Monday, November 28, 2011

Beyond Fuels 2: The Tools Beyond Fuels

My former housemate Jon is a very handy guy to have around. He's good at fixing things--in fact, he fixes things for a living. When I expressed interest in learning these kinds of skills, he loaned me two of his books. (It's been sort of a long-term loan as I borrowed them quite a while back.)

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay is an introduction to the basic physical principles of tools. While it does explore electricity and nuclear power plants (and the newest edition focuses on computers) the early chapters give a basic understanding of how simple things actually work.

In fact, the first part is called The Mechanics of Movement and discusses the Inclined Plane, Levers, Wheels and Axles, Gears and Belts, Cams and Cranks and Pulleys, and Springs and Screws and Rotating Wheels. If you can ignore the overly cute mammoths, this book will give you a clear and simple picture of the physics behind the tools and machines we use. Even better, it shows how some of these very basic concepts are used in many complicated machines. Later sections explain how boats and pumps and toilets and thermostats work. All in all, incredibly useful to someone who has no real knowledge of why and how tools (and machines) work. And if fossil fuels go away, knowing the use, care, and repair of tools and simple machines is going to be very important.

The other book Jon loaned me is a very old, very useful book called A Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane. Eric Sloane points out that the word 'museum' used to mean a printed collection of facts. His book is a collection of information about the tools used in the US before mass production took over. They were hand made with care and each was one of a kind. The book gives a lot of information about the functions of tools and what was used for what--particularly which implement was used to fashion what before power tools took over. Each page has beautiful drawings of the tools and is filled with information on their use.

If fuels are going away, so are power tools. To live beyond fuels means that we can't take any technology for granted. Not just power tools, but even things like assuming the lights will work and we can just purchase what we want. Knowing how to make and craft things, how things work and how they are repaired, and how to do this all using simple tools will be essential. We will need an real understanding of what basic hand tools are and how they work. Once they were how everything were made and built. I believe that this is how they will be again.

Quote of the Day: "The Civil War period marked a turning point in tool design... Before that time, the word tool meant an implement that could make one thing at a time; mass production tools then entered the scene, and the word tool, which had meant only 'hand tool', took on many added meanings. ...
"Generally speaking, hand tools made after the Civil War period lacked the simple beauty of those of the ante-bellum period. Things were made to sell quickly, things were made in large quantities so that they could be catalogued identically, and hand-made implements began to disappear. ...
"When we consider tools, we are dealing with human benefactors of the most primary sort. Tools increase and vary human power, they economize human time, and they convert raw substances into valuable and useful products. ...
"An extraordinary awareness of life and time permeated our early days; when something was made and the maker was satisfied, it wasn't complete until his mark and the date were added. Nowadays things are almost obsolete before they leave the drawing board." - Eric Sloane

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beyond Fuels 1: New Living and Old Learnings

We need to learn to live without fossil fuels. (Or nuclear fuels, for that matter.) Whether you look at peak oil (and Peak Everything--see my post of 7/20/08), or climate change, or all the pollution these fuels cause, or what the industrial world is doing to our lives, it's clear (at least to me) we need something different.

I wrote about Walking Away (8/23/11) and taking The First Step (9/3/11) a few months ago. While there is no way to accurately describe or predict where we are going and what lies in a world beyond fuels, in this series I want to point to some resources that give some general directions on where we're headed (or could be headed).

A lot of this will be looking at re-learning the tools and skills from times before nuclear energy and fossil fuels. There's a lot of good stuff that we've abandoned--and not just from a long time ago. Some of this series will also talk about things developed in those heady times in the sixties and seventies when we began exploring alternatives that seemed to have been dropped for our current high tech, high stress lifestyles.

I also want to point to new things that are being created. The future is not going to look just like the past, even if there are similarities. We've learned more than a few new things that don't require fuels to make them work.

The future will be built on what we can harvest from the sun and wind and water and muscle. And it will be built on having less and enjoying it (and each other) more. It will probably be harder, but it could be more fun.

