Category Archives: Technology

Homemade Bio-gas As An Energy Source

By: Tom Chatham

No matter where you live, energy plays a major role in your life. Practically everything we do from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we close our eyes at night depends on energy of some sort. It is this dependency on energy for our everyday needs that makes us prone to great loss when those supplies are cut off for some reason.

Those in the off grid community know how important energy is. Locally produced energy enables individuals to become more secure and not take energy supplies for granted. Under normal circumstances, most people get their energy from the national distribution system. It may be gasoline, diesel, electric or gas. Due to the complex nature of the distribution system, it is all to possible to lose this supply for some duration when disaster strikes.

Solar, wind, hydroelectric, thermoelectric and power generators enable persons to utilize electrical devices anywhere. Wood provides the ability to cook and heat. Bio diesel, alcohol and producer gas units enable you to power internal combustion engines from local energy supplies.

One of the favorite energy systems of remote homes is propane. It enables those with little supply of electricity to cook, heat, refrigerate foods, heat water and even produce light. One of the advantages of gas appliances is the fact that some types of disasters that can permanently damage some systems, will not affect their operation.

It does not matter if energy supplies are cut off due to a national strike, natural disaster, economic collapse, enemy attack or solar event. The effects are the same. When it happens you are limited to the energy supplies you have on hand until the event stabilizes and the distribution system is working again. Depending on the event, it may be weeks months or even years before this is fixed.

Some events can even cause the permanent destruction of electrical appliances and equipment making gas appliances that much more valuable. These low probability/high impact events will likely have little effect on gas appliances which is a good reason to utilize this type of system. The problem then is how to provide the energy to run these appliances in a long term situation.

The nature of gas appliances provides a flexible solution. Bio gas is relatively easy to produce from many different sources. On some dairy farms today, cow manure is used to fuel generators to reduce the cost of operations. While small homesteads will not be able to produce that much bio energy, they do have the ability to produce small amounts to power critical equipment like stoves and refrigeration.

Bio gas units are relatively easy to build from local supplies. By utilizing livestock manure, you can provide a suitable alternative to the refined gas you normally buy. This can enable you to avoid the loss of necessary appliances during an event an can save you money in normal times that can be used for other necessities.

When manure breaks down, it releases methane. Left in the open this potential fuel is lost to the atmosphere. When manure is placed in a container the released gas can be drawn off and stored for future use. For those that have livestock, this can be a good energy supply that only costs you a little time. This can allow you to have functional appliances even during the worst types of events when energy supplies may be cut off for long periods. For those that have gas appliances, it is good to know you can produce your own energy supplies to avoid the hardship that would follow the loss of those units. The following links will help get you started with this line of knowledge.

Making Methane from Chicken Manure: Digester Construction

Methane Digesters for Fuel Gas and Fertilizer – Chapter 4

How to Make a Small Scale Methane Biodigester | Alternat1ve.com – One Alternative Energy Blog

Would Society Survive An EMP?

By: Tom Chatham

There has been much talk the past few years of a possible EMP/CME that would cause a mass die off in society. There are those that rebuff the idea that a technological society like ours would simply die from something as simple as lack of power. In many cases these are the same people in society that expect the government to come to their rescue if something does happen. The idea of dieing from a lack of basic necessities is so far outside of their comfort zone that these people refuse to think about it or acknowledge it could happen.

These people like to think that simply losing power or technology is a temporary thing that someone will fix in short order and life will return to normal. They believe they will just survive as our ancestors did a hundred or so years ago and life will go on with few bumps until technology is restored. This type of thinking is shortsighted and naive at best, and here is why.

There are a few words that many people need to understand in order to wrap their mind around this threat. Those words are available resources, skills and infrastructure.

When technology fails society is suddenly limited to the resources it needs that are already produced and on hand for immediate use. If water suddenly stops being purified and pumped through the lines, you are limited to what you now have in the lines or storage tanks. Gas stations are limited to the fuel they have in storage tanks. Stores are limited to the food and clothing they have on hand. The failure of technology will stop water from being replaced, sewage from being removed, refrigeration from keeping foods edible, light from illuminating dark areas that must be traversed, elevators from getting people to upper floors, gas and electric for heating and cooking, water for fighting fires, communications for calling for help and medical devices to keep people alive.

The reason everything will stop is because of another word to remember, infrastructure. Without infrastructure nothing gets done, even on a simple basis. You cannot cook food without some type of infrastructure to produce heat, you cannot store food without some type of storage to keep it cold or some type of container to keep it protected from rodents and the environment. You cannot process or store food without equipment to cut, grind, dry, smoke, can or root cellar it. You cannot harvest, plant or grow food without some type of equipment to do those jobs.

