Rural System's

Taut: The Elements of Surviving

developing capabilities for family and social life after widespread social breakdown

The taut-line hitch

Possible table of contents
The Current Needs, a Taut-line Hitch
Sustainability after "the Big Jerk"
What if We're Wrong: The Options and alternatives
Sustain What? : The Role of Objectives
Objectives and the Quality of Life
Food and Water
Shelter (Messages of the energy efficient structure, solar panels, campcraft)
Clothing (More Important than Food for Pre-settlement people)
Energy Saving Devices
Guns, Ammo, Protection, and Protectors
High Technology
Modern Tribes and Social Structure
Medical Help and Disease Prevention
Strategies Related to Embodied Energy
Household Tricks vs Macromanagement
Tribes, Teams, and Families
Waste Management
The Very Elderly and the Very Young
The Psychology of the Dark and Dismal Future
CXhapter xxx. Decent Work ( see first draft at ../aRuralSystem/DecentWork.html)
Synergism and Efficiencies
Score cards for the chapters
Appendix : Relations to Rural System (part of profits of the book, etc.)

This is an e-book about how to survive and to have a decent life in the near future. People over the centuries have said that the future does not look bright and it has always been easier to see current conditions worsening rather than the positivve changes resulting from innovations, developments, and restructuring. Seeing the future has been difficult. It is as easily discussed as the weather. Few people believe that the future can be seen and doubt that, like improvements in weather forecasting, improvements can be made in predicting and describing the future. Improvements have been made and thus we have gained the possibilities of doing something about it ... positively affecting it for our own good. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander and thus there is no single, clear, best-path to the future, even if it is clearly seen. There remain uncertainties and predictive failures but 100% correct prediction seems to be an unreasonably high standard.

I believe that in the US there will soon (within 50 years) be widespread social breakdown. I do not have to point to a single cause any more than a doctor has to point to a single cause of a patient's death (was it smoking, or the chest trauma from the fall, or the progressive lung cancer, or finally pneumonia?). The cause will be a system failure, one as insidious as the delayed effects of a small bug-bite, with effects compounding effects until it dawns on everyone ... well past some statistician's requirement that the difference is "significant" ... things are really different, and they are bad, and we are in real trouble!

Since long before Earthday, there were messages suggesting the needs for natural resource conservation, for environmental controls, about over population and, of course, war, famine, and pestilence.

I'm almost as gloomy and will not repeat the dimensions of some real problems that beset humanity. There have been real scare tactics to serve specific needs, support causes, and raise money. I'll not go through those motions. I've been on Earth for over 40 years and have been students of it. There are, for us frightful problems and the argument is no longer over which is the most important and threatening one that demands our attention. The situation as we see it now is that of tornadic proportions, a collection of advancing issues feeding off each other. I like precision as much as any scientist, but when total loss or death is threatened, proportions and precision have no meaning. A crash seems eminent! Let's not discuss the rpm's of the engine! So I'm off by 20%… the end is the end… or too grim to contemplate … or useless to discuss while merely surviving.

Reaction to real trouble varies greatly among people. Some curl up, some surrender, some look for causes and people to blame. Others deny the problems and ignore the dangers, assuming someone else will somehow solve the problems for them. Others start taking action ... just any action. Others carefully assess the pending problems and study a set of possible responses, given the time, energy, and resources now available or likely to be available before the problem become unbearable, traumatic, or deadly. A few agree with the problems, solutions, and limits and live as fully as they know how in the time remaining for there is no future. In a 2006 Time magazine article, the author said that "When americans cannot be trusted to save themselves (from natural catastrophy, etc.), the government does it for them -- at least that is the story of mandatory car insurance, seat-belt laws, and smoking bans. But when it comes to preventing disasters, the rules are different " and they allow building in dangerous areas, rescue when things go bad, and rebuilding in the same dangerous areas. We seem to resent paternalism but when we're in trouble, we expect to be cared for.

This is a book about being independent, wise about the future and living well within it for us and those around us, for no matter how independent, we need people and must guard against those whom we do not "need."

