The UFO has landed…….

18 03 2018

Mon Abri Mk II has often been described as, due to its unusual footprint, something that could fly, and then on the slab day my mate Phil called it a UFO, so I think that will sort of stick now…

Pouring the slab has been twelve months in the making, with humungous earthworks and footings that ensure this house will never move even in an earthquake, it’s been a real labour of love. Well, lots of labour anyway. I never thought it would take this long, but here I’m at the mercy of the weather and Tasmanian laid back attitudes….  I now go with the flow, I’m too old to start fights!


My daughter Claire’s been here for well over a week, and we prepared for the epic pour by first cleaning off all the mud and organic matter and other crap that since the footings were done was blown into the area by the frequent windy weather. Lots of pressure cleaning, and then wet vacuuming all the mud out, in some attempt at ensuring the new concrete would stick to the old. Two days work there, and I don’t even know if it was actually necessary, but it made me feel better, and I needed that to destress…. that little job took 1200 litres of water (from the dam) and was entirely powered from the power station that worked like a charm…..  I could not be more pleased with my off grid system.

It might have been an omen, but the pour day didn’t exactly start as planned. Since my first winter here, when the temperature outside my bedroom can often go down to zero or less, I’ve been using a bucket full of sawdust to pee in so that I don’t have to get all dressed up and go outside. This works great, doesn’t smell, and makes great additions to my compost system. Until that is, the handle rusts off the bucket at 4:45AM , and it all gets spilled on the bloody carpet! Fortunately for Claire, she had woken up herself for a toilet break, because I had no other option than to use up the next half hour sucking it all up with the vacuum cleaner luckily still in wet mode. Needless to say, I wasn’t going back to sleep, which was just as well, because the pump turned up half an hour early, in the pitch dark….. Panic station started early.


Pouring at dawn was a new experience

All my helpers weren’t due to arrive until 7AM, and the concrete fifteen minutes later. We started with the pointy bit that sticks into the hillside, because I knew it was the hardest part, and once done we would have the opportunity to screed from edge to edge


That last missing bit……

on the skinny part of the house. The trouble was of course that my crew were completely inexperienced, and as soon as Robbie Page who owned the pump realised what was going on, he expressed his utter dismay that I had not accepted his [unaffordable] quote to do the job…… once the first truckload of 7m³ was disgorged from the pump, his offsider thankfully stepped in and gave the guys a quick lesson on how to screed…. which they fortunately quickly picked up. Screeding this job was easier than any I’d done before (because I didn’t do any!) as it was all pumped and vibrated, something I now really wish we’d done in Qld. Regardless, screeding was still necessary, and the two young guys at the ends of the tool did a sterling job under the circumstances…….

All went basically well, until right at the end when we were just short of finishing. The deal struck with the concrete suppliers was that I ordered 24m³ plus. Which means that after the 24m³ are poured, a quick evaluation is made of how much more is needed, and the last truck is sent from the depot. The missing bit in the photo was guesstimated by Robbie (who is very experienced) and I at roughly 0.4m³, and we thought ‘order 0.6, just in case’, which we IMG_20180317_130227did. While waiting for this last truckload, I began ‘helicoptering’ the slab in an attempt to get it as smooth as possible; and frankly, I’m quite pleased with the result, it’s ‘good enough’.

Except that the missing bit immediately turned into a problem; Duggan’s sent me a load of shit concrete that started going off right in front of our eyes, and there wasn’t enough….. no way did 0.6m³ come out of that truck, and nor was it fresh. When I dropped the vibrator into it, it hardly slumped at all, and while I was still floating water off concrete laid an hour earlier, I was unable to float this at all…….

The boys screeded it as fast as possible before it went rock hard and there were ravines in the surface that looked impossible to fill by moving what should normally have been workable material into them to fill them up……  I was beside myself, and really really pissed off.

With the local hardware store now no longer opening on weekends, I was faced with a desperate and frantic 50km return drive to Huonville to buy premixed-just add water concrete in bags in an attempt to salvage the situation. One hour later, on my return, I was amazed to discover that Claire – who obviously has a vested interest in this project – had whipped the crew into frantic labour to save the surface of our bedroom floor. I honestly don’t know how they managed it. It was bordering on a miracle, and it was just as well they did manage it, because the one bag I mixed in the wheelbarrow could not be pressed into the last bit in the corner, so hard had it already set. The resulting surface is worse than what a total novice would achieve.

All I can say is that it’s lucky that pointy bit will only be turned into a storage cupboard, because I would never live it down had this load of crap ended up in the middle of our bedroom. You can rest assured there will be a very stern complaint call to the supplier first thing tomorrow morning……  you’d think afer spending over $6000 on the day (and a similar amount on past pours) they would look after me…. I’ll probably get over it, but honestly……


All done. Everyone’s left, and all the beer’s been drunk!