The original definition of an acre was the amount of ground a farmer could plow in a full day. Farmers now plant hundreds of acres a day to keep Americans fed. With no modern equipment, how many acres can a farmer plant even if he had a trained team of horses and the equipment to pull behind them? Let us not forget that 2 percent of the population now grows the food for the whole country. How much would they now be able to produce even if they had the necessary equipment to do it manually? Let us also not forget that farmers need to buy their seed every year to plant. Very few individuals raise heritage seeds that they can plant every year from their own production. Where would these seeds now come from? Farmers also need lots of fertilizer to make these plants grow, where would that fertilizer come from? Many farms need irrigation to grow plants, so where would the power come from to pump that water? The age old practice of utilizing animal manure to fertilize fields only works if the farmer has livestock to produce that manure. Once harvested, how will that food now get transported to distant markets? How will farmers know where to send it without communications? A telegraph system is simple but must be built before it can be used.

Many people think that if technology fails we will simply live as past generations have but they conveniently neglect the fact that regardless of what systems you use you must have the infrastructure to provide for that system. If you go from mail to telegraphs or from analog to digital technology the problems are the same, you must have the infrastructure in place to switch to first. It is true we know how to build the older technology but where will the resources come from to actually build it? Remember, once technology fails you are somewhat limited to what you have on hand to work with.

If we had to return to 1880’s living, how many people have a team of horses, a wagon to hook them to, a butter churn, a grain mill, cheese making supplies, candles, oil lamps, matches, wood cook stoves, blacksmith supplies, hand pumps or dug wells? People were able to live back then because they had the infrastructure to do so. This is what many people do not understand. How hard would it be for us to go back to vacuum tube technology now without the infrastructure to support it, even if we do know how to build it?

In 1776 America, about 40% of men worked their own farm. Another 30% worked as laborers on farms. About 20% owned large commercial farms or plantations. The remaining 10% or so who were professional businessmen frequently owned modest farms where they might raise a cow, some chickens and have a garden to provide for the home table. Even those town people that had no farm usually had a cow, some chickens and a kitchen garden for home use. To go back to this model would be difficult if not impossible for many reasons only one of which is the fact that city dwellers have no room for gardens or the infrastructure to maintain cows and chickens on the large scale that would be needed.

The other thing that many people ignore are the skills required to live in a different system. Most people cannot simply plant seeds and suddenly become a great gardener. They do not know how to make cheese or how to improvise cheese making supplies from items now in the home. They do not know how to make soap or candles or something as simple as toilet paper. A roll of paper seems simple in design but how many know how to process wood pulp or other fibers to make paper? It does not matter if you are making ten thousand rolls in a factory or one roll at home, you need the skills and infrastructure to do it.

Skills come in many forms but the skills that society depends on the most are the craftsmen and engineers that design and build the technology we depend on. Without their knowledge, it would be difficult to replace the technology we now use. How many people know how to rebuild and maintain the phone system we now use? How many people know how to build and repair refrigeration units or make electric motors? How many people know how to refine oil into gasoline and diesel and make plastics and all the other things from petroleum?

In a long term grid down situation where society breaks down, many people would die and those that hold the keys to our technology would be among them. The longer the duration of disruption, the less likely it would be that those who could rebuild the systems would be able to do so. It is a situation where society’s capabilities decrease as time goes on.

Many people talk of hunting and fishing to fulfill their dietary needs but if even ten percent of the nation decides to do the same due to necessity, how long will the game and fish last before it is all gone? Even if you have some food and seeds to plant, it will take time to grow new supplies. In the days following an event, those that are not prepared will seek out supplies from those that have them, including those that have gardens. It is for this reason that it will be difficult to grow replacement supplies for the first one or two years following an event in most places. This would necessitate those that have supplies be able to support themselves and their families until new crops could be produced. The less prepared the population is the longer your initial supplies will need to last.

Once you take into account these things it becomes evident that it would not be easy to revert to an earlier type of system without major disruptions. It is for these reasons that it becomes necessary for the population in general to have the necessary resources to tide them over until infrastructure and skills can adjust to the new reality people find themselves in.

During the cold war the government maintained three years worth of grain in reserve to feed the population until agriculture could recover after a major attack. Today the government keeps little in the way of food for the entire nation. If something happens they depend on resources coming from unaffected areas of the country to help. In a nationwide disaster, there may not be any help to send. This is the reason individuals need to keep the necessary resources on hand to tide them over until the system can be stabilized in some way and some technology can come back on line.

Unfortunately in a worse case disaster, this would only buy some of the population a little time. If the technology we depend on is offline for longer than the resources that are available to the population last, then a mass die-off would ,occur. It is important to remember that only 2% of the nation farms today. Without the modern systems to farm large tracts of land, it would be impossible for any small percentage of the population to feed the whole nation utilizing older, manual techniques. The population would decrease until technology was sufficient to support the population. This would hold true for other parts of the system such as clothing production and healthcare as well.

