Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Retrotopia: Inflows and Outputs

This is the eighth installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator visits a city power plant that runs on an unexpected fuel source and a stock market subject to even less familiar rules...

By the time Michael Finch and I left the streetcar plant it was pushing eleven. “Where next?” I asked.

“We’re about four blocks from one of the municipal power plants,” the intern said. “I called ahead and arranged for a tour—that’ll take about an hour, and should still give us plenty of time for lunch. Ms. Berger said you’d  want a look at our electrical infrastructure.”

I nodded. “ Please. Electricity’s an ongoing problem back home.”

“It hasn’t always been that easy here, either,” Finch admitted. “Would you like to take a cab, or—”

“Four blocks? No, that’s walking distance.” From his expression, I gathered that wasn’t always the case with visitors from outside, but he brightened and led the way east toward the Maumee River. North of us I could see bridges arching across the river, and the unfinished dome of the Capitol rising up white above the brown and gray rooftops.

The power plant was another big brick building like the streetcar factory, and I looked in vain for smokestacks. Finch led me in through the office entrance, a double door in an ornate archway, and introduced us to the receptionist inside. A few moments later we were shown into the office of the plant manager, a stocky brown-skinned man with gray hair who came over to shake my hand.

“Jim Singletary,” he said. “Pleased to meet you. I don’t imagine you have anything like our facility over in the Atlantic Republic, so if there’s anything you want to know, just ask, okay?”

I assured him I would, and he led us out of the office. The corridor outside went straight back into the heart of the plant; at its far end, we went through a door onto a glassed-in balcony overlooking a big open room where six massive and complex machines rose up from a concrete floor.

“Down on the floor, you couldn’t hear a thing but the turbines,” he said. “That’s the business end of the plant—six combined cycle gas turbines driving our generators. We get almost sixty per cent efficiency in terms of electrical generation, more than that when you factor in the heat recycling to the facility. You know how a combined cycle turbine works?”

“More or less—you put the gases from the turbine through a heat exchanger, and use that to run a steam turbine off the leftover heat, don’t you?”

“Exactly. What comes out of the heat exchangers runs around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough to do something with. Here, a lot of it goes to heat the fermentation tanks.”

I wondered what he meant by that, but it didn’t take long to find out. Singletary led us along the balcony to another set of doors, and through them into another glassed-in balcony overlooking a double row of what looked a little like the top ends of a row of gargantuan pressure cookers.

“The fermentation tanks,” he said. “Feedstock goes in, methane and slurry come out. At any given time, eighteen tanks are in operation and the other six are being loaded or unloaded. This way, please.”

The balcony ended at another door, and a corridor led to the left. At its end was a balcony, this time open to the outside air. Below was the Maumee River, and a line of big blocky riverboats tied up along a quay. The one closest to us was having something unloaded from it through a big pipe.

“And there’s the feedstock that makes the whole thing work,” said Singletary. “I don’t recommend going down to the quayside—it’s pretty ripe.”

“What’s the feedstock?” I asked, even though I’d begun to guess the answer.

“Manure,” he said. “Cow, horse, sheep, human—you name it. We buy manure from an eight county region to supplement what gets produced here in Toledo.” I gave him a startled look, and he grinned. “Yep. If you’ve used the toilet since you got here, you’ve contributed to Toledo’s electricity supply.”

I laughed, and he went on. “We use a three-stage fermentation process to extract nearly seventy per cent of the carbon from the feedstock while the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium stay in the sludge. By the time it’s finished in the tanks it’s sterile enough you could rub it on an open wound. We use heat output from the turbines to dry it, and ship it back to farmers as fertilizer. So everyone’s happy.”

We went back to his office and I got a rundown on the economics of the plant. “How close do you get to breaking even, between feedstock costs and fertilizer sales?” I asked.

“Not as close as I’d like,” Singletary admitted. “Ever since the Maumee and Ohio canal got reopened, the farmers south of us can sell their feedstock to Dayton or Springfield—Lima’s tier three so it’s not in the market. North of us we’ve got Detroit and Ann Arbor to bid against; east there’s Cleveland, and the canal system west of the Maumee is still being rebuilt, so that’s out of the picture at the moment.”

“You depend on canals that much?”

“We can’t afford not to. Back in the early days, we used to ship in some feedstock by rail, but the costs are just too high these days. For any kind of bulk cargo, if you don’t have to worry about speed, canal shipping’s really the way to go.”

I asked a few more questions, and then we all shook hands and Finch and I headed out into the crisp fall air. “Interested in lunch?” he asked me; we discussed restaurants while waiting for the streetcar, and then rode it north into downtown. A bar and grill around the corner from the streetcar stop where we got off served up a very passable BLT sandwich, and then we wove our way through crowded sidewalks to the big stone building that housed the Toledo Stock Market.

“Vinny Patzek,” said the young man with black slicked-back hair who greeted us in a crowded office not far from the trading floor. “Pleased to meet you.” He had his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up, and looked like he spent a lot of his time running flat out from one corner of the building to another. “Any chance you know something about stock markets, Mr. Carr?”

“Actually, yes—I did two years on the NYSE floor before they moved it to Albany,” I said.

His face lit up. “Sweet. Okay, this is gonna be a lot less confusing to you than it is to most of the people we see here from outside. It’s not quite the same as what you’re used to, but the differences are mostly the technology, not the underlying setup. Come on.”

“I’ll leave you with Mr. Patzek for now,” Finch told me. “I promised Ms. Berger I’d check in after lunch and see how things are going at the Capitol.”

“Fair enough,” I said, and he left through one door while Patzek herded me out through another, down a corridor, and onto the trading floor of the stock exchange.