I am in great sympathy for the homeless person and have read about many of them. I learned of people in war-torn communities after World war II and experienced rationing with my family during the war. I hitch-hiked across the US in 1952 with a small bag and experienced some of the difficulties and fears of being on the road, homeless, and far "down on my luck." In 1964 I conducted radio-isotope studies and learned of the life constraints imposed by fear of ingesting the unseen stuff, contaminating my children, the inconveniences of constantly wearing and often-changing protective clothing, frequent showering, and usually-repressed wondering about the results of the special energy of an escaped particle passing through a sex cell. I've participated in outdoor survival events in Scouting and in the US Army Ranger program and know the hunger, difficulties, and dangers of such events ... but they have an end point. In this book I am trying to describe what I see of the needs of people of the Eastern US as if in a post-world war period ... but with no end point. A condition very long lasting. It is a scene of limited resources even when we know that abundance exists. It is a tumultuous human world of limited access, unavailability, and great distance between those that "have" and those that do not. We have restricted transportation, no energy for farming, uncertain delivery systems, limited rescue following trauma, and a dozen collected small assaults on our having a good day ... all diminishing our quality of life ... and the gap increasing because of what we have known in the recent past ... and what is continually displayed by increasingly government-dominated television and radio.

Before I try to convince you that the breakdown may occur, let me provide a little of my structure, the ways I put things together. That can be evaluated by you as well as the possible causes of the breakdown. I have to treat them as separate or independent ... but they are not.

The likely Causes of Widespread Social Breakdown (WSB)

  1. Oil
  2. Atomic
  3. Disparity in Socio-economic Classes
  4. Phosphorus
  5. water
  6. Katrina-like
  7. Climate change
  8. Religion
Futurism and Feedforward

've had a hard time explaining feedforward. It is like "feedback" but for the future. It's not futurism or prediction but that is a part of it. It's what hunters do. They do not shoot at the flying bird, but the space ahead of. It's predicting the future or projecting and then acting now as if you really believed the prediction.

Here's a simple example. A town wants a public building, has 1000 citizens, and carefully predicts the number will grow to 5000. It can easily afford a building for 2000, can borrow for one for 3000. It builds for 3000, at a size and budget that is wrong (too big for today), inadequate because too expensive for the distant future, but about right for now and the immediate future, but probably right for the future. It's grounds: the literature of "decision making under uncertainty," business and engineering risk, and optimization over time.

This is a feedforward book. We have ideas about feedforward but they are sketched in Chapter xxx. Here and in subsequent chapters are the followup of our look into the future and, because of what we see, we know we have to tighten up … personally, as communities, and (when we are being outrageous) we think we have advice for our nation (that seems to have no ear) and other countries about which we have seen and know a little. It's a book about what we see, actions we have begun, and others that need to be taken now, and colleagues we hope to have in the continuing effort.

We're still having fun, but we know that other have called people like us "up tight." Perhaps we are, but we think "not too tight." We're still very worried, but still engaged and working based on our observations and conclusions. We're still concerned about our families, friends, and … even though "modern freaky," we are concerned about and want to help wonderful people we know, those that we know we will meet because of our past meetings, and a world of hollow-eyed children that we think we know well in Appalachia, Nigeria, Mexico, Senegal, and India… and.

EARTH'S RESOURCES OVERUSED BY 15%: DEEPENS PLIGHT OF POOREST NATIONS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DATE: March 22, 2004 CONTACT: Melissa Haynes (Phone: 510-444-3041 x305) or Dahlia Chazan (Phone: 510-444-3041 x317)

San Francisco, USA-Redefining Progress today released an update of the world's leading indicator of sustainability, the Ecological Footprint™ Accounts. The 2004 Footprint of Nations concludes that the world's wealthiest nations are mortgaging the future at the expense of today's children, the poor, and the long-term health of the Earth. Through excessive consumption of non-renewable resources, a handful of countries are depleting global reserves at a faster rate than ever before. These problems are compounded as wealthy nations continue to grow their economies by exploiting the resources and economic potential of their impoverished neighbors. _____ Possible chapter

Chapter xxx. Tightening up from the Rationale of Energetics Working with energy is one of the most fundamental concepts of living in, restoring, or managing human systems. Some ancient people seem to know that well. Some people know it well but have not shared the good news widely. Energetics we define as the study of energy budgets and flow in systems, the resulting knowledge, and the set of actions used to influence its collection and storage, and to reduce its losses . It deals with net energy, the relation of energy used in a system and that which emerges as useful work or products and wastes. That energy is neither created nor destroyed is the first law of energetics. Thus, the energy budget, and its analysis, makes fundamental sense. Some ecologists prefer to discuss all ecological and environmental concepts in terms of energy. It is the universal language, once it is learned. Almost all phenomena can be translated into energy flow, and substances into energy equivalents.