We eventually broke the beer open, and celebrated a job well done under difficult circumstances. We did our best, and that’s all you can do. I reckon I’ve saved twenty grand by doing it this way, and that’s money I just don’t have to throw away – especially now I’ve spent most of it!

I can’t thank the crew enough….. Phil, who kept morale up among the youngsters, and Claire tells me, was largely responsible for repairing the bedroom floor while I was gone, Caleb, Martin, and of course my daughter Claire. Jack from Page’s concreting gets a deserved mention for screeding the hard bit for us. I won’t mention Duggan’s……..

Since pouring the concrete, it’s been raining for three days…. which is great for the still curing concrete. It’s a big step getting out of the ground, but really, all the hard work starts now. Watch this space.


I told you so………

15 03 2018

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system

Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.” 

by James Temple  Originally published at Technology Review


Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well. Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts. That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries. In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe (see “The year climate change began to spin out of control”).

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand). But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change. It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050. On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul
What we should be doing* What we’re actually doing
Megawatts per day 1,100 151
Megawatts per year 401,500 55,115
Megawatts in fifty years 20,075,000 2,755,750
Years to add 20 Terrawatts 50 363
Sources: Carnegie Institution, Science, BP *If we had started at this rate in 2000 Actual average rate of carbon-free added per day from 2006-2015

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.

A quantum leap

In late February, I sat in Daniel Schrag’s office at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. His big yellow Chinook, Mickey, lay down next to my feet.

Schrag was one of President Barack Obama’s top climate advisors. As a geologist who has closely studied climate variability and warming periods in the ancient past, he has a special appreciation for how dramatically things can change.

Sitting next to me with his laptop, he opened a report he had recently coauthored assessing the risks of climate change. It highlights the many technical strides that will be required to overhaul the energy system, including better carbon capture, biofuels, and storage.

The study also notes that the United States adds roughly 10 gigawatts of new energy generation capacity per year. That includes all types, natural gas as well as solar and wind. But even at that rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the existing electricity grid, to say nothing of the far larger one required in the decades to come.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.”

Climate observers and commentators have used various historical parallels to illustrate the scale of the task, including the Manhattan Project and the moon mission. But for Schrag, the analogy that really speaks to the dimensions and urgency of the problem is World War II, when the United States nationalized parts of the steel, coal, and railroad industries. The government forced automakers to halt car production in order to churn out airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.

The good news here is that if you direct an entire economy at a task, big things can happen fast. But how do you inspire a war mentality in peacetime, when the enemy is invisible and moving in slow motion?

“It’s a quantum leap from where we are today,” Schrag says.

The time delay

The fact that the really devastating consequences of climate change won’t come for decades complicates the issue in important ways. Even for people who care about the problem in the abstract, it doesn’t rate high among their immediate concerns. As a consequence, they aren’t inclined to pay much, or change their lifestyle, to actually address it. In recent years, Americans were willing to increase their electricity bill by a median amount of only $5 a month even if that “solved,” not eased, global warming, down from $10 15 years earlier, according to a series of surveys by MIT and Harvard.

It’s conceivable that climate change will someday alter that mind-set as the mounting toll of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, and sea-level rise finally forces the world to grapple with the problem.

But that will be too late. Carbon dioxide works on a time delay. It takes about 10 years to achieve its full warming effect, and it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. After we’ve tipped into the danger zone, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t decrease the effects; it can only prevent them from getting worse. Whatever level of climate change we allow to unfold is locked in for millennia, unless we develop technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a massive scale (or try our luck with geoengineering).

This also means there’s likely to be a huge trade-off between what we would have to pay to fix the energy system and what it would cost to deal with the resulting disasters if we don’t. Various estimates find that cutting emissions will shrink the global economy by a few percentage points a year, but unmitigated warming could slash worldwide GDP more than 20 percent by the end of the century, if not far more.

In the money

Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies. Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy (see “Surge of carbon pricing proposals coming in the new year”).

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it has to be a big price, far higher than the $15 per ton it cost to acquire allowances in California’s cap-and-trade program late last year. Borenstein says a carbon fee approaching $40 a ton “just blows coal out of the market entirely and starts to put wind and solar very much into the money,” at least when you average costs across the lifetime of the plants.

Others think the price should be higher still. But it’s very hard to see how any tax even approaching that figure could pass in the United States, or many other nations, anytime soon.

