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On the complexity of the simple things, and K.I.S.S

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63366373-the-remains 70966195-photos-video Today I am reminded of why I distrust my life in the hands of experts, quasi govermental organizations, and in living standards that are too complex to stand the test of time. I speak of course about our modern world, with its’ modern luxuries that seem to be so easy to use that we often take them for granted, never really spending any time to contemplate just how many steps, how much energy was expended and expended properly, to bring about our standard of living. Every once in a while I see examples of just how quickly our modern world can be destroyed in an instant, by those very same modern luxuries. Today’s culprit: Natural Gas.

For those of you who do not know what I am referring to or may have forgotten, please see the following article and video:

If you are not interested in seeing the link allow me to summarize what occurred:

crumbling-bridge 20 In a nearby neighborhood less then one mile from my house, a high pressure gas main sprung a leak. PGW (our gas company), the Fire Department, and the Police Department were called out to repair the main leak and to evacuate the area. While the leak was being fixed something caused a spark, causing a huge fireball and explosion, which blew up two homes, damaged several more, killed one person and injured several more. No word as to what caused the gas leak.

What many people are not really wonton to discuss is the age of our infrastructure and the apparent ability of aged equipment to undergo catastrophic failures at any moment. The gas pipes that run along much of the Philadelphia area are about 70 years of age and are run under sufficient pressure to supply a population in the millions. High pressure + aging pipes =  high risk of random buildings in your city exploding. The same thing goes for our water supplies and sewer systems, although there are several areas of our city with piping that is 100+ years of age. Add those to a failing and faulty electrical grid and you have a lot of incentive to be preoccupied about leaving for work, only to be killed on the roads, blown up, return to a flaming pile of debris, or be charred to a crisp instantly. All this, thanks to your local utility conglomerates run and controlled by a corrupt political establishment.

stock-photo-crumbling-parking-lot-next-to-city-street-61456183 structurally_deficient_bridges_co_2 The reason why I bring this up is not to talk about the tragedy of death, but the talk about what the future holds for the residents of the rust belt. Most of our older east coast towns are built up during the 20’s-50’s and are slowly decaying beneath our feet at a rate that is currently not cost effective to repair due to wage controls, unionization, and overpriced repairs/parts. Over time, companies and especially municipalities develop new ways to delay replacement and repair by changing maintenance schedules, materials used, load capacities, pipe pressures, and plain old fudging the risks. They might tell you that this bridge will last another 100 years as long as you cut the number of cars driving on it in half and those cars must be lightweight. They might tell you that a 70 year old pipe (like the one that just blew up) is fine at a pressure of 30psi (not mentioning that every winter, the demand for gas to heat homes temporarily might raise that gas to 50 psi and cause a leak). Slowly but surely they increase the risks to an otherwise normal world, hoping to beat the odds and not pay the piper for overstepping the lines of caution. Then the odds catch up. Something breaks, people get hurt and die, and they find fault with someone other then themselves. Then they defend their actions as being heroic, pat themselves on the back, and continue to collect your money and not fix the issue.

RURTOIL 9 Chinese village Sadly the world we live in is getting poorer and poorer. This is what happens to all nations in the decline phase and the USA is no exception. What was once normal and reliable (heating gas, running water, sewer, electricity) is falling into disrepair. Over time we will see explosions like these as normal parts of life, or we will accept that not every area will get gas (because they cant repair the pipes) or the gas pressure will be lower (and the temperature of your house will be lower b/c there isn’t as much gas to burn to heat it ). Sewers will become worse and back up more, water pipes will become contaminated from multiple source cracks and lax cleaning standards, and streets repairs will be less regular. These are the things that one should expect when their modern world collapses around them. You are probably thinking that I am crazy and that this is just a passing phase of history. One day you will believe, the city’s woes will be gone, the money will return and the repairs made. This is correct, one day it will happen, just not in your life time on any meaningful scale.

xidi-village3 There is a reason why this will not occur. There is a reason why our entire nation is crumbling around us and we continue to do nothing about it except make excuses. Energy scarcity. Truth be told, we have invested too much in systems and complex structures that they no longer make sense to maintain in an energy scarce world. Think about bridges that can handle large volumes of cars. These items will over the next hundred years, get less and less use as our energy prices increase. Less gasoline means less car trips, less trips means less trade, less trade means less road use. In this way, companies shirk their desire to repair them, because to repair them would mean a loss of money. Not just a loss of money, but a losing revenue stream. You would not pay $100 a year for something that only gave you $40 in value unless it was critical to your life. The same is with cities, businesses and households. The gas pipe exploded because the cost of repairing that pipe would exceed the revenue they expect to get from it over the next 70 years! Imagine that for a moment. PGW does not think that there will be enough money in selling natural gas for the next 70 years to merit replacement of that pipe in that part of town. Why is this? Because either that hood will become very poor, the price of gas will be too much for them to afford, or there simple won’t be natural gas in sufficient quantities to sell them!

RioFavela Just think about that the next time you see something around you fail, and then no one step up to do anything more then a patch repair when a total rebuild is needed. The cold hard fact is that we are about to drop to a much lower standard of living and will do it quickly because the systems we have in place are dependant on cheap energy to run it and maintain it. We industrialized in about 100 years, expect the same on the downscale. My guess is that the 1860-1960 period saw us in a very optimistic age of growth, building and increasing complexity (and creditor status). The period from 1960-2060 will be (and has been) one of increasing poverty, loss of complexity, loss of optimism, loss of critical infrastructure (and a debtor status). The reason for this rapid upswing and decline is that we managed to build our nation and world with very cheap resources from the start. Cheap resources means poorly used resources that are often squandered until it is too late to stop it. If you look at nations with a 2000 year history and several of the older villages (like in China), you will notice that several systems are in place to minimize energy waste, aide in natural cycle systems, and rarely change. Take fertilizers. Preindustrial China (and some of Europe) used to have beautiful public toilets on roadways as rest stops to get human poop for fertilizer use because farmers needed manure and human poop needs to be recycled or the ground would die. There was often a running joke that the wealthiest man in town was the guy who owned the outhouses and sold the poop to the farmers outside of town! That system required no sewers, recycled valuable compost, kept pollution low (and kept rivers clean), provided a needed service at a good price and did the job without modern gadgets (cess pools, chemicals, purifiers, treatment plants of the oil age). Just remember that China had a population over a millenia in the hundreds of millions and built most stuff by hand and light industry!ElfrethsAlleyAtTwilight1

We must face facts that we are moving to a simpler society and a lower living standard. If our nation and cities wish to survive, they must do so using nature as a guide, and K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) as its motto. Be prepared to find other means of addressing your needs over the next century or be prepared to fight for the scraps of the old age in a violent bloody mess (see post colonial Africa for what could happen). No one will survive alone, this will take lots of people chipping in and self organizing. Do not expect the government to provide a working solution as they can only do two things: pacify the public and duct tape the system. We must acknowledge this process and do what we can to save the things that we can save and run what we have in an meaningful and productive way. Failure to do this will only result in more of the modern world being lost to another Dark Age instead of a directed transition to a Entropic Resistant Age.


Written by Josecito

January 19, 2011 at 11:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] snow to calm down (I imagine around 1AM) in order to shovel I am left pondering my previous blog ( Read it here ) about over complexity and recurring failures in our infrastructure. Right now the Philadelphia […]

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