Because of the high impact this scenario would have on the population, that is the reason people need to resolve to store supplies and resources to care for themselves in the unlikely event this happens. The possession of basic food supplies, medicines, toiletries, energy supplies and alternative transportation and communication systems can provide society the room it needs to extract itself from the worst of the situation. The lack of preparedness will only insure a higher casualty rate and more destruction of surviving infrastructure in the aftermath of an event. The lower the preparedness level of society, the less likely society will be able to survive and rebuild itself.

Six Things You Should Know How To Improvise

By: Tom Chatham

In the technological world we live in it is very easy to lose that capacity in a severe disaster. Our ability to use technology to leverage our resources and make informed decisions gives us a decided edge during disasters that improves our chances of surviving. When disaster strikes our ability to make certain things from scratch allows us to maintain some capabilities and overcome the problems we face.

Refrigeration –

When technology fails the need for keeping foods and medicines cold are still present. Those that have absorption units and a good supply of fuel can maintain refrigeration but most of society will lose that ability. In an emergency situation where refrigeration is a matter of life and death you need to have a reliable backup system to employ even if only for temporary periods. One possible backup system can be the use of CO2 fire extinguishers to produce ice for cooling. By “hosing down” a container of water with an extinguisher you can produce ice that can be used for keeping coolers or refrigerators cool inside for short periods of time. This may enable you to preserve some foods and medicines until other systems can be repaired or replaced. This type of cooling effect is due to the compressed gas in the container. When it is released and expands it creates a cooling effect. This is true with many compressed gasses such as Freon. A CO2 extinguisher works great for icing down a 6 pack when you are in the middle of the desert. This type of system is messy and should be used outside.

Canned Heat -

Canned heat, more commonly referred to as sterno, is an ideal substance to provide cooking ability and limited heat during a crisis when other forms of heating are not available. This substance can be made by utilizing a metal can and dissolving Styrofoam into different types of petroleum fuels. This causes the fuel to become thickened forming a gel. This type of fuel is more stable and safer to use than pure liquid fuels. Other types of liquids can be used such as alcohol. The following link provides one way to make sterno for emergency use. http://www.noodle.org/learn/323025/make-home-made-sterno-type-fuel-for-cooking-camping-prepping-a-vr-to-soulsurvivorx2

Compass-

The ability to navigate from point to point following a disaster may become necessary to get to a safe area. This is not as difficult in a city environment as it is in open country that you are not familiar with. When you must travel long distances cross country and only have a general direction to your destination it is helpful to know what direction you are moving in. It is very easy to get disoriented in woods or mountains causing you to stray off course and get lost. A simple way to keep on course is the use of an improvised compass. The following link explains how to make a simple compass. This should be practiced before you actually need it to familiarize yourself with how it works. http://www.green-planet-solar-energy.com/experiments-with-magnets.html

Radiation Meter-

During times of nuclear war or nuclear hazards such as the continuing Fukushima disaster it is important for you to know how much radiation you are being exposed to so that you can make informed decisions and take the appropriate actions to preserve life and health. It is easy to buy a radiation meter but it is a piece of equipment that is relatively expensive and may not be used very often making it a luxury that many average people cannot or will not purchase especially during times of financial difficulty. Because of this and the fact that
many people will not see a need for this type of device until something has already happened making acquisition of such equipment impossible it is good to know you can make a reliable radiation meter from household materials. The following link will allow you to make a meter from scratch. http://www.ki4u.com/free_book/s60p792.htm

Radio-

When something severe such as an EMP or solar storm takes down the normal technology that we use, information will become very important. Even in the most severe cases it is likely that some transmitters will be restored in short order to transmit information. This will not matter to you unless you have receiving equipment to pick up the signal. The use of solid state devices and chips will render most if not all civilian receivers inoperable in such a disaster. Even if you have a functional unit you will also need power to operate it which will be difficult to produce under these circumstances. The ability to build a basic receiver from household materials that requires no power source will enable you to stay informed in the most severe circumstances which will help you stay ahead of the survival curve. The following link provides good information on building such units. http://scitoys.com/scitoys/scitoys/radio/homemade_radio.html

Clean Water -

The ability to produce clean drinking water has allowed modern society to control many diseases and keep people healthy. In a severe disaster you may be confronted with the specter of contaminated water. The ability to produce clean water and remain healthy when medical resources are limited will help provide an edge during disasters. The easiest way to purify water is to boil it killing all harmful organic organisms. This is something many do when water supplies are suspect. In a disaster this may not be enough. Organic threats are only one problem. Disasters can unleash chemicals and harmful particles into the ecosystem that cannot be made harmless by heat. Many of these threats may not be known by you until they accumulate in your system and suddenly cause disabling affects. The ability to construct a filtering system from locally available materials will give you one more wall of defense against unnecessary sickness. The following links provide a good starting point for making your own filters.
http://www.tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-make-a-homemade-water-filter.htm

http://www.practicalprimitive.com/skillofthemonth/charcoalfilter.html

Many of the things we use today are taken for granted and we do not realize how dependant we are on them until they no longer work. The fact that basic science has been so politicized today and schools are dumbing down society means that many people do not know how many basic things work. Learning how things work is one of the best ways to combat the dangerous situations we encounter when disaster strikes. A little knowledge can go a long ways when things fall apart without warning.