All things considered, it wasn’t much quieter than the turbine room of the power plant, but since I’d worked on a trading floor the noise and bustle actually meant something to me. There was a reader board, a big one, covering most of the far wall; it was mechanical, not digital, and flipped black or eye-burning yellow in little rectangular patches to spell out the latest prices. There were trading posts scattered across the floor, where specialists handled the buying and selling of shares. There were floor traders and floor brokers, enough of them to make the floor look crowded, and the featureless roar  made up of hundreds of voices shouting bids and offers.

“You probably still use computers in New York, right?” Patzek said in something that wasn’t quite a yell. “Here it’s all old-fashioned open outcry, with the same kind of hand signals you’d see in the Chi-town commodity pits. Lemme show you. All we need is an order.”

“I’ll take one share of Mikkelson Manufacturing,” I said.

He grinned. “You’re on.”

“You get a lot of small orders like that?”

“All the time. You get little old ladies, working guys, you name it, who save up the cash to buy a share or two once a month, that sort of thing, and come on down here to buy it in person.” He looked up at the reader board. “Mikkelson’s MIK—see it? Seventy-two even a share. Let’s go.”

We plunged into the crowd, and I managed to follow Patzek through the middle of it to one of the trading posts, where the traders and brokers looked even busier than they were elsewhere on the floor. Right in the middle of it, the yelling was loud enough I couldn’t make out a single word, just Patzek gesturing with a closed hand and then a raised index finger and shouting something that didn’t sound much like Mikkelson Industries. It only took about a minute, though, for the market to do what markets are supposed to do, and Patzek came out of the scrum with a big grin and an order written up on a pad of paper he’d extracted from one of his vest pockets.

“We’re good,” he said. “Seventy-two and a quarter—it’s pretty lively. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t hit seventy-five by closing. Let’s settle up back at the office; they’ll be sending the certificate there.”

We went back the way we’d came. The office, busy as it was, seemed almost unnervingly quiet after the roar of the trading floor. “So that’s how it’s done,” said Patzek. “A little different, I bet.”

“Not as much as it used to be,” I said. “When I first got on the NYSE floor, there were only a couple of dozen floor traders left, and it was as quiet as a library most days. With the satellite situation and some of the other problems lately, a lot of brokerages are putting trades back on the floor again. But of course it’s still done with handheld computers, not the sort of thing you’ve got in there.”

Patzek nodded. “The way I heard it, there were handhelds on the floor in the early days after Partition, but the first time the outside tried regime change here they hacked the system and crashed it, and the exchange just let it drop. Computers are just too easy to hack. Floor traders? Not so much.”

“I bet,” I said, laughing.

I wrote a check for the price of the share, then, and filled out a couple of forms covering my side of the transaction. When I got to the form for dividend payouts, though, I looked up at Patzek. “I’ll have to make some arrangements back home before I can finish this.” He nodded, and I went on. “What kind of dividends does Mikkelson pay these days?”

“Five, maybe six percent a year. Not bad, especially since it’s tax free.”

That startled me. “Mikkelson, or dividends in general?”

“Dividends in general. They count as earned income, like wages, salaries, royalties, that sort of thing. Most other investments, you’re gonna pay tax, and if you sell that share and make a profit on it, that’s speculative income and you’re gonna get whacked.”

“So earned income is tax free, but investment income isn’t.”

“Yeah—again, except for dividends.”

I remembered what Elaine Chu had said about taxes back at the Mikkelson plant. “So you tax what you want to discourage, not what you want to encourage.”

“Heck if I know,” said Patzek. “You’ll have to ask the politicians about that.”

A moment later a messenger came in through the door we’d used, plopped a manila folder on one of the desks, and ducked back out. Half a dozen people converged on the folder; Patzek waited his turn, and came back with a sheet of stiff paper printed in ornate script.

“Here you go,” he said. “One share of Mikkelson Manufacturing. Congratulations—you’re now a limited partner with Janice Mikkelson.”

I gave him a startled look, then glanced at the certificate. I’d read about printed stock certificates, but never actually handled one, so it took me a moment to sort through the fancy printing and read the line that mattered. Sure enough, it read MIKKELSON MANUFACTURING LLP.

“Limited liability partnership,” I guessed. “So it’s not a corporation?”

“Nah, it’s a little different here. Back in the day—and we’re talking before the First Civil War, forget about the Second—corporations had to be chartered by the legislature, for some fixed number of years, and only for some kind of public benefit, not just because somebody wanted to make a few bucks. After all the problems the old Union had with corporations claiming to be people and all that, we up and drew a line under that, and went back to the original laws. Here, if a business wants to sell stock, it becomes a limited liability partnership. The limited partners are only on the hook to the value of their stock holdings, but the managing partner or partners—their butts are on the line. If Mikkelson Manufacturing ever goes bust, Mikkelson can kiss her mansion goodbye, and if the company breaks the law, she’s the one who goes to jail.”

I took that in. “Does that actually happen?”

“Not so much any more. Back when I was a kid, there were some really juicy cases, and yeah, some really rich people lost their shirts and landed behind bars. These days, you’re in business, you watch the laws as closely as you watch the bottom line—there’s too many people in politics who’d be happy to buy their constituents a new streetcar line with the proceeds from a court case.”

That didn’t sound much like the politics I was used to back home. I was still processing it when the other door came open and Michael Finch came in. “Mr. Carr,” he said, “I just talked to Ms. Berger. They got everything settled around lunchtime. If you’re ready, the President will be happy to see you this afternoon.”

I glanced at Patzek who grinned and made a scooting motion with one hand. We shook hands and said the usual, and I followed Finch out the door.

Those of my readers who are fans of deindustrial fiction will be interested to hear that Founders House, the publisher of my novel Star’s Reach and the four After Oil anthologies, has a new peak oil SF novel just out, Dark Peak by George R Fehling. It’s a crisp and highly readable thriller set a generation or two after industrial civilization unravels—worth a look.