Odum (1971) and Odum and Odum (1976) and Odum (1983) are leaders in developing concepts of energetics and energy budgets. (See also Slesser 1974, Chapman 1974, Bridges and Smith 1978, and Pimentel, et al. 1973.) One rationale for using energetics is that fossil fuels are limited in supply and duration at present use rates. There are various estimates of the duration of these resources. Our perception is that there is a maximum of 200 years of fossil fuels readily available and we suspect it is less for estimates are from profitable-company data. For many people, it seems to us, 200 years seems like a long time. We reckon time in tree-years and have seen many 200- year-old trees. We know people 100 years old; have visited a 1607 Jamestown settlement. For planning, for wildlife agencies, the end of the planning period is in sight. Even if we are off by 100 years, the conclusions are changed little. We must wisely and carefully use the last of the stored energy! Those who best know energy will profit most, will compete best, will survive.

In this chapter we are looking at the opportunity of individuals in the present and the next 100 years and to create a strategy that is consistent with achieving present success and preparing for a future that few people or agencies understand. The future will be energy-short. Even if we am wrong, we cannot believe the proposals herein will create problems. The recommended strategy is thus a conservative one based on (1) knowledge of fossil energy industries and the associated system industry (not just the oil resource) and society's use of coal and other fossil fuels, (2) the ponderous rates of change by societies when faced with major challenges, (3) knowledge of energy in systems, and (4) knowledge of how to gain advantages from mastering energetics. A full-scale discussion of energetics is not possible here. It is available in the Odum texts and articles. The key issues, as we interpret and use them are shown here.

Our logic runs in a simple conversation like this:

What is the most fundamental ingredient? Energy.

Aren't fundamental ingredients valued highly?


Don't values increase as supplies decrease?


Isn't stored energy, as in coal, oil and gas, likely to decrease as a function of use?


As it decreases, isn't its value likely to increase?


Isn't there a limit to its decrease? Won't it run out?

Yes, at current rates of use.

What is the meaning of running out of a fundamental resource?

A reversion to a primitive society, something less elegant than the American pioneer (who had metals fashioned by means of European energy).

Why be concerned about "fundamentals" and "running out?" Technology can "fix it."

Perhaps, but technology is highly, no, totally energy dependent. Running out is too big a gamble for society; to lose is to be dead or worse, sub-human. There is another reason. Energy as the ultimate currency is needed because when the real pressures of no energy are on, no one will tolerate a coinage that means more to a poor person than a rich person or one which masks real costs and values. Energy is sufficiently abundant now that some errors, imprecision, or sloppiness is tolerated. In the waning days of readily-available high quality energy supplies, such imprecision will not be tolerated.

What is the major option?

Energy conservation, maximum use of alternative energy sources, reduced use, an active program based on lessons from faunal energy management, and policies and programs rooted in the knowledge of energetics .. all in a system and used …taut.

When I was a child, I reckoned in terms of candy bars, not pennies, for that was what was important to me. I related to them. That was my coin, my unit of value, (and I still reverts to it.). I believe that in the future, everyone will relate to energy units. The energy cost and energy benefits (ability to do work) need to be counted. Society, just as do plants and animals, follow the precepts listed in the appendix. The new currency (at least as surviving society will use it) will be the energy unit, e.g., the kilocalorie. The human needs food with energy equivalents of about 3000 kilocalories per day or 1.1 x 106 kilocalories per year. For those used to dealing in Btu's, the equivalents are 12,000 Btu's per day or 4 million Btu's per year. A ton of bituminous coal has about 6.6 x 106 kilocalories or exactly 6 times the annual human requirement.

