Monday, February 27, 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it

I've just been to a talk by Nicole Foss, AKA Stoneleigh of the Automatic Earth. She is an expert in peak oil, finance and climate change and how these three interact. Among other things she predicted the GFC in 2008, which is something not many can say. She talks about the oncoming 'perfect storm' of firstly economic collapse, then an energy crisis and then climate change. It's not a very upbeat story to say the least! The talk she gave, despite being very blunt and to the point, was a strangely enjoyable and empowering experience. I felt privileged to be informed about this stuff, especially on the economic issues. I won't go into great detail, but here is a brief summary of what I took from the evening:

  • The perfect storm presents 3 huge challenges to humanity. The first of these is an imminent global economic collapse and it may come any time between tomorrow and the next 5-10 years. The main cause of this is that the true value of assets held globally is a fraction of what is stated on paper. This means that for every $100 you have in the bank, shares, insurance, pensions, house value, etc the real value may just be $1 or $10 in the future. This is a classic deflationary bubble, which is bound to burst at some stage. 
  • When the shit really hits the fan and people realise this, it will be too late. The first ones to grab the real assets will be banks and other corporations (see the recent case of MF Global), leaving the average Joe with nothing. The implications of this are very scary, this could happen to your bank/pension fund/broker/insurance company/investments some day.
  • Nicole predicts that at a certain point, a contagion will ensue and panic will cause local and national collapses to trigger a global crisis. Given the current level of globalisation this is not hard to envisage. Just look at Greece (due to default any day now) and the rest of Europe.
  • Deflation will follow, with a credit crunch, higher unemployment, higher interest rates and higher taxes.
  • Australia is not immune to this crisis. A collapse in Europe will lead to a collapse in China and without exports to China Australia's economy will go down the gurgler pretty quickly. In fact no countries are immune, although the poorer countries with good social cohesion will most probably suffer the least.

  • The next challenge will be an energy crisis, caused by peak oil. Discoveries of conventional oil have plumeted in the last decade, in fact most of the oil we are using now was discovered in the 60's and 70's. Recent discoveries are smaller and crucially much harder to tap. Net energy (the amount of energy you can use after taking in to account the amount you used to get it) of new supplies is rapidly decreasing, from 100 (1 unit in to get 100 out) to around 15 now. This will continue to decline until it's not worth bothering to drill (1 to 1).
  • Other sources of fossil energy (such as coal and natural gas) will not be able to make up for the drop in oil production due to lower energy density and greater distances to markets.
  • Renewables, whilst being an important part of future supplies, have low energy density and require huge inputs of energy to change infrastructure from a centralised model to a more local, decentralised model. 
  • Drops in oil production will require huge changes to the way we live, eg pharmaceuticals, agriculture, building, transport.

  • The third crisis is climate change. The details may be up for debate, but CC is a fact and it will affect your future and that of generations to come.
  • Carbon reduction schemes will most probably become redundant due to huge emissions reductions caused by the credit crunch. This does not mean we should be complacent about cutting emissions, it's just a reality that economic crises lead to less consumption and hence less pollution.
  • Climate change may mean higher temperatures, more droughts, more cyclones, more flooding or even huge drops in temperatures depending on location.
But wait, don't slash your wrists quite yet! Nicole stressed that there are many things we can do on a personal and community level to be prepared:

  • Reduce your levels of debt as a priority. When banks feel the crunch interest rates will go sky high. Add the risk of losing your job or getting a pay cut and you can see why debt is bad. If you can shift money from shares or pensions to pay off debt it might be a good option, since the value of these will collapse in time. One great suggestion I heard was this: in Australia you can't access your superannuation (pension) funds until about the age of 65. BUT you can make your fund self managed, then use the funds to pay off a friend's home loan and they do the same to pay off yours. I love this idea and I'm going to investigate further. 
  • It may be good to reconsider if you are thinking about getting into the property market. House prices are still hugely inflated despite drops since 2008. All deflationary bubbles in the past (such as the 1930's) follow the same pattern of exponential growth followed by a sudden fall and the prices after the fall are always below the level when the boom started. This boom started in 1983, so house prices are due to drop to pre 1983 levels and won't rebound for many decades or more.
  • If you own your home then make sure you want to stay there for the long term, since it may be impossible to sell your home in the future. Renters may have an advantage in that they will have greater freedom to move to places with less conflict or more opportunities.
  • Save cash (cold hard cash) and buy short term government bonds. This will tide you over the critical first few months of the crisis. Banks may not give you your money if you want it, this happened in Argentina recently. Government bonds are safer than bank deposits since governments will stay liquid longer than banks.
  • Invest in things which will reduce your ongoing costs, eg solar panels, rainwater tanks, growing your own food.
  • Build links in your community. This could be as simple as getting to know your neighbours better or as ambitious as setting up a community garden or decentralised power hub. Strong communities will be able to work together to pool resources and skills in order to reduce the impacts of the collapse.
  • Stay healthy if you can. Private and public health insurance schemes may collapse, meaning medical bills shift to a pay as you go basis.
  • Prepare psychologically and tell your friends and family about these issues. People who can avoid fear and panic will be better off.
If you can make these changes and the crash doesn't come what have you lost? Nothing really, in fact you've probably gained a fair bit. I would urge you to take this seriously and investigate further. If you can catch Nicole's remaining Australian and New Zealand talks do so (see the Automatic Earth for details). Otherwise you can buy or rent the DVD "A Century of Challenges".