More generally, interest in deindustrial SF seems to be picking up; those of us who have been writing and reading fiction along those lines for a while may just have gotten in on the ground floor of a new genre. In a conversation a little while back with Founders House veep Shaun Kilgore, he mentioned that his firm has decided to branch out into Young Adult fiction with a deindustrial slant. Any of my readers who are interested in writing something along these lines should contact Founders House via their submissions page.

Along similar lines, I’m pleased to report that my tentative suggestion of an anthology of original short stories set in the world of my novel Star’s Reach is on its way to reality—or, more precisely, will make that transition with your help. I’ve set up a new website,  http://merigaproject.blogspot.comto coordinate the project and help writers work out the details of their stories. I’d encourage everyone who’s contributed stories to the three Space Bats Challenges hosted by this blog to check it out, and consider contributing to the anthology.


Mister Roboto said...

It's good to see your Retropia doing useful things with animal digestive waste. I've long thought that one reason agricultural societies so often fail is because we don't return to the soil the organic matter our bodies excrete out. Of course farmers in orient have been using "night-soil" for quite a while now, but that practice doesn't utilize the composting/ fermentation step in the middle, with unfortunate results for human health.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

The two major sewage treatment plants in San Francisco already collect biogas and use it to generate electricity. The energy from the biogas is enough ... to provide 40% of the sewage plants' energy usage (mind you, that's 40% of the sewage plants' energy usage, not the whole sewer system's energy usage). They plan to upgrade the Southeast Treatment plant so that more biogas energy can be generated, but even so ... dang, the Lakeland Republic's electricity supply sure is limited (especially since, according to a quick internet search, Ohio has little in the way of hydroelectricity).

dfr2010 said...

YES! I was wondering if you were going to put a pig farm underneath Thunderdome. Although your comment policy won't allow my favorite quote, I did indeed say it under my breath - to the dog's confusion.

Hubby and I were talking about shooting drones the other day, inspired when I caught the headline about the Kentucky man who shot his neighbor's private drone over his (privacy fenced) back yard who had the judge dismissed the charges and case, saying the man had the right to shoot it down over his private airspace. Hubby was cautioning me against shooting down any military drones ... to which I retorted: "Just how many little video-game flyboys do you know willing to admit to their CO they were shot down by a woman with a PINK shotgun?"

As you might be able to tell, I am still eagerly awaiting your description of the annual Drone Shoot there in the Lakeland Republic.

Repent said...

It's amazing how you can reach out to all of those people who aren't touched by facts and ideas by writing a fictional narrative instead. In many ways our existing social narrative is broken, and it has to be deconstructed, and replaced with a new narrative that makes sense.

I think I can see now why you've changed from the non-fiction commentary to the fictional narrative- it reaches out to all of those of us who don't get it. It creates a bridge... for so many more to understand what the new narrative will be in the future.

Amazing and masterful technique, thank you for helping me to see it!

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.

I’m pleased to report the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 440 meetings are now listed in the MeetUps forum on Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. (Look for the table topper with the green wizard hat.)

Special Congratulations to Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne, Melbourne Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 1223, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 1223 upon the occasion of their inaugural meeting last Saturday.

Patricia Mathews said...

Having reread ECOTOPIA recently, I have to say Carr sounds quite bloodless compared to William Weston. If he has a private life, we know nothing of it. If a romance is in the offing, we (or I, for one) can't even guess whether it would be with a man or a woman - or a robot or a sheep. For used to following characters in all sorts of fiction, much of which does have a message, this is unusual. Is he a robot? Or so deep in hiding he doesn't even admit to having had a mother.

Yours, puzzled, wanting to enjoy following his and feeling as if I'm bouncing off a blank surface.

Dale NorthwestExpeditions said...

I am 67 years old. I remember Jimmy Carter's fireside chats where he warned the nation of its addiction to oil. His administration installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. Then came the Reagan revolution and those solar panels were torn down. Ah, what might have been...

Thanks so much for taking us down this path of what might be.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Hey! I recognize the fuel source for the generators--power from poop and pee, too! My brain fart (pun intended) may not have been the most outlandish energy idea, but it was good enough that you incorporated it in your sustainable future. Also, I recognize the renaissance in canals from something I mentioned in passing in Great Lakes cities and their roles in the regional economy. It turned out that freight traffic on the Erie Canal is already making a comeback. I'm flattered. Thank you!

Very little of the above is making a splash in the news right now. Instead, news organizations were more interested in measuring resiliency by determining how well major U.S. cities would survive the Zombie Apocalypse--really!

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., exactly. Methane fermenters are actually becoming tolerably common in the Third World these days, because manure is one of the few resources in tolerably good supply, and you can extract methane from it and not lose any of the benefits of putting it on your fields.

Notes, why, yes, and once fossil fuels stop being readily available, electricity is going to be scarce and expensive pretty much everywhere. I'm guessing that the San Francisco plants weren't specifically designed as methane producers, and of course they're not drawing manure from an eight county region well supplied with livestock, but no question, a poop-powered power system is not going to be lavish. Its one great advantage is that it'll still be there when fossil fuels are a distant memory.

Dfr2010, it's still a few weeks off, but I've already got Carr's tickets.

Repent, I got it from a guy named Thomas More, who invented it and the word "utopia" a few centuries back. Yes, it's a useful trick!

Eric, glad to hear it.

Patricia, well, this isn't Ecotopia, and Peter Carr isn't William Weston -- he's a political operative on a very specific mission, not a journalist visiting a nation-sized hippie commune. I also tend, as you might have noted from my previous fiction here, to a fairly spare style of characterization -- less so in Star's Reach than almost anything else I've ever written, but even there. Will there be a budding romance? Heh heh heh...

Dale, thank you!

Pinku-sensei, the poop-power was partly inspired by your entry to the contest, but canals already played a part in Star's Reach -- it probably doesn't hurt that the town where I live these days used to be a major canal port. said...