The simplest examples of the using energy knowledge we call "seeing behind the object." What you see is not what you get. For example, a pound of oak has 1.81 x 103 kcal energy compared to 1.91 x 103 kcal in the same amount of birch. The relevance is in what wood to buy for firewood, what to produce from the energy in it, and one day when systems effectiveness is evaluated as "wood energy moved per unit of transportation energy costs," efforts will probably be made to manage for birch. The differences appear small, but they are about 5% and 0.1 x 103 kcal per pound over many tons of wood over 10,000 acres over 50 years is a lot of energy! That is the new coin … humanly useful energy costs over time and space. It now takes 1.45 cords to produce a ton of pulpwood. Technology is believed to bring that to 1.2 cords by 2000. The implications are enormous, starting with the awareness that only about 82% of the same land (potential habitat for a small group of animals) will be involved in the harvest--a change caused by technology not by wildlife agency land acquisition or intensified management. (Of course, total wood demand and area required will change.)

When the American pioneer and "hillbillies" grubbed out their existence from an acre of forest land, they invested about one kcal for every kcal they obtained from the plants they grew and ate. That was marginal living! The may have traded equally with a neighbor, but the point is the same. All were marginal! Abundant, cheap energy changed that; now people invest many units for every one they get from the soil. That is going to stop. The corporations, agencies, counties, families and individuals who realize it, understand it, and seize it as an opportunity and a challenge, will out-compete and survive those who do not.

It costs 1.16 x 104 kcal to broadcast lime on an acre of wildlife habitat and over a million kcal to produce one ton of lime. Energy costs for broadcasting lime are high, and ground limestone energy production costs much lower than those for processed lime. An agency following energetics will use ground lime. When the market does not reflect the energy - when anhydrous lime costs on the market about as much as ground limestone, the agency will spread lime, for they are buying a prior investment of energy. What they will get for their soil and forage production from the energy of nature (freezing, thawing, ionization, microbial action over time) they substitute with the fossil (or other energy) used in processing the lime. Knowledge of energetics explains, in part, why manure spreading is not done and why commercial fertilizers are used. It is intuitively evident; knowledge of energetics allows cost analyses to be done and to determine when one practice is better than another. It costs 2.18 x 104 kcal to spread commercial fertilizer on an acre; 9.12 x 105 to spread manure. Commercial fertilizer is now about 42 times less energy expensive! But it does not count the energy cost of the fertilizer and the manure. Where manure may be said to have zero cost (a waste), production of a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer costs 2 million kcal. Some of the nitrogenous fertilizers are made from natural gas stock, depleting a very limited resource for a product notoriously poorly used on the land - a squandering of the last of the most refined natural energy resources we have. By "refined," we now mean energetically; it costs us little to process and use natural gas as compared to coal or oil. When all coal energy costs are counted, the yield ratio -- energy out for energy in -- is 4.8 (Odum and Odum 1976:167)! Far more energy is used in oil shale processing than is yielded. We'll bet that in our ignorance and because of the power of big users, that practice will be used until the end … because we need readily available energy …because we never refuted …"at whatever the costs."

Embodied energy is a phrase that needs to be understood and appreciated. It costs a great deal to produce iron (about 3 to 4 million kcal per ton) and it costs 5 times more to produce steel, but the iron or steel now represents captured energy. The energy in steel is embodied and it can probably last longer and do more work and serve more purposes and cost much less for maintenance than iron. An antique walnut chair embodies a great deal of woodworking energy. It lasts and serves. The same energy invested in a different wood for a chair would have been lost long ago (broken, stained, worn badly).

Perhaps we are reinventing what our wise grandparents have said. At least we have better notions of why their statements were being said and the rationale behind them and the means for working in modern civilization with more than slogans like "penny wise and pound foolish" (buy on the basis of energy), and "buy clothes of high quality" (buy on the basis of embodied energy and duration of useful work). Net energy budgeting is hardly known and not widely accepted. The reasons are: (1) few know of it; (2) few want to consider a novel approach, no matter how fundamental; (3) few have the education (but that will come); (4) few realize how computers can aid in energy analyses and models; (5) and few have an answer to how to attach value, i.e., "How do you deal with a kcal of garbage as compared to a kcal of mink?" The answer is in the human values, demand, and willingness to substitute desired benefits … the stuff of human objectives. We model and make decisions based on valued energetics.