Energy: The Lowest Common Denominator Part II

By: Tom Chatham

 

Energy can be found in many different forms. Our need for energy determines how fast the economy can grow or how much work each of us can do. The world would be much different without the many types of energy available today. If energy becomes scarce in the future, your life may depend on what you know about it.

Human power-

A good man is said to be about equal to 1/10th horsepower. Even that little amount of power can be used to grow food, produce small amounts of electrical power by hand and move loads. It is the smallest unit of power that you want to have available to you. If you are very young or very old that power will be limited and other sources will be needed to make up the difference.

Animal power-

The availability of draft animals can increase your production many times over that of human power. Animals can be used not only to pull loads and plow fields but to provide power for mechanical devices to increase output. The ability to fuel these animals with locally produced foods, many of which are unrefined and unharvested, gives you the self sufficiency required to produce under most circumstances.

Mechanical power-

The ability to convert most energy sources for use provides the means to power mechanical devices to do a multitude of jobs both small and large. Whether it is a waterwheel used to grind grains, a horse to press sorghum, an engine to provide transportation or a tractor to plow a field, most energy sources are converted into mechanical energy for useful work. The more energy available, the more work you can do.

Electrical power-

Electricity is a cornerstone of modern life. Nearly everything we do relies on electricity. Most of the devices we use are just advanced models of the manual devices in use many years ago. Electricity can be produced by generators powered by mechanical devices or from chemical reactions. It can be used as it is produced or stored in various ways for later use.

Thermal power-

The ability to convert heat energy into other forms is one of the first ways man learned to harness power. Steam engines to power machines, steam to heat buildings and cook food and the burning of solid materials to alter molecular structures of resources are just some of the ways we use heat to provide the materials we need and to accomplish work. With a thermoelectric generator you can convert heat directly into electricity similar to how a solar cell produces electricity.

Liquid fuels-

The ability to convert solid energy into liquid products that concentrate the energy and make it more useful has been beneficial to the human race. Petroleum, alcohol, LPG, animal fats, and other plant based fuels provide us with an energy source that is highly mobile and easily utilized.

Solid fuels-

Solid fuel sources almost all started as something else before achieving a solid state. Wood, coal and animal dung are some of the sources of energy we rely on for everyday use around the world. Most solid energy sources rely on a combination of hydrogen and carbon content to provide the energy they emit. At the most basic level, solid fuels are the most readily available energy source for individuals. There are very few energy systems that we use that wood and coal cannot provide the power for. They can be converted into a gas by burning to be used in internal combustion engines or burned to provide heat for other processes.

Gas fuels-

The use of combustible gasses as a source of energy is more difficult and requires special equipment to be useful. It can be derived from a multitude of sources which makes it a good energy source. It can be extracted from gas deposits in the ground or produced by the decay or burning of plant material. The production of wood gas and methane from animal waste products is a process within the capabilities of the individual.

Diesel power plants for closed loop operation in an underground base was studied for practicality. The system would utilize sodium hydroxide for disposal of carbon dioxide in the exhaust gas, liquid oxygen for the combustion of the fuel in the engines and fuel oil stored in tanks to power the engines. Fuel cells and nuclear power were deemed more cost effective in the end.

Chemical power-

The ability of some chemicals to emit energy when combined in certain combinations is useful in some applications. A simple storage battery allows the storing of electrical power in chemical form. A fuel cell can combine hydrogen and oxygen or other combinations to produce usable power. Water can be electrolyzed to break it into these two gasses for storage.

An interesting note on chemical power is a system the government developed for powering underground bases. Boeing determined that iron-chlorine fuel cells would be the most efficient. This power scheme utilized underground tanks filled with liquid chlorine that was combined with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid (HCL). This reaction created electricity in the fuel cells. The HCL is then pumped into tanks filled with small iron balls. This reaction results in ferrous chloride and hydrogen gas which is pumped back to the fuel cell to be combined with liquid chlorine starting the cycle over. It was determined that this was the most cost effective method up to four years use while liquid metal cooled nuclear reactors would be more cost effective for longer periods.

Natural power sources-

Some of the available energy sources we have to draw on do no fit neatly into other categories. Sunlight to produce electricity, wind to turn a generator, flowing water to turn a shaft and nuclear energy all provide energy we can harness with special equipment. Many types of natural forces exist that have the potential to provide energy. We are only now starting to unlock some of the secrets of this little known world. Men like Tesla are thought to have discovered some of these secrets only to have them lost to time.