It may be worth noting that one of the great engineering projects of the early years of the 1900s possibly has relevance to the Lakeland Republic even today: the reversal of the flow of the Chicago River. The south branch of the Chicago River used to flow into Lake Michigan... but a major engineering project in the late 1800s and early 1900s opened the river to navigation and reversed its flow. From thence to the Des Plaines River, and then to the Illinois. Today, it's possible to sail a boat from Chicago all the way south to New Orleans.

So Chicago and Toledo are not only connected by the northern water route through the Great Lakes, but also through the river routes between the Illinois and the Ohio rivers. Adding in the canal network is genius — a quick search for maps of the extant and recoverable canals in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana suggests that there's many a county in those three states that would have easy access to bulk cargo traffic. It's an effective trade network, for sure.

Cherokee Organics said...


Just out of interest, theoretically speaking is anyone in the Lakeland Republic concerned that the Atlantic Republic may self-implode at some time in the not too distant future? If that concept touches on a yet to be revealed plot narrative, no need to respond to that.

Yes, heat exchangers are a simple idea. I run my two solar hot water panels and the wood fires 8kW wet back into one and it works admirably well and takes a long time to cool down. A very simple technology and the stored heat I get from it is very handy at any stage of the year. The heat exchanger is stored in the very well insulated roof space too. Mind you, it is a low pressure vented system rather than the one in the story.

I agree with so much in this story. Yes, I don't waste a single scrap (pun intended!) of manure here - it is valuable stuff. On a serious note, I feel bad going to the toilet off the farm because all of those minerals are getting wasted - and to dump them in the ocean no matter how treated is a waste which leads to increasing ocean acidity. Plus the loss in potential top soils... I'm ranting, but it is a subject close to my heart and I walk the talk on that one.

Well done! The Wealth of Nature strikes back! I read that a few months ago and really appreciated your insights on the world of economics and taxes.

Speaking of badly behaved companies it appears that: VW emissions: Porsche, Audi and VW V6 engines potentially affected. Who would have thought that companies would possibly lie to obtain commercial advantage?

Down here in Australia, I kind of feel that we are going through some sort of surreal change because the powers that be must possibly fear inflation because there is much talk in the newspapers about raising the tax on goods and services from 10% to 15%. That will destroy people at the lower income end of the spectrum.

The banks recently raised interest rates on mortgages too. Well done them.

And there is apparently going to be greater audit scrutiny on small business which from my experience are pretty honest and pay their dues.

It is not going to end well.



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Shedding the past. This blog is a bit darker in content than the previous weeks, but it is hard to be my usual chipper self when the October just past was the hottest across the majority of the continent on record. And it wasn't just a little bit hotter, it smashed the records and most places were between 5'C and 10'C above the long term average. Go figure that one out. I reckon that it is a good story and there are lots of cool photos of the garden and wildlife here too. Incidentally, some parts of the state today just copped record rainfall too... What's going on?

escapefromwisconsin said...

Japan seems to be following in the footsteps of the Lakeland Republic:

Yoji Otokozawa, president of Tokyo-based IT consultants Interarrows, says Japan Inc. is poor in digital literacy because small businesses, not multinationals, rule the country.

"The hub of the matter is that you have to understand how SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] dominate the Japanese business landscape," he says.

SMEs account for 99.7% of Japan's 4.2 million companies, according to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. So the world's third biggest economy is driven by minor establishments, not the giants everybody knows outside of Japan.

These SMEs are often conservative, if not downright Luddite, says Mr Otokozawa.

"They usually use postal mail, or fax for their communications. We sometimes receive a fax, written by hand which means such firms don't even use word processing software like Word."


Japan's failure to ditch its analogue habits and go digital means its "companies are losing out on productivity boosters," says Ms Kopp, who used to work in a large Japanese firm for several years.

"Japanese IT departments are remorselessly conservative and hate to connect their computers to the outside world. They fear data theft and hacking, which also makes them fear abroad."

One female office worker in a global logistics company in Tokyo - again speaking on condition of anonymity - says: "Japanese hesitate to use anything new in the office."

Burning data onto discs and delivering them through the post, accompanied by a data submission form "filled out by hand," was encouraged by managers.

And when software updates or the adoption of collaborative tools like Basecamp and Dropbox were suggested, management spurned them, he maintains.


As Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots points out, the more advanced your IT, the more likely it is to replace you.

So despite the tech-loving public image, much of corporate Japan seems intent on circling the wagons against automation and using people rather than machines wherever possible. After all, those faxes don't pick up themselves.

Such overstaffing may help keep the country's unemployment rate down at 3.4%, but it also keeps productivity down, too - not to mention entrepreneurialism.

Why is hi-tech Japan using cassette tapes and faxes? (BBC)

escapefromwisconsin said...

It's also worth noting that in Milwaukee, we recycle our waste into fertilizer now:

MayHawk said...

Why do I have the feeling Carr is going to go home a "Convert" and immediately get in big trouble with the Authorities trying to convert people to a better world?

On another note I am very heartened that De-industrial fiction seems to be gaining traction. I think as a genre it needs it own category rather than defaulting to SF. De-industrial fiction?? DF for short?

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, I've been convinced ever since I researched the old canal network for Star's Reach that reopening those canals will probably be the defining act that ends the coming deindustrial dark ages and establishes a Great Lakes-centered society as one of the major powers of future North America. It's arguably the best freight transport technology for a deindustrial future, being cheap, sustainable, reliable, and efficient in terms of energy expenditure per ton transported per mile. Besides, canal boats are cool. ;-)

Cherokee, good! Yes, the economic system in the Lakeland Republic is based on the proposals I made in The Wealth of Nature. I expect to get it in the neck for having a stock market at all, but stock markets actually serve a valid purpose -- they're a venue for raising business capital, and a way for anybody with spare money to participate in the profits of industry -- and a few modest changes to deter speculative frenzies and keep the banks in check would make them much better at that.