Systems are designed to use energy to achieve human objectives. Odum and Odum (1976:1) said: "Everything is based on energy. Energy is the source and control of all things, all value, and all the actions of human beings and nature. This simple truth...has been omitted from most education in this century. When energy sources are rich, economics, knowledge, and aspirations grow; when energy sources are all being used as fast as the earth receives them, activities, values, and aspirations settle into a steady pattern. So it has been throughout the history of humanity and nature.

"Americans...are coming out of a century when there was an excess of energy and much freedom of choice was possible. We are moving into a period characterized by less energy.

"...The transition from growth to a steady state can be smooth and planned so that individuals can make change and learn new ways; or it can be sharp, disorderly, and disastrous for individuals..."

They contended that the options for the future are set by the laws of energy. We agree. Leaving the laws and finding the options is the quest before all people -- particularly those within the rural areas. The culture and corporations that can adapt will prevail. Odum and Odum (1976:10) said: "Thus, energy gives us a way of projecting and planning the future, determining what level of human life best fits nature to create a vital economy, and making difficult choices for the ultimate public good."

We have a list of energetic precepts that we think are of untimate importance for the future of readers …and society. They have been gleaned from the above cited experts:

Precept 1. The more intangible and valuable something is, the more its total costs in energy. (The reverse is frequently true.) These relations are often non-linear.

Precept 2. A corrolary, the more intangible a value, the more energy is lost when it deteriorates or is lost.

Precept 3. Different sources or conditions of energy must be converted to a common base, then quality coefficients used to indicate their real worth in support of the economy of people and nature.

Precept 4. Ultimately, prices are determined by energy.

Precept 5. The long-term basis of the U.S. economy (upon which so many other nations are life-linked) is ultimately the use of effective, self-organizing solar converters, the forests, wetland ecosystems, and lower-energy agricultural patterns.

Precept 6. Energy cannot be stored. It may be held temporarily, but the law of entropy - grossly that everything progresses toward randomness -- prevails. The challenge is to capture it in a form that will do the most work and resist moth, rust, and other corruption.

Precept 7. While energy is the ability to generate heat, this technical definition is insufficient for dealing with the complex issues of environmental management.

Precept 8. Power is the rate at which energy flows. Gaining power means gaining ability to regulate that rate.

Precept 9. All energy comes from the sun. It raises water to fall from clouds; causes air temperature differences, thus wind; is captured by plants; and influences tidal action. Fossil energy is all solar. Even natural radioactivity is believed to be originally from the sun.

Precept 10. It takes energy to concentrate energy. (Some solar collectors may cost more energy to manufacture than they will ever collect.) Gasoline energy is concentrated; wind or solar energy is diluted.

Precept 11. Energies differ in quality, an expression of their ability to do work. A calorie of dispersed heat cannot do any work.

Precept 12. To get high-quality energy (e.g., electric) it takes many units of low-quality energy. (The ratio of electric energy to coal energy used to produce it is 1 to 3.4.)

Precept 13. The concept of effectiveness is the ratio of desired or valued output to all energy inputs. (The wood production-to-sunlight ratio is about 0.05 percent. Call it "just the conventional Benefit/Cost ratio" at your own risk! The magnitude, risks, or curving or non-linear relations together create the differences.)

Precept 14. Energy entering a system must be understood and measured, either as being stored in the system or as flowing out. It is neither created nor destroyed.

Precept 15. In all processes, some energy loses its ability to do work and is degraded in quality.

Precept 16. Systems that survive - human communities, animal, plant, agency, enterprises, or otherwise -- build order to aid the storage and use of energy.

Precept 17. Maintaining order costs energy since all systems (structures, patterns, organizations) tend to become disorderly.

Precept 18. The system that survives is the one that gets the most energy and uses it most effectively in competition with other systems. This is the maximum power precept.