In many ways, most of the energy sources we depend on today can be traced back to the sun itself. Solar energy causes the earth to heat and cool causing wind. It enables plants to grow which can produce gasses when they decay or in some cases store energy while living that can be used like the wood in trees. Plant life can lead to sources of stored energy like coal and petroleum. The heating of the planet causes evaporation which leads to rain that flows downhill providing a source of water power. With some simple materials the heat of the sun can be harnessed for power and the light itself can be converted into electrical power. The sun is the ultimate expression of energy and the many forms it can take that can be harnessed for human use.

Some of the easiest energy sources for the individual to tap into are:

Sunlight-

The primary use for sunlight is to grow things. Photosynthesis makes the world we know possible. Sunlight can be harnessed to produce electricity directly utilizing solar cells or with panels to trap the heat for multiple uses. The heat can be used to produce steam, heat food or power absorption type refrigeration units. Passive and active systems can also be used to heat homes.

Wind-

Wind can be harnessed to propel a ship or turn a windmill. With a windmill you can turn a shaft to do mechanical work like grind grain, turn a generator or pump water.

Water-

Water flowing from a high place to lower levels can be harnessed to turn a shaft to do mechanical work much as a windmill can. With a stored body of water, you can control when you use it and how much work you do. In some regards, it is much like a storage battery.

Solid fuels-

Fuel sources like wood or coal can be burned to power many types of devices. They can be burned to produce heat or turned into a gas to be used in gas appliances or internal combustion engines. In the 1800’s prior to electricity, town gas was used to power stoves, heaters and gas lamps. The town gas was produced by burning coal.

Gasses-

A gas burns more efficiently than a solid or a liquid because it can mix more thoroughly with air to achieve more complete combustion. Propane and natural gas are the most utilized types of gas in use today. Unless you have a natural gas well in your yard, it would be difficult to get one of these gasses if supplies were cut off for some reason. A gas made from wood or coal may be adaptable for modern appliances with some experimentation. Methane made from animal waste is a viable alternative if a sufficient supply exists. By storing this waste in an enclosed container with some water and other organic material, bacteria will release the methane from the waste and provide a usable gas. In some third world countries this gas is used to power stoves for cooking. In the U.S. some large livestock operations such as dairy farms, use this gas for producing electricity. With wood or coal gas a person can power engines such as generators or vehicles.

Liquid fuels-

The most common liquid fuels used today are derived from petroleum. Petroleum fuels are derived from complex distillation techniques that result in products with dozens or even hundreds of different chemicals in them. It would be difficult for the average person to effectively refine petroleum from crude oil. It is possible to reprocess some petroleum products individually. One fuel a person can make is black diesel. It is made from used motor oil and can be used to power older diesel engines. Some newer engines have sensors that monitor the fuel and the dark fuel prevents them from registering properly so it may not work on them properly. Diesel can also be made from plant based oils such as those used in cooking.

Another liquid fuel an individual can produce is alcohol. Alcohol can be made from many different plants. Some plants produce more than others. One of the most widely used plants is corn. A professional distillery can extract about 2.5 gallons of alcohol from a bushel of corn. One of the misconceptions is that fuels for internal combustion engines must be liquid. While this is the current method it is very inefficient. In the 1930’s a man succeeded in improving the gas mileage of cars. He developed a system of fully vaporizing gasoline and cooling it sufficiently before entering the engine. His system resulted in consistent results of over 200 mpg. This is the root of all of the stories about a 100 mpg carburetor. Unfortunately when the results of his tests became known the system quickly disappeared and the experiment has never been repeated. The problem with vaporizing modern gasoline is that it contains so many different chemicals. It would need to be heated to over 400 degrees to fully vaporize.

Alcohol is a much better candidate for a vapor system. Since alcohol is a single chemical, it will vaporize at 180 degrees. This is within the normal operating temperature of a vehicle. When vaporized, the energy content of a gallon of alcohol should theoretically give you around 90 mpg. Just something to think about in the future.

No matter where you are, if you look around you will likely see several types of energy you can use if you are ever thrown back on your own resources. Most people see these things every day and never give them a second thought. When planning for the future, whatever your plans are, it is necessary to give some thought to energy sources, how they affect you and how you plan to utilize them. Whether it is food to live, fuel to cook, heat and provide transportation or light to see, you will require energy in many different ways even for a relatively simple lifestyle. The knowledge you can gain now is relatively cheap but will have incomprehensible value to you in the future whatever you may do.

20 Non-Electric Tools For a More Productive Homestead

By: Tom Chatham

Once you have started your homestead, you will want to make it as productive as possible in order to provide the many different items that enhance your quality of life. For a homesteader, quality of life will usually take precedence over monetary gain so some of your endeavors will achieve nothing more than personal satisfaction. Even so, in the process of providing satisfaction in your own life, you may be able with the aid of certain tools, to provide for additional production that can be traded or sold. Nothing could be better than enjoying the fruits of your labor and making some extra money to boot. Many of the tools that you acquire will be based largely on the types of production activities you are involved in so a homesteader should take that into account before they begin. Compiling a list of needed items in your future endeavor will help determine if it is a worthwhile purchase or if the funds should be spent elsewhere. For someone just starting out, every dime is important so careful thought should be given to any planned production activity. For many, it may take years of saving to acquire all of the tools that you wish to have so priorities must be assigned to the most beneficial tools. A benefit of buying slowly and purchasing quality tools is the knowledge that it is a purchase you will only need to make once in your lifetime if care is taken.