Escape, I saw that. Seems very sensible to me.

Mayhawk, heh heh heh. As for DF, as I see it, it's still a subgenre of science fiction -- it's fiction about the future that, as all SF does, asks the question "what if?" about issues involving science and technology. The reason the SF mainstream won't touch it, of course, is that the specific "what ifs?" it asks begin with "what if technological progress turns out to be self-limiting, or even a dead end?" Somehow the "literature of ideas" isn't willing to tolerate stories that explore that idea...

Nancy Sutton said...

Fine minds think alike... and are doing so all over the place.. just not on the MSM stage.
'Terra Preta Sanitation' (incorporating lactic acid fermentation, etc.)

ed boyle said...

This sounds like Russian mentality. The canal/river network was spotlighted recently due to the missiles shot from corvettes in the caspian sea against Isis. Apparently you can get almost anywhere east to west and north to south by boat. START treaty exempts water borne missiles, making it useless against russia. Since oil won't last long even thete transport will do well. They are hoarding gold to return to a gold standard and considering non interest, islamic type, banking, at suggestion of orthodox church. Enough has been said of dacha gardening, compact, low energy cities with cheap, widely available public transport thee to round it off. Huge blocks of cities are heted by one central plant starting heating at a particular date and the open window is thermostat. I suspect when gas is gone, manure will go into those plants. Civil war and tiers won't be necessary in Russia. Big cities have more infrastructure and a village haswood and land. Your future will be adapted seamlessly there.

Kieran O'Neill said...

On the topic of de-industrial fiction (the current rise of which I'm happy to have made a very small contribution to), the other day I discovered an annual anthology of feminist bicycle science fiction, being published by a small imprint in Oregon.

It may not be necessarily de-industrial, but it does seem to be light on the space bats, and heavier on the social and ecological justice (so may be of interest).

Spanish fly said...

Quote: “Manure,” he said. “Cow, horse, sheep, human—you name it. We buy manure from an eight county region to supplement what gets produced here in Toledo.”

Yeah!. Poo is going to be the new black gold in the, I mean, "brown gold". With that electric generation technology, Lakeland people kills two birds in a single shot:
- They obtain renewable and non-fossil electric power in a world of fossil fuel scarcity.
- They avoid polluting towns, roads and farms with too many manure excreted from their huge cart-horses livestock...

By the way, here in my region we have a big trouble with pigs**t pollution. Some years ago they were made some methane power plants with government subsidies, but last year I read in local press that managers closed them because they weren't profitable. Oh, what a strange economic recovery! I think that more restrictive subsidizing politics were an other ingredient in that little fiasco.
Nowadays, pig farmers legally must process their livestock crap by themselves, pouring it as fertilizer in the fields or letting it to rot in big pools...first "solution" has saturated soils in some zones with too much fertilizer, so groundwaters are polluted with delicious nitrates...The second one scents farmers and tourist the whole time, and plastic membranes sometimes have pores or fissures.
What a great agrobusiness! Animal manure turned into another environmental problem.
I hope some methane and combined cycle plants Lakelanders style in the coming times, when peak oil and climate change start roaring louder...A smart, eco-friendly and hygienic solution.
Oh, I finish my comment with a scatological-historical reference: Cistercians Order monks used to fertilise monasteries fields withs their own "mystical" poo; I mean, they had a reservoir under monks common toilet, when it was full of poo they emptied it for agriculture use. I saw this toilet system last summer when I visited an old monastery turned in museum and semi-luxurious hotel. I made a joke parodying monks motto:"Ora et caca": Pray and make a poo. Unfortunately for Ebro river, hotel and museum toilets are conected conventional sewers. There is a petty depuration plant, so I think some amounts of nitrates and phosphates are missing in their travel to the see.
Very very off topic:
NATO boys are playing war games in Spain these days, maybe the biggest one in NATO history. Do you think we are next to "Twilight Last Gleaming" geostrategic scenaries? (with Russia instead of China) Or...are NATO armies pretensing another puerile chicken game? (like sterile and void yelling against Putin after russiand air raids in Syria).

Swimmer said...

In many parts of Scandinavia canals are not possible to build. On the other hand, one-way canals were very common in the rivers, making it possible to export timber from large parts of the Taiga of inland Scandinavia. The larger timber-floating rivers were used continually from mid 1800 until about 1980, which must have been related to very low overall costs (in river Klarälven floating was performed even after 1990).

The timber-floating network created jobs and small import of goods that kept the workers enough happy. But it didn't create much wealth in the Taiga. I'm thinking that I may have to accept that this will be the case even in a retro-utopic future, since one-way systems, by nature, tend to always drain resources from its sources and concentrate them further downstream (?).

PS. Ordinary canals seem to be very good to have (if nature permits), at least if you would like to have a city. Here are two more stories about appropriate-tech canals:,

donalfagan said...

The tour of the generating station reminded me of some 1950s-era scifi flick. Everything looks so clean and modern during the exposition, and none of the characters suspect that a nameless dread is unintentionally being created and fed by technology. "It Came From Beneath the Manure Plant!" I guess that won't happen in Lakeland.

Steve Carrow said...

John Michael- Wondered if you could cite any references you might have used to confirm that electricity and heat from methane digesters could provide enough output for powering a city, even if modestly. The designs I am familiar with won't do that. Maybe the load side of the equation is where the bigger story is. Hopefully you might find room in your narrative to touch on that.

Shane Wilson said...