So, it's not quite the end of the world as we know it, but the party's pretty much over. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, please don't shoot the messenger! I hope Nicole Foss is wrong, I really do. But something tells me she's not, it just rings true...

Sunday, February 26, 2012


At last, we're actually eating our own bananas now. They are delicious, much sweeter and creamier than the Cavendish you get at supermarkets. Did you know that almost all bananas sold in the western world are clones of one plant. That means they genetically identical to each other, so 99% of the bananas most people eat taste exactly the same (ok, but pretty average compared to other varieties). Like most modern foods, the variety was chosen for shelf life, yield and disease resistance. This means it was not chosen for taste, which I think should be a high priority for a food. Anyway, enough ranting, here are some pics.

This is a hand of bananas, with 15 fingers. The first fruit we picked were under ripe and didn't ripen after picking. Then we picked some more and they took around 3 weeks in the fruit bowl to ripen, so now we're picking a hand at a time and giving some away. We're not letting the fruit ripen on the tree since we want to spread out the picking over as long a time as we can. The hand weighed in at 2 kg. I'd like to think we're saving lots of money in this venture, but I calculated that the 120 bananas we have on one plant should weigh in at around 16kg. Sod's law has dictated we are harvesting in a period of high supply and low prices (about $2 a kilo non organic), so a return of $32 isn't really going to put a big dent in our groceries bill! Maybe next year there will be another cyclone and bananas will be selling for $15 a kilo...

But of course that's not what it's all about. It's about learning new skills, building resilience, self sufficiency, the sense of joy you get when you see your plot yielding new fruit and finally it's about the yum.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Knight Bus

Here is today's creation, the Knight Bus. We love lego sets but also love making them up from the big box of lego. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quincey's Lego World

This is Quincey here and this is my special section of the family blog. I'm going to blog my creations every day for a week. 

This is my monster truck and its made out of lego. When the front bit bumps on something the man falls out. 

Every morning I get out of bed and make a new creation for my lego store.

I love playing with my lego and getting new sets of lego.

These are both called fighter bomb jets. They are a bit like fighter jets but they shoot forwards and not to land. They are soldiers but they fight for peace. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chook house reno's

Isn't it funny how things work out. Just a few weeks ago I was talking here about how the chook's egg production dips in winter and the need for insulation in chook houses. Then I got some coolroom panels on Freecycle, which we have been looking for for the roof of the Hilton Harvest Chookship. The panels turned out to be no good for the job, so a light bulb went off in my head. Why don't I use the panels to insulate our drafty old tin chook house. So I got up early last Sunday and got to work (a nice cool day for a change). Amy strolled up after a nice long sleep in to view the progress. She casually remarked on how good it would be if we made the house taller so we could walk in to it. At first I thought that's a great idea, but then it dawned on me that a small project would turn into a 3 day mission. We debated this for a while until consensus was reached that we didn't really need to do the extra work (Phew!).

This is how it looked before the reno.

I did the roof first, with nice thick 150mm panels (the R rating of these is over 4). The panels are just aluminium on the outside with polystyrene on the inside. I cut the panels to length (with a grinder and saw). Then I ripped off the old roof and put some jarrah boards in to attach the panels to more easily.

The tricky part was lining up the holes in the panels with the wood. I had to drill one side of the panel, then flip it and drill the other side (didn't have a long enough drill bit). Then I pushed out the polystyrene between the two holes and put the panel in place. The next step was to put an 8" bolt through the hole and push on it to mark the wood, take the panel off and drill the wood, put the panel back on and put the bolt through, attaching it with a washer and nut the other side. I did this for all 6 holes, maybe I'll buy a long drill bit when I do it for Hilton Harvest! Anyway, it worked out well with only one hole needing to be drilled twice. The roof has a western pitch, so it won't radiate heat in summer and will keep the chooks warm in the winter nights.

I installed one 100mm and one 70mm thick panel on the western side too. Unfortunately I had to leave a piece of tin on one end because there wasn't room between the big adjacent tree trunk and the shed. This panel should deflect the hot afternoon sun in summer and keep the cold out in winter.

I also put in a panel on the southern side and one on the eastern side (thinner 70mm panels). These were easier since I just needed 90mm tek screws to attach them.

Lastly I put flashing on to clean it up a bit and I've allowed for the vents in the upper parts of the side walls to be boarded up in winter to keep the wind out and the heat in. I had some bits of zincalume left over from the solar pergola which worked well to cover exposed polystyrene and shed water. The shed is not solar passive unfortunately (that would have involved tearing it down and moving it and starting all over again), which means that the sun will not be able to heat up the place in winter. Still, I think it's a great improvement. The total cost for the project was about $100, mainly for the flashing and screws and nuts and bolts.

We had another disastrous egg sitting experience, so we've said "Bugger it" and got 4 hybrid Hi-lines from City Farmers. Here is one of them checking out the new accomodation.

We can't wait for the eggs to start flowing on a more regular basis.