plus doorstop document exploring potential impact to tourism, alternate routes, and suggestions of having the lines buried rather than aboveground in exhaustive detail. Northern Pass is resistant to burying the lines as this would cost more and the underground line would only be able to carry 1000 kilowatts as opposed to 1200 kilowatts for the above ground lines.

While the negative visual impact is what you hear most about from opponents, there is a more unspoken feeling that this is just the wrong way to go for power generation. It has the flavor of projects that were done back in the mid-20th century, with its enormous scope and architectural ugliness. If this had been proposed back in the nineteen fifties when I was just a tot, it would probably have gone through with barely a hitch and only a murmur of protest.

Things are a lot different now. Those who are familiar with the concept of Peak Oil understand that as oil gets scarcer and delivery of it gets more problematic, the pressure for alternative energy sources increases. But the scale of Northern Pass reflects the outdated thinking that bigger is better without considering that it is also more expensive and harder to maintain. I can remember years ago in 1998, when a winter ice storm struck the northeast coast into Canada, downing about 1000 steel electrical pylons in Quebec and leaving millions of people without power. Repair costs went into the billions. Imagine if something like that happened now.

downed-power-towers_A

Another issue is security. We’ve been hearing about the possibility of cyber attacks on the power grid and terrorists targeting substations and other physical structures in a deliberate attempt to disrupt services. Then there are the usual witless vandals whose main goal is just to smash things at random without considering the consequences. Back in 2012, four young New Hampshire males (two of them juveniles) drove over to Vermont where there was a major electric transmission line running from Quebec to Massachusetts. They had themselves a little drinking party and thought it would be great fun to shoot out the insulators. The damage they did ran about 250,000 dollars just to replace what they destroyed, not including the cost of rerouting power while repairs were done.

With the risk of disaster both natural and man-made, building Northern Pass makes less and less sense. Reducing energy consumption is a far better approach that doesn’t require eyesore metal towers, just a willingness to downsize our dementedly extravagant lifestyle. Our quality of life will not suffer one iota and the quiet natural beauty that I love most about New Hampshire will remain intact.

Washington Hawthorns

About a week ago, we had a thunderstorm blow through the small town where I live. Aside from dropping nearly two inches of rain and occasionally spitting pea sized hail, the wind snapped off a large branch of one of the two Washington hawthorn trees I have growing in the front yard. This was not as bad as it sounds as the trees are only about twelve feet tall. However cutting up the branch and dropping the fragments on the brush pile in the back yard was a major adventure.

When I first ordered the trees from a small mail order catalog about fifteen years ago, the sales description mentioned that the trees have dainty white bunches of flowers which attract bees in the spring (which they do) and later on in the season, have bright red berries that birds can feed on.  (they do that as well). The description mentioned that the trees have thorns (well – yeah – hawTHORNS). What they neglected to mention was just how big these thorns get. Namely that they would be lethal daggers nearly two inches long with needle sharp tips.

Hawthorn twig
Washington Hawthorn twig

These things are seriously evil. As the trees grew bigger, the thorns got larger and more numerous. Now it’s as much as your life is worth to go near these plants. Even the tree trunk has thorns sticking out at random points here and there. I don’t know if any of you are homesteaders but you might like these as hedges to keep out intruding animals or humans. Just make sure you have a suit of armor when you go out to trim them.

Of course there are various species of thorn trees and bushes even more formidable than my killer hawthorns. Honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos) grow in the eastern part of the US and can sport thorns 3 to 4 inches in length. This site shows a list of the meanest thorn trees the author could come up with. Doubtless there are trees or shrubs out there that could top even what he shows. As for why plants develop this formidable weaponry, that should be obvious. They don’t want to be eaten any more than we do. If they can’t come up with lethal poisons capable of drastically shortening your lifespan or at least making you retch nonstop or break out with some gruesome rash, they evolve skin puncturing barbs designed to quickly discourage any potential nosher.

While thorns can certainly be a nuisance, they do have their uses. For example, thorns have been used by some traditional cultures for tattooing. While I haven’t come across any information suggesting they served as needles for sewing, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had been. The most intriguing use for thorns can be found at Staffordshire.org which shows thorns being used in archeology to clean gold artifacts too soft to stand up to conventional cleaning tools.

Doubtless inquiring minds will be able to come up with further ideas on how to make use of these fierce plant armaments. Mother Nature will provide if only we give her a chance!

Welcome

Greetings

Welcome to my site. This is my first post. I will be covering different topics of interest to me and with any luck you as well. This blog is definitely a work in progress but hopefully will improve as my blogging skills improve.