Butter churn

Cream separator

Cheese press

Sausage stuffer

Smoker

Cider press

Grain mill

Ice cream maker

Honey extractor

Meat grinder

Wheel hoe

Ethanol still

Apple peeler/corer

Manual washing machine

Corn Sheller

Manual water pump

Hanging scale

Spinning wheel

Floor loom

Manual sewing machine

With a supply of woodworking tools and the knowledge to use them, many of these items, which can be expensive, can be homemade. In the coming weeks watch our blogroll for links to do-it-yourself plans for some of these items. The more you can build yourself, the less your homesteading activities will cost you and the greater your profit potential. The more production capabilities you have, the better you will be able to navigate the difficult times that are on the horizon. With the increasing energy demands of the world and the increasing cost of production, non-electric devices free you from the uncertainty of how you will process your raw materials into products you can use or sell. Power equipment can do more faster, but simple tools allow you to produce regardless of the energy situation and the simplicity of operation allows you to do most repairs on equipment yourself with minimal tools and repair parts. The world is changing and the more you can do for yourself, the better your quality of life will be in the future.

Electronic Armageddon: The Carrington Event Then and Now

By: Tom Chatham – Author of The Crux Event

In 1859, an event unlike anything experienced before by modern man, occurred. A massive Coronal Mass Ejection occurred on the sun sending vast quantities of solar particles on a collision course with Earth. The result of this collision caused severe disruptions with the only major electrical equipment then in existence, the telegraph system. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earths magnetic field that were literally off the scale.

Auroras were seen as far south as the Caribbean, gold miners in the Rocky Mountains were awakened by a light so bright they thought it was morning and those in the northeast could read news papers by the light.

Telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America failed and in some cases shocked telegraph operators. Telegraph lines threw sparks, paper in some telegraph offices caught fire and some lines continued to send messages even after the battery power had been removed from the line. The electrical effects were severe but the lack of electrical devices in use at this time allowed society to continue as normal and this disturbance was viewed as nothing more than a curiosity.

Scientists believe events of this size can occur every 500 years and events of a lesser but still destructive magnitude can happen several times per century. Scientists are getting better at predicting space weather but mother nature often times ignores our best forecasting and throws us a curve.

What would happen if a storm of this magnitude were to strike the Earth today? The biggest worry we have is the power grid. Satellites would be affected preventing most communications and financial transactions but if the grid goes down due to transformer blowouts, it could be a long time before we get it back up. The larger transformers 500+ KV in size cost millions of dollars and take 1 to 3 years to get even in normal times. Very few of these are kept in supply and the loss of dozens or hundreds at one time could be a disaster as only a small number are made every year and none are currently made in the U.S.

If many of these large transformers went down, it would take down our high tech society with it. Many of our cars and computers and appliances would probably still work, but how would we run them without power? How would we pump water to cities and pump fuel so trucks and trains could deliver food and medicine? How would our medical system operate without the high tech gadgets we depend on to keep people alive and diagnose them? How would we communicate and conduct financial business without our computers? Yes, we have backup generators but how long will they last before they run out of fuel that we can no longer process, pump and deliver?

This is the nightmare scenario we need to address before it happens. Currently we can detect CMEs about 20 hours before they reach Earth. The current plan is to notify power companies of the danger so they can shut down parts of the grid and protect the transformers before they get burnt out. It’s a plan but I feel the need to ask, is this really the best plan we can come up with? What happens if mother nature throws us a curve and we don’t have time to power down the transformers? A report from the EMP commission stated that it would cost about $60 to $100 million to protect the 300 largest transformers that power the grid and an additional $400 to $600 million to protect an additional 3,000 transformers but our leaders don’t think that would be the best use for our money. A NASA report indicates that within 90 seconds of a Carrington Event reaching Earth, the 300 largest transformers in the U.S. would go down and recovery would take 4 to 10 years and some estimates place the death toll in the tens of millions of people.

If the grid goes down civilized society as it is will disintegrate rapidly due to the lax moral standards we now have as a society. The pictures of Japanese citizens patiently waiting in line to get supplies after the 2011 tsunami is a stark difference from what you could expect in the U.S. As with many potential problems, if the government would only discuss it in public and offer the public some simple preparedness tips and discuss how we as a nation would repair the damage, the public knowledge would help mitigate the damage and aid in recovery operations. Unfortunately, that’s not how we do things in the 21st century.

So how do we know how bad it was in 1859 if we didn’t have electronic devices back then to measure it?