The other major policy option would be caps that force utilities and companies to keep greenhouse emissions below a certain level, ideally one that decreases over time. This regulations-based approach is not considered as economically efficient as a carbon price, but it has the benefit of being much more politically palatable. American voters hate taxes but are perfectly comfortable with air pollution rules, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

Fundamental technical limitations will also increase the cost and complexity of shifting to clean energy. Our fastest-growing carbon-free sources, solar and wind farms, don’t supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So as they provide a larger portion of the grid’s electricity, we’ll also need long-range transmission lines that can balance out peaks and valleys across states, or massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, or both (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

Million tonnes oil equivalentA renewables revolution?Despite the wide optimism surrounding renewables like wind and solar, they still only represent atiny and slow growing fraction of global energy.NuclearHydroAll RenewablesCoalNatural GasOil2000200120022003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201605k10k15kSource: World consumption of primary energy consumption by source. BP

The upshot is that we’re eventually going to need to either supplement wind and solar with many more nuclear reactors, fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and other low-emissions sources, or pay far more to build out a much larger system of transmission, storage and renewable generation, says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative. In all cases, we’re still likely to need significant technical advances that drive down costs.

All of this, by the way, only addresses the challenge of overhauling the electricity sector, which currently represents less than 20 percent of total energy consumption. It will provide a far greater portion as we electrify things like vehicles and heating, which means we’ll eventually need to develop an electrical system several times larger than today’s.

But that still leaves the “really difficult parts of the global energy system” to deal with, says Davis of UC Irvine. That includes aviation, long-distance hauling, and the cement and steel industries, which produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process itself. To clean up these huge sectors of the economy, we’re going to need better carbon capture and storage tools, as well as cheaper biofuels or energy storage, he says.

These kinds of big technical achievements tend to require significant and sustained government support. But much like carbon taxes or emissions caps, a huge increase in federal research and development funding is highly unlikely in the current political climate.

Give up?

So should we just give up?

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs. Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies. Scientists and technologists need to focus their efforts on the most badly needed tools. And lawmakers need to push through policy changes to provide incentives, or mandates, for energy companies to change.

The hard reality, however, is that the world very likely won’t be able to accomplish what’s called for by midcentury. Schrag says that keeping temperature increases below 2 ˚C is already “a pipe dream,” adding that we’ll be lucky to prevent 4 ˚C of warming this century.

That means we’re likely to pay a very steep toll in lost lives, suffering, and environmental devastation (see “Hot and violent”).

But the imperative doesn’t end if warming tips past 2 ˚C. It only makes it more urgent to do everything we can to contain the looming threats, limit the damage, and shift to a sustainable system as fast as possible.

“If you miss 2050,” Schrag says, “you still have 2060, 2070, and 2080.”

Damnthematrix is ten years old……..

14 03 2018

I’ve been so busy preparing for the momentous house slab pouring next Saturday, that the also momentous tenth anniversary of this humble blog passed almost un-noticed. And that would be a shame really.

In February 2008, I started Damthematrix with an opening salvo I had published in our local rag back in Cooran. It contained this graphic:

Anyone following this blog will instantly know what it means, and nothing has changed. Mind you, nothing has happened either. Back then, I was thoroughly convinced that by now the world would be a very different place, and it is, just not the kind of different I then believed in.

Of course, my own personal situation is entirely different. I can tell you that ten years ago, me living in Tasmania was not on the radar. The Hinterland Voice is long gone, its editor now lives in England. But while I was predicting collapse would have started by now, the powers that be have gone to lengths I could neve have predicted back then to paper over all the cracks, making them almost invisible to most people, especially if they read mainstream media.

I was basically asked in a recent comment “why do I bother?” To be honest, I also ask myself this question. Ten years ago, I had zero followers; at last count, I have 754. Have I even changed 754 people’s attitudes? Does it make any difference if I have? Does anything make a difference? In a recent podcast, I heard John Michael Greer rightfully boast that when he closed The Archdruid Report, he had a readership of close to a third of a million. Did that make a difference? In 2014, Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity website had 10,000 twitter followers. Does he make a difference?

Is blogging about making any difference?


The price of infamy…

Lots of questions there; I will admit to an obsession with collapse…… may you live in interesting times and all that. Anyone would have to admit it’s a thoroughly fascinating subject matter. plus I love an argument! It even encourages some people with more time on their hands than me to make cartoons of me! Is anyone here responsible for this hilarious image?

Nothing I write, nor any of the abovementioned much more famous bloggers do, will change the course of history. We are the victims of collective insanity, and nothing short of collective awakening – and I mean billions – will avoid the worst of what’s coming. Every human on this planet is looking after his/her best interest, and that of his close intimate circle. Let’s face it, even I am doing that….! on top of this, the average human’s grasp of physics and mathematics is literally non-existent, and they vote. And keep having babies. This insanity was very apparent in last Monday’s Four Corners about the Big Australia. It was all about more, not less. More roads, more public transport, more houses, more schools, more hospitals, more pensioners……. not even a nano second spent on limits to growth. I’ve contacted Four Corners about doing a story on Limits to Growth, but that won’t make any difference either, whether they actually do it or not.