On a recent post discussing American politics, you mentioned that the GOP stood for progress, in the sense of "movement in the same direction," and that, therefore, Donald Trump would be a "progression" of, say 10-15 years down the road, while Bernie Sanders represented a "regression" of sorts to, say 1976. Well, KY just "progressed" by electing the equivalent of Donald Trump as governor. After a campaign that was a comedy of errors, based on the right of county clerks not to issue same sex marriage licenses and eliminating the Medicaid expansion & state insurance exchange, in which not even the national GOP governors' campaign supported him, Matt Bevin was elected governor by a large margin. As goes KY, so goes the nation?

RPC said...

I get the feeling that somewhere in the LR there's heavy industry powered by fossil fuels. The gas turbines, heat exchangers, and fermentation tanks at the power plant, the steel wheels and frames and electrical gear at Mikkelson Manufacturing, even the kiln-fired bricks in all the buildings - all imply a source of concentrated, intense heat. It's going to be fiendishly difficult if not impossible to provide that sustainably.

Bill Blondeau said...

Ah... I think I'm figuring out what Mr. Carr is up to. I won't say it out loud here, in case it's a spoiler.

JMG, congrats on getting The Meriga Project rolling! I'm heading over to the project page pretty soon.

I ran across this recently on the way to somewhere else; I suspect that the project may be wincingly clueless from the perspective of Space Bats-hardened veterans, but it suggests that the concept is getting traction. Some of the contributors are fairly well-known authors in the F/SF community, so somebody with industry clout seems to be paying some kind of attention.

I think the project's inclusion of the fantasy side of things is actually more impressive, as evidence of such a trend, than the science fiction. In SF, it's easy to see the point of ecological and thermodynamic constraints. In fantasy, you don't have to.

In a fantasy story, you can postulate any source of external energy you wish; constraints are devised by the author for thematic, and dramatic, purposes. When fantasy writers work with the materials of deindustrial fiction, they're doing it because they think (or their editor thinks, or their agent thinks) that the readers would be interested.

I'm also pleased that Founders House is looking for YA deindustrial SF. Science Fiction got its start largely from a mix of engineers, hobbyists, and geeky kids who avidly consumed narratives of where a science-based industrial society might go; but Kids These Days(TM) don't need that anymore. They need deindustrial fiction to make sense of the world they've been born into. Good call, Founders House!

patriciaormsby said...

@Escape from Wisconsin,
Thank you for the information on Japan! I've been living here for more than 30 years, but had not realized this facet. They really seem to have taken up smart phones with great zest, and so many people so engrossed in them that the TV is reporting accidents where people bump into each other. One person fell off a train platform. But this is just for pastimes, and I think it is true that for business, they are quite conservative. Japan believes in employing people, and except for companies such as IBM that are naturally into automation and trying to compete internationally (and are trying to change Japan's ethics and are thus getting a reputation as "black companies" where no one wants to work), they are loathe to fire people or lay them off, even when they are having trouble meeting the payroll. There may be bright young people that are tech-savvy, and given the TPP (trade agreement) and other forms of international competition being forced on them, the situation could change somewhat. There is a big disconnect between the government favoring internationalism to try to restart the "growth" engines and the majority of people trying to preserve a system that has worked well for them.

I abandoned urban life a long time ago for health reasons, so I don't really know what is happening in the capital. Thus your news has a lot of value to me, and gives me considerable hope. For most of my work as a translator/rewriter, we just use e-mails. The companies specializing in those services, though, try to keep up with technological advancements to avoid data leaks. One securities (stock market) company I used to work for was very slow to take up even transmission of files via the telephone network.

Most people here are very frightened of data leaks. The bureaucrats are not very tech savvy, and they seem to be easy targets for hackers. Recently my husband tried to avoid participating in the census, and people were saying to do everything possible to avoid it, because leaked data could deprive a person of, for example, their pension. (It's a danger that is not very well addressed in Japan, where misfortune is seen as resulting from "bad karma".) Finally, my husband complied, and it appears the government is trying to get 100% compliance, possibly related to the TPP.

Mark Rice said...

I decided to calculate how much energy I flush down the toilet every day. Say I eat 2500 kcal a day and 1000 kcal is not absorbed. I am flushing 1000 kcal a day. 4184 joules/kcal * 1000 joules is 4.184 mega Joule. This is slightly more than a kilowatt hour.

But if we lose 50% in the fermenter and generator we are down to around 2 mega Joules per day. Averaged over 24 hours, this is 24 watts .

This is enough for a few 10 watt 1000 lumen light sources. A large refrigerator would be tough. I would need more dogs and a few barnyard animals.


Bruce E said...

Thank you for this installment -- a twofer for me, as I am an electric power engineer and also someone who commented during a previous installment of your utopian fantasy series that I wanted to see exactly the kind of governmental regulation of unearned/speculative gains you bring up here. I was pleasantly surprised that regular dividends managed to find their way into the correct category of earned income and contrasted tax-law-wise with capital gains that come from buying low and selling high (or the reverse-ordered combination of selling high then buying low on a short sale).

It's crazy how that is completely inverted in our country now, where speculative gains are taxed at a lower rate than earned income. It's better than it was in 2008, but still backwards.

I'm wondering if that dream you hinted at in your description -- that the cost of fuel for electricity production could be completely offset by the value-add processes of turning poop into fertilizer -- is inherently misguided and only could happen in a market where certain things were artificially overvalued? I'm also wondering about the profitability of farming if the price of shit (erm, feedstock) is rising like it is in Lakeland? The price of food would certainly be higher than it is today, and I would expect that farmers get a bigger share of the final price tag to the eater of their food than they do today. Hopefully you'll get into that a little more in the future.

Good stuff -- can't wait for the next one!

Nastarana said...

