Are we going over a cliff?

View 752 Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Still somewhat under the weather. Recovering.


I have no idea how the financial cliff or cliff avoidance drama will lay out. The way it’s playing out now, a New Recession – which will become a full Depression – is nearly inevitable. That means more unemployment, expansion of “safety net” expenses, more borrowing, more printing press money.

Earth abides. God reigns, and the government at Washington still lives. It’s not so clear about the rest of the country. One thing I think you can be sure of: prices of necessities are not likely to go down.


As I understand it, soaking the rich might be a fine idea, but they just aren’t rich enough: even total confiscation would not pay off the national debt. Disparity of wealth is always the big problem with democracy. The temptation is always to vote for equality. There is a sense in which the Constitution of 1787 was a conspiracy to suppress democracy in favor of property: it didn’t seek to keep the States from becoming distributist by income or, more likely, death taxes. It simply forbade the Federal government from doing that. Mobility of wealth and capital would take care of the rest. I note that even now, with Federal dominance of so much of the economy, it’s working: wealth flees California for Texas even as I write this.

Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. But we all know that, don’t we?


I am frequently asked to do more essays on survival preparations. Of course the preparation depends on what you hope to survive. If it’s a solar flare that turns off the entire electrical grid permanently, the preparation is drastic, starting with a complete change in attitudes. How likely that is can be a matter of considerable debate. We know that in 1859 there was a flare that probably wouldn’t have done that, although it could have caused a lot of damage: all we really know is that it started fires in telegraph offices, and during the flare some telegraph operators sent messages even though their battery power sources were not connected: there was that much current generated in the lines. That is the last known flare of that size after the development of electrical devices and the stringing of long lines of wire.

We have no real data on the frequency of such events over history, but we do know that such solar events cause big auroras. Again we don’t have a lot of data on how far north the aurora australis has been seen throughout history. The 1859 event aurora was seen in the southern skies in the United States. We have better historical records of the aurora borealis being visible in Alexandria, and some have estimated that significant solar events capable of damaging the modern electrical system have taken place about every two hundred years, meaning that we are due for one in this century.

An event that destroys the electrical grid and shuts down the national electrical system – shutting it down for several months would probably cause enough disruption to have the effect of permanently ending it – is not very probable, but it is not impossible, and is about the worst thing short of an asteroid or comet strike.

Preparing for that is not easy, because it is hard to imagine the magnitude of the problem. For those who want more to think about, see Lloyd Tackett’s A Distant Eden. The Kindle edition is available for a dollar, and it’s fairly easy (if disturbing) reading.

The book is a hybrid: it’s told as a fiction story, but there are significant elements of non-fiction lectures. It’s easy enough to read – some of the characters are well drawn – and the fictional element allows Tackett to address the problem of psychological preparation and attitude change. You can quarrel with some of the details. I suspect that there will be far more pockets of civilized order in which the National Guard and local government manage to keep control, and far more pockets of localized feudalism (see Lucifer’s Hammer), but A Distant Eden is easily read and a lot shorter than Hammer. Of course if you haven’t read Lucifer’s Hammer it’s also available in a Kindle edition. Of course Hammer is pure fiction and doesn’t try to be an introduction to survival attitudes and requirements.

Of course the more probable disaster is a collapse of much of the system due to financial failures.


Russell Seitz recommends and which are the 2011 and 2012 AGU conferences on climate. He concludes that (1) “they’ve got the sign right” meaning that the Earth is getting warmer, and (2) they are making policy driven by factors other than scientific conclusions. Since the Earth has been getting warmer since the end of the Little Ice Age, and there are a lot of budgets riding on global warming policy, neither conclusion is startling. If you want to watch the sausage being made – and see what a few thousand freshmen geologists will be learning in the next few years – this is as good a way as any. I’m getting a bit old to spend time listening to this, but Russell points out that the report coming out of all this is about 40,000 pages long, and you really have to be dedicated to read that. The 2012 presentation above summarizes what’s to come – not necessarily what is in store for the Earth climatewise, but what is in store for us in the reports and science papers.

I confess I remain skeptical: we don’t understand climate. Russell points out that we now have fairly good data on evaporation rates over the oceans, which is something new – prior to that we only knew things like fog and cloud cover in a few places where someone bothered to notice and record it – and that is another reason he’s convinced they’ve got the sign right. Perhaps so. I’ve heard so much prattle about global warming – oops climate change – oops increased variability – increased frequency of hurricanes – oops – that I have trouble taking any of it seriously. Do recall that eventually there was a wolf in Aesop’s tale.

I’d feel a lot better about our understanding of climate if some portion – perhaps 10% — of study money were reserved for contrarian research. But then I’ve thought that about a great number of publicly funded research programs.