Quote of the Day: "The transition to a post-carbon, post-growth future means relocalizing and reinhabiting certain places, learning where we're at....
"With careful, concerted action on and help from nature's phenomenal capacity for regeneration, the transition beyond fossil-fuel-dependent industrial civilization to a stable world of flourishing, land-based communities may find our descendants inhabiting a planet that still hosts a variety of life and culture." -Stephanie Mills

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Coming Together

Over the course of this past week, the house I'm living in has started to take shape as a community. I've had interesting discussions with several of the folks, I taught composting to one person and I'm planning a sheet-mulched raised-bed with another. We finally have a chore list and we have a long awaited house meeting scheduled for Sunday. We've gotten through at least one tricky conflict and people are feeling good about each other.

The thing about community is that it's organic--and that means it moves on its own timetable. I need to keep remembering this. The things that are happening now are things I expected to happen in September, but that only goes to show that I'm not in control of how community unfolds.

It feels really good and I need to remember that there is much more to come, and a lot of it won't be what I expect. I remember a quote I read years ago that said (and this is from memory): "When venturing into the unknown, by definition, you don't know what you'll find." It's a good description of building community from scratch.

Quote of the day: "Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other's faults and failures." - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Darkness and Despair

No, I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth. Life at home has been stressful and my quiet job has gotten very, very busy. I haven't had the time to put into this blog. Life will probably quiet down but it might not be until December--or next year.

I started writing the intro for a new series on 'Life After Fuel', and I have lots of ideas for it (and lots of resources), so hopefully when I get the time I can plunge into that.

Meanwhile, I almost always write something this time of the year to honor the pagan feast of Samhain. (Pronounced, for some reason having to do with celtic languages, like 'sow-wen'. See Darkness, 11/1/08, Out of Darkness, 11/1/09, and Death, Decay, and Impermanence, 11/1/10 for my previous posts.)

One aspect of darkness I want to look at is the feeling of despair. This is not an easy feeling for me--or for many people, I imagine. I have a natural optimism that keeps finding reasons for hope, no matter what. I also fear that if I felt some of the real despair that is all around, I would sink into it and become depressed and hopeless.

Yet the despair is there. I'm not sure we (the human species) are going to make it and I am sure that if we do, it will be through a lot of pain and suffering, and I often feel like there isn't much that I can do to affect that. I don't want to deny those feelings, but I also don't want to sink into them and give up. I am not going to give up hopefulness, but I wonder if there is a way to hold to both hope and despair and not give up (or give into) either.

As the darkness, and the cold, and the winter rolls in, I want to acknowledge my despair, and my grieving over the way we are stuck in what we are doing, and continue to do it, even if it means our destruction. I want to feel those feelings and also the hope that even the little I can do may make some slight bit of difference.

I've had the thought (occasionally) that if we are doomed, we should treat each other the way we'd treat someone who is dying. Like hospice work, we need to give comfort and care to each other. If we are going to disappear as a species, it's worth being gentle and supportive to people and allow ourselves to die out with dignity. Of course, I still want to work to make this not happen, but I think it is worth feeling the uncertainty, and the despair, and remain open to the possibility that we are not going to make it. And whether we do, or we don't, loving each other is the best way to go. And for now I will try to remain open to the darkness and despair.

Quote of the Day: "We are bombarded by signals of distress--ecological destruction, social breakdown, and uncontrolled nuclear proliferation. Not surprisingly, we are feeling despair--a despair well merited by the machinery of mass death we continue to create and serve. What is surprising is the extent to which we hide this despair from ourselves and each other. ...
"Despair in this context, is not a macabre certainty of doom or a pathological condition of depression and futility. ... Rather, as it is being experienced by increasing numbers of people across a broad spectrum of society, despair is the loss of the assumption that the species will inevitably pull through. ...
"So long as we see ourselves as essentially separate, competitive, and ego-identified beings, it is difficult to accept the validity of our social despair, deriving as it does from interconnectedness. Both our capacity to grieve for others and our power to cope with this grief spring from the great matrix of relationships in which we take our being." - Joanna Macy