Mister Roberto, I have read that in the early modern era, and maybe before, the City of Paris was one of the most unhealthy places in Europe. The infamous Paris muck, a noisome mix of human and animal waste, human and animal cadavers, offal etc. was said to be able to eat through a man's leather boots. Remember that Paris pre-global warming enjoyed a mild, USDA 7 or thereabouts climate in which all sorts of microbes flourished. The municipal authorities caused this muck to be loaded into wagons and deposited at nine collection points on the edge of town. It was said that those nine cisterns were the cleanest places in all Paris because farmers came from across the Ile de France and transferred the muck into their own wagons. I don't know for sure, but I rather suspect that this explains the development of double digging in the Isle; farmers would have discovered that the nasty muck made excellent fertilizer if it was buried deeply enough to not contaminate newly planted crops. I suspect that Chinese farmers, using night soil collected in nearby cities, may have made a similar discovery.

Helix said...

JMG: Re "[I]t probably doesn't hurt that the town where I live these days used to be a major canal port."

...and could become one once again somewhere down the line. A lot of the old work is still in place.

Pantagruel7 said...

The name "Patzek" suggested to me the paper on the unpromising thermodynamics of ethanol from corn by Pimentel & Patzek. But maybe that was just coincidence. I'm glad to see you treating the [problematic] nature of corporations, the pernicious "corporate personhood doctrine" and such. There's a book published by Defiance County Historical Society titled "Maumee River 1835" that has some info on the canal and river trade. One of my ancestors played a small part and gets a page and a half or so devoted to his canal-based land speculation upriver from Toledo.

John Michael Greer said...

Nancy, thank you!

Ed, I'll leave that to my Russian readers. My focus is here on the continent, and in the country, I inhabit.

Kieran, hmm! I'd certainly encourage any Space Bats authors who feel inspired by that prospect to look into it -- the more deindustrial SF, the better.

Spanish Fly, "Ora et caca" is a keeper! If the old spirit still remained in the monastic orders, my guess is they'd be composting their feces right now. I wonder if Pope Francis might be encouraged to propose that...

Swimmer, here in the US, there are very large areas where canals won't work, either -- and it's not an accident that the area where canals are viable was this country's industrial heartland.

Donalfagan, "It Came From Beneath Your Waistline," maybe!

Steve, the load side's primary, of course -- Toledo uses a fraction of the electricity a modern city of the same size, because electricity use isn't subsidized. Still, given the fecal output of eight mostly agricultural counties and a sustained pursuit of efficiencies, I think it could be done.

Shane, I predicted in 2010 or so that if Obamacare actually took effect, the Tea Party was going to take power in the US in 2016. It does seem as though we're on track for that.

RPC, it's not impossible, just expensive -- another factor driving the high tax rates in high-tier counties. More on this as we proceed.

Bill, thanks for the link! Clueless or not, the mere fact that somebody's trying to think about ecological SF again is very cheering -- there used to be quite a bit of it, before cyberpunk et al. skewed things into another round of blissful machine-worship.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, exactly. That's why Toledo draws excrement from an eight-county region with a lot of livestock to provide for its modest electrical needs.

Bruce, the divergent tax rates between dividends and capital gains are exhibit A in the museum of US financial irrationality. As for farming, though, remember that for farmers in the Lakeland Republic, manure is a marketable product -- farmers get an additional cash flow from manure sales to cities, and this makes farming more profitable than it would otherwise be. Since backyard vegetable gardens are also very common, as we've seen, the price of food isn't unreasonable, and the Lakeland Republic also has plenty of land to put into industrial hemp, oil crops, and other non-food uses.

Helix, I know! All it would need is a bunch of laborers with shovels, and a few carpenters to rebuild the locks.

Pantagruel, it was a coincidence. Thanks for the reference to Defiance County -- as it happens, we'll be going there shortly, because the annual drone shoot takes place near Hicksville. (I couldn't resist the name of the town; in my imagined future, yes, it's a tier 1 community.)

Mister Roboto said...

Shane, I predicted in 2010 or so that if Obamacare actually took effect, the Tea Party was going to take power in the US in 2016. It does seem as though we're on track for that.

I can't help but find a bit creepy that close to nobody in the media or on the Internet, with the possible exception of party-line right-wing Republican publications and websites, has mentioned that the Republican route in November 2014 might have had something to do with a low-key but very persistent distaste on the part of the public for Obamacare.

Howard Skillington said...

I find it salutary in Retrotopia that the default setting of the financial sphere is not that you can do whatever you want to exploit and manipulate the system. It seems self-evident that any financial transaction that transfers wealth without creating value is parasitic, depriving productive enterprise of capital while fostering the illusion that mere financial activity is “The Economy.”

There is every reason for citizens of the Lakeland Republic to have confidence that Mikkelson Manufacturing will use Peter Carr’s seventy two bucks to enhance the company’s capacity to provide goods and services to society. The investor, the company, and the economy can all benefit. That’s how things are supposed to work – at least that’s what we were told in civics class, those many years ago.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

@Escapefromwisconsin: Thanks for the article on Japan and tech.

A few weeks ago I finished reading Dan Simmon's "Flashback" novel. It was pretty damn good story -even if I don't agree with all the particulars of the authors political axe grinding. I read some reviews of it afterwards to see what the general reception of the book was; it seemed like a lot of liberals and others were hemming and hawing at the book for the way he portrayed future race relations in America (even worse than they are now). For one, I didn't take that as him being racist, just that he was willing to extrapolate on themes that aren't PC and show that things don't always get better.

Besides being a good detective story set in a post-collapse U.S. setting, I thought it was interesting how he wrote about Japan falling towards a feudal way of operating.

In my kitchen I now have a book on Japanese food preservation techniques: How many soybean fields are in the Lakeland Republic? Might be worth keeping some around for making miso and soy sauce.

John -it's nice to hear of a town like Lima in your story. A family friend lives there...

Bill Blondeau said...

JMG: "As for farming, though, remember that for farmers in the Lakeland Republic, manure is a marketable product -- farmers get an additional cash flow from manure sales to cities, and this makes farming more profitable than it would otherwise be."