The practical implications of this precept are:

  1. develop storages of high-quality energy (the ATP energy storage in biological systems … note the dependence upon phosphorus)
  2. build capital of high embodied energy objects, tools, and structures
  3. feed back work from storages to increase inflows
  4. recycle material as needed
  5. create and organize control mechanisms that keep the system adapted and stable
  6. set up exchanges with other systems to supply special energy needs
  7. develop failsafe mechanisms and minimum energy-costly backups.

Precept 19. Systems grow only if their sources of energy can support further growth. (A forest can get only the energy that comes regularly per hectare per day. Once it has built enough leaves to catch all the available light, or adaptive "behavior" (phototaxis), it can do no more to maximize energy flowing in from the sun. Optimum tree spacing is essential for the forest manager.)

Precept 20. A key cause of monetary inflation (and inflated expectations for enterprise or agency performance) is increasing the amount of money circulating without increasing the amount of energy flowing and doing work.

Precept 21. Capital assets can be reconceived as "embodied energy." From them we draw the means to continue old activities, gather and pump in more energy, and start new activities. They grow when productive work exceeds use and depreciation. They include food, housing, tool, work buildings, machines, and staff knowledge and abilities.

Precept 22. Where money can be loaned, it can be used to build structures, i.e., to buy the stored energies for new activities. Because of entropy, energy is easily borrowed but not easily returned.

Precept 23. The value of money varies with the amount circulating; energy is the best measure of value.

Precept 24. Even though one system or process may not yield net energy (as does surface mining of coal), interactive systems may yield net energy. One subsystem subsidizes others to result in a productive total system (the excess of one subsystem is not wasted, but used to increase energy flow) (e.g., a diverse private rural resource consulting group may survive; a single consultant fail).

Precept 25. Net energy is the system energy yield that is in excess of the cost of feedback energy. The higher the net energy over the long run, the more successful the system (e.g., the rural enterprise).

Precept 26. High quality energy (e.g., electricity with the embodied energy of a power tool) can be used with low quality energy (e.g., human work) to do work that fulfills the potentials of a system.

Precept 27. When net energy is produced, a system can increase its survival by:

  1. Storing energy in growth, as in the past
  2. Developing new sources of energy (diversifying)
  3. Improving processing of energy
  4. Exchanging (exporting) for more important special imports, some to improve energy-getting.

Precept 28. When the main temporary storages of energy are used to provide or increase diversity, the diversity feeds back to stimulate other, minor sources of energy. The more energy processed, the more variety the system has, and the more flexibility the systems has, if there is an interruption to the main source of energy.

Precept 29. Every factor in a system, every piece of matter, has an energy component. Each material may contribute a portion of energy requirements in a system.

Precept 30. When people move to where energy is produced (contra energy moved), the net energy of the system is much greater.

Precept 31. In a stable energy situation, growth and progress which are parts of an individual "work ethic," may not be appropriate. "Success" will be seen as the quantity and quality of participation in a system rather than gaining wealth or power.

Precept 32. The energy-based strategy for energy-rich countries, enterprises, and individuals is to invest in technology, equipment, personnel, raw materials, water, and land. "Energy-rich" man be illusory or transitory.

Precept 33. Areas of a country with a high ratio of renewable-energy (e.g., forests) to purchased-energy (e.g., electricity) tend to change and develop further (not faster) than areas with low ratios.

Precept 34. Environmental changes associated with and caused by massive use of fossil fuel and petroleum stock will produce new environments to which human populations will respond. These include more xeric conditions, changed community composition, changed shoreline lengths, and agricultural and forest lands near cities.

The precepts here can form a many-dimensional hypervolume. Some precepts block progress in one direction, some in others. Some show cavernous realms for expansion. As environmental and other problems increase, the volume may become smaller. They can be used as mental aids to thinking through how to make today's decisions. They may also become the basis for formal discussion, integration, and models. The hypervolume resulting from their use becomes either a jail cell or the opportunity space within people may discover their humanity. We seek as great a volume as possible for us and the next generations. At least, let us be able to say as Hacker (1968) suggested, "just for the historical record...that we were fully apprised of what we were doing."

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above .


Rural System
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
October 22,, 2006