To be maximally geoeffective , ie: to drive a magnetic storm, a CME must
(1) be launched from near the center of the sun onto a trajectory that will cause it to impact Earths magnetic field,
(2) be fast (1000 km/sec + ) and massive, thus producing large kenetic energy and
(3) have a strong magnetic field where orientation is opposite that of Earth.

Solar Energetic Particle events dominated by shock-accelerated particles traveling near the speed of light are channeled along geomagnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere above the poles where they can initiate ozone depleting chemistry in the middle atmosphere. Nitrates produced by SEP bombardment settle out of the atmosphere within weeks and are preserved in polar ice, allowing the magnitude of the SEP to be estimated many years later. This is how we can estimate the magnitude of the Carrington Event and apply it to modern technology.

Some scientists fear that the solar maximum that will peak in 2013 will spawn another CME similar to the Carrington Event causing catastrophic results on Earth. The recent uptick in solar storms may give some credence to our newfound concerns. The problem with a solar event as opposed to a manmade event is the possibility that we could be hit multiple times over the course of months before it diminishes. This could make recovery efforts many times more difficult. It is possible for individuals to prepare for an event like this to limit the hardships but this is something that must be done well in advance. The problem is that the vast majority will not prepare and they will cause this disaster to become a catastrophe if it happens. Those that are not prepared to live through a situation like this face a life threatening situation. Those that are prepared, face the danger posed by the unprepared.

The preparations that you make for this situation are similar to many other disasters and will require similar items and planning. For someone just starting out, a review of two previous articles, Your Plan is The Primary Prep on 21 May and Prepping for the Financially Challenged on 6 March, will give you some things to consider. One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that an event of this magnitude will necessitate a plan that spans multiple years in order to get through it. As I always stress, knowledge is the most important thing to have in a disaster and everyone needs to develop a plan that will work best for them. If the grid goes down besides not being able to travel or communicate, banking records could be frozen or destroyed taking your electronic money along with it. In this situation, the only money you may have access to is what you have on hand in cash and even then you may be limited as to what you will be able to buy. The only safe position is to already have supplies on hand. For this type of disaster, there is no such thing as being prepared too early or having too many supplies.

One final item that you need to plan for is the potential for a nuclear incident following a grid down event. The loss of power to maintain coolant can result in a meltdown of reactor fuel and the more serious problem of spent fuel coolant ponds going dry igniting radioactive fires. In this situation you have two choices, evacuate or shelter in place. Evacuation would be difficult at best and sheltering in place would present its own problems. An uncontrolled radioactive fire can spew radiation for decades so each person would need to evaluate the hazard to their location and plan accordingly. A modern day Carrington Event would be nothing short of Armageddon for the people of this planet.

Use Technology as a Lever Not a Crutch

By: Tom Chatham – Author of The American Dream Lost

Technology has allowed modern man to make life faster, easier and more productive. Technology has many benefits for man but all too often man abuses the tools he has developed and he becomes a slave to them. Take the kitchen for example. Many people do not know how to cook from scratch anymore because they rely on prepackaged frozen foods that can be ready in a matter of minutes without a lot of preparation. Some people would be lost if their coffee was not made automatically and awaited their sleepy bodies in the morning. Some people use a microwave oven exclusively to prepare meals on a daily basis. Even worse, some people rely almost exclusively on fast food for their meals and keep nothing at home to feed their families.

Many young people do not know a time when they could not email, surf the web, text or call someone from anywhere at any time of day. It has become evident that many people, young and old alike would suffer from a type of withdrawal effect if their electronics were lost for even a day. Many people have replaced human contact with electronic correspondence which reduces their human relations skills and many children spend most of their free hours on the computer instead of playing outside with friends as past generations have done, Growing children have a lot of pent up energy and when they don’t release that energy through physical activity it can cause them to be hyperactive in places such as school where they are diagnosed with all kinds of “disorders” that never existed before. This has caused the present generation to be the most highly medicated people in our history.

Lack of regular contact with others can deprive us of skills to deal with everyday life and work through difficult situations. Our dependence on machines and electronics have left many in want of basic necessities when disasters or power outages occur. How many times have you seen people leave home and go to a motel when the power goes out? A snow storm hits and people cannot heat their homes, watch TV or cook food. A thunderstorm knocks out power and people are desperate to find air conditioning and water. I find it incredible that most people feel so important now that they have the need to be on the phone constantly, especially while driving. I can’t help but wonder how we ever made it out of the 1950’s without cell phones.

People have become slaves to the machines they made to make life easier and now cannot live without. People rely on GPS now instead of reading maps and because of that they can be a block away from their destination and not know it if their GPS goes out. The art of writhing letters has been replaced with text messages and symbols. When you realize you are one of these people what could you do to limit the effects of the loss of this technology on occasion?

Spend one afternoon a week and take a walk through the neighborhood, assuming the area is safe, to get to know the neighbors.

At least once a week, cook a meal from scratch and use a cooking source that won’t go out with the power.