Therefore, as long as nobody minds, I’ll keep plodding along making no difference. The best I can do is affect enough smart people to think about what they are doing, and create the foundation for a future sane community of people who care, and know what to do when collapse becomes the norm or maybe just no longer possible to ignore.

Good luck, and keep on making soil…..  you’re going to need both!


We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change

11 03 2018

Originally posted at onbeing…… I hope this article rhymes with you as well as it did for me.


Kate MarvelAs a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. And, unfortunately, I have a deep-seated need to be liked and a natural tendency to optimism that leads me to accept more speaking invitations than is good for me. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.

I used to believe there was hope in science. The fact that we know anything at all is a miracle. For some reason, the whole world is hung on a skeleton made of physics. I found comfort in this structure, in the knowledge that buried under layers of greenery and dirt lies something universal. It is something to know how to cut away the flesh of existence and see the clean white bones underneath. All of us obey the same laws, whether we know them or not.

Look closely, however, and the structure of physics dissolves into uncertainty. We live in a statistical world, in a limit where we experience only one of many possible outcomes. Our clumsy senses perceive only gross aggregates, blind to the roiling chaos underneath. We are limited in our ability to see the underlying stimuli that, en masse, create an event. Temperature, for example, is a state created by the random motions of millions of tiny molecules. We feel heat or cold, not the motion of any individual molecule. When something is heated up, its tiny constituent parts move faster, increasing its internal energy. They do not move at the same speed; some are quick, others slow. But there are billions of them, and in the aggregate their speed dictates their temperature.

The internal energy of molecule motion is turned outward in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Light comes in different flavors. The stuff we see occupies only a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. What we see occupies a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. Light is a wave, of sorts, and the distance between its peaks and troughs determines the energy it carries. Cold, low-energy objects emit stretched waves with long, lazy intervals between peaks. Hot objects radiate at shorter wavelengths.

To have a temperature is to shed light into your surroundings. You have one. The light you give off is invisible to the naked eye. You are shining all the same, incandescent with the power of a hundred-watt bulb. The planet on which you live is illuminated by the visible light of the sun and radiates infrared light to the blackness of space. There is nothing that does not have a temperature. Cold space itself is illuminated by the afterglow of the Big Bang. Even black holes radiate, lit by the strangeness of quantum mechanics. There is nowhere from which light cannot escape.

The same laws that flood the world with light dictate the behavior of a carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere. CO2 is transparent to the Sun’s rays. But the planet’s infrared outflow hits a molecule in just such as way as to set it in motion. Carbon dioxide dances when hit by a quantum of such light, arresting the light on its path to space. When the dance stops, the quantum is released back to the atmosphere from which it came. No one feels the consequences of this individual catch-and-release, but the net result of many little dances is an increase in the temperature of the planet. More CO2 molecules mean a warmer atmosphere and a warmer planet. Warm seas fuel hurricanes, warm air bloats with water vapor, the rising sea encroaches on the land. The consequences of tiny random acts echo throughout the world.

I understand the physical world because, at some level, I understand the behavior of every small thing. I know how to assemble a coarse aggregate from the sum of multiple tiny motions. Individual molecules, water droplets, parcels of air, quanta of light: their random movements merge to yield a predictable and understandable whole. But physics is unable to explain the whole of the world in which I live. The planet teems with other people: seven billion fellow damaged creatures. We come together and break apart, seldom adding up to an coherent, predictable whole.

I have lived a fortunate, charmed, loved life. This means I have infinite, gullible faith in the goodness of the individual. But I have none whatsoever in the collective. How else can it be that the sum total of so many tiny acts of kindness is a world incapable of stopping something so eminently stoppable? California burns. Islands and coastlines are smashed by hurricanes. At night the stars are washed out by city lights and the world is illuminated by the flickering ugliness of reality television. We burn coal and oil and gas, heedless of the consequences.

Our laws are changeable and shifting; the laws of physics are fixed. Change is already underway; individual worries and sacrifices have not slowed it. Hope is a creature of privilege: we know that things will be lost, but it is comforting to believe that others will bear the brunt of it.

We are the lucky ones who suffer little tragedies unmoored from the brutality of history. Our loved ones are taken from us one by one through accident or illness, not wholesale by war or natural disaster. But the scale of climate change engulfs even the most fortunate. There is now no weather we haven’t touched, no wilderness immune from our encroaching pressure. The world we once knew is never coming back.

I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.

We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending. Little molecules, random in their movement, add together to a coherent whole. Little lives do not. But here we are, together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see.