Meet a friend occasionally for a cup of coffee and chat instead of using the computer or phone.

Make your kids go outside and play, without the electronic gadgets, or better yet, go outside and play with them.

Have an old fashioned family picnic or a cookout at a local park.

Play board games at home occasionally.

Avoid using your cell phone one day a week or cut out talking while driving all together.

Get a backup heat source such as wood or propane and store some water for a backup supply.

Send a card or write a letter instead of sending an email.

Plant a garden and can some of your own food during the summer.

If you are so dependent on technology that the temporary loss of it causes problems, you are too dependent on it. Using technology to leverage your time and energy is a good thing but it should not replace the human actions we have used for centuries. In the end, the old ways still work and they can help you slow down and enjoy life more rather than speeding through it.

If Technology Fails, Just How Long Are Your Long Range Plans?

By: Tom Chatham – Author of The American Dream Lost

When the Roman Empire died , the technology and living standard that had spread around Europe slowly died with them. Things such as paved roads, sanitation and aqua ducts to carry fresh water to cities were forgotten over the generations and men reverted to simpler forms of technology. This reversion led to the dark ages. After many generations the people relearned some of the forgotten technologies and advanced once again. There was no global cataclysm that brought about this reversion , it just happened because the men who knew how the technology worked decayed along with the Romans and the average man did not understand the significance of these technologies. Eventually , future generations were ignorant of these technologies that once existed.
Today we are blessed with truly unbelievable technology that holds many benefits for man. Almost everyone has a cell phone or computer , but do any of those people actually know how these things work? A lot of people can build a wood stove from scratch but how many can build a microwave oven or know exactly how a gas oven works? Our technology is dependent on simple machines that create parts for other more complex machines that create parts for machines that can make a computer chip. With each layer of technology , fewer and fewer people actually know how to recreate it from scratch. In our society it may not be necessary to know how to fix your own car or how a phone works because there is always someone else that knows the secrets of these devices. But , what if these people that hold the keys to our knowledge suddenly ceased to exist or if the technology somehow broke and they could not fix it?
It is not unthinkable that a natural or manmade event could create a situation where our technology is damaged or destroyed beyond our ability to repair or recreate it from scratch. If all of our computer chips were destroyed along with the complex machines that make them, how long would it take us to recreate that technology and under what conditions would we be working? How many people in the world have the knowledge to do that? Any event that would destroy our technology would create chaos around the world. It’s not unreasonable to think that this chaos would prevent those with the knowledge from reconstituting our technology base in a timely manner. The longer it remains off line , the harder it will be to recreate it. This time lag could be months , years or generations. As time passes it is less likely that information will be passed on to the next generation to be reconstructed. This is how a society can devolve into a dark age. If information is not passed on it will eventually be lost to the ages.
On a local level , if all of your conveniences were lost , how long would it take you to recreate them from scratch? Could you even do it? Even if you can make fuel for your vehicle , can you make the lubricants to keep it going or the bearings for the wheels to keep them turning? If an event took away most of our machines many would be able to rig up new machines from the parts to use for a while but what happens when these parts wear out? Even if you had a block of copper , and knew how to melt it , do you know how to turn it into a long piece of wire? A simple piece of wire seems pretty simple until you think about it that way.
When we are thrown back on our own resources , we are dependent on the knowledge we have to solve problems. If you needed to reestablish communications with another town with technology that you had to build , what would you do? The simplest form of communication over a distance is light or hand signals but what if you could not see the next town on a direct line of sight? The simplest device you could build in electrical terms is a telegraph set. Could you build the keys , wire and batteries from scratch? Could you build a wagon from scratch to transport goods? The loss of technology would cause a regression to what we are capable of building ourselves.
It is a feeling in the prepper community that you are never finished preparing for disaster. The possible collapse of our technology is the reason for this. With the vast amount of knowledge available to us it is almost impossible for any one person to know it all. This is why it is important to have a good reference library that you can refer to in times of need. I have a set of reference books that tell me how to build a charcoal foundry and from there to produce every part of several basic machining tools minus the electric motor. If I had to , I have the ability to build a small machine shop , powered by alternate means , to produce parts to build other machines. Even if I never build these things , the knowledge is there to pass down to the next generation so it is not forgotten. This could be the difference between living in a new dark age or just having a reduced standard of living for a few generations. I study obsolete technology because it is the basis of all of the technology we have today. It provides me with the basics to start the rebuilding process should it ever be necessary. Many have a plan to survive food disruptions and civil breakdown but how far out do those plans go? At some point , things will stabilize and the rebuilding will begin. Anyone that feels the need to prepare must also feel that they have a duty to the future to insure the continuation of our society. Any skills you have that can be passed on should be and for those you don’t have you should at least have books to pass on that knowledge. Our society cannot go on without a long range plan to at least provide the basics of human needs. Future generations depend on the information that we hand down to them, and lately we haven’t been doing a very good job of it.

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