Nice, and essential, that you set up the farm -> manure -> city -> powerplant -> sludge -> farm transaction as a cycle. Without that return journey of fertilizer for the fields, the farmers, in search of short-term profit, would strip the nutrients out of their soil pretty quickly. As it is, the economic incentive works to prevent careless pollution.

Presumably the Lakelanders are purposefully diligent in minimizing nutrient loss at all parts of the cycle?

aiastelamonides said...


I haven't commented in a little while due to a loss of internet connection, but I am still following Mr. Carr's adventures with interest. I am eager to see that Atheist Assembly. The possible development of atheism into atheism-with-rituals into a positive religious tradition is one of the more interesting potential paths of future religious history.

As for deindustrial fiction, I have been working on expanding the world of my Space Bats entry, though I don't know that I'm up to writing a publishable YA novel, or even an unpublishable one. The Meriga Project looks interesting, but I cannot contribute, not having read Star's Reach. If I do get around to reading it, I will look into the anthology too.


August Johnson said...

It's only relatively recently that our domestic electric energy needs have skyrocketed. And then the US has much higher usage than other places. Today 200 Amp service is the absolute minimum that's allowed for new construction in most places with many installing 300 and 400 Amp electric service. The house I grew up in located in Tucson, AZ was built in 1961 and had 100 Amp service. The house I recently lived in in Auburn, AL still had the original 60 Amp service from 1953.

The house that our family of 4, Parents and 2 kids, lived in in Ensenada, BC, Mexico in the mid 1970's had 20 Amp 240V service. Yes, the entire 3 bedroom house of about 900 square feet had just 2 20 Amp 120V circuits. That was the normal for anyone who wasn't rich. And that was in the 1970's. The entire fusebox contained 2 20 amp fuses for the whole house.

This was in the days of the higher consumption Incandescent lamps and when televisions and radios were full of Vacuum Tubes and threw off lots of heat. However we didn't have 47 lights throughout the house and 27 different dodads plugged in consuming power 24/7/365. It's amazing how much more energy and power we use today with our more efficient stuff!

SLClaire said...

As far as bricks go, I'm guessing the LR makes very few new bricks. Here in St. Louis, anytime an old brick building is torn down, all usable bricks - and that's most of them - are palleted and sent off for new construction, mostly to Texas according to my understanding. The Midwest has lots of brick buildings because they stand up well to the severe storms we have. Even a building leveled by war would have plenty of salvageable bricks in the ruins, waiting for someone to pick them up and make something new with them. The mortar does take a concentrated energy source to make, but the volume of mortar is much less than the volume of bricks used in a building.

I noticed the double doors and arched doorway of the electricity plant and was pleased to see them. The double doors are energy efficient and also help to keep out small pests such as insects and rodents. As for the arch, it's pleasing to the eye. I like that LR seems to care enough about beauty to incorporate it into its structures and other things. New stuff generally sets my teeth on edge with its intent to assault my senses.

I Janas said...

...I had a laugh about Mr. Singletary being the manager of the power plant, reminding me of a/the singularity.

Bob Patterson said...

Using water transport - In the 1980's I worked for a government lab utilizing the remnant buildings of the Watertown (MA) Arsenal, just outside Boston. It was located on the Charles River, near where it joins Boston Harbor. In the early days, cannon would be made there floated on barges and delivered all up and down the East Coast to fortifications. The location has since been developed as an industrial complex, but you still see the original building shells and walk around the site.

Bob Patterson said...

EscapefromWisconsin - Last I knew Milorgaite had pretty high levels of heavy metals, which meant it might be good as a fertilizer for non-food plants, but no others.

What may influence the direction of energy production may be the viable, available battery tech. If well made lead acid batteries are available, solar and wind power will be viable on a small scale. One of the best installation I have read about had three banks of batteries. one to draw from, one charged by wind, one charged by solar. Once a week the switches would be changed to draw from a different bank of batteries.

buddhabythelake said...


As one who works at a municipal power/water utility, I appreciate and applaud the vision of biomass IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle). Coupled with reduced electric utilization and a higher baseline cost (both of which you have alluded to previously in this series), such an approach would be viable. Much work has to be done, however, on the demand side (primarily with regard to our expectations of cheap, instant power for whatever whim we have at the moment). This will sort itself out, one way or another, I suppose.

Reaching back to a previous topic in the series, I wanted to mention that I experimented with chicory in my community garden plots this past growing season with some success, harvesting and roasting roots as an adjunct for my coffee at work. I'll be planting more next year, most certainly.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Wait a minute, how is a the stock market going to function in Lakeland? I mean companies need to constantly, and consistently, raise their profits on a quarter to quarter basis. I mean in any given environment things don't grow constantly and consistently. If there isn't enough rain then a trees growth slows down. The ideas behind growth and profitability that form the basis of the market aren't ecologically sustainable now, how is it ecologically sustainable in the heavily regulated Lakeland market?



Somewhatstunned said...

“Four blocks? No, that’s walking distance.”

Aha .. Now I know that Mr Carr is redeemable!

onething said...

"As for farming, though, remember that for farmers in the Lakeland Republic, manure is a marketable product -- farmers get an additional cash flow from manure sales to cities, and this makes farming more profitable than it would otherwise be."

But surely the farmers need to keep the manure to maintain their own soil.

Shane Wilson said...

one thing regarding new construction, many new homes are being built with an excess of outlets, way more capacity than is needed. My mom just built a new house, 1800 sq feet at most, 1 story, and there are SO MANY outlets, way beyond the 9 ft. (?) rule in the NEC. The panel is much larger, with way more breakers than the panel in the 1974 house she moved out of, that I grew up in, which followed the 9 ft. (?) rule and had much fewer outlets. Also, things that in the old house were on a regular branch circuit outlet, like the washer and the fridge, got their own dedicated outlet/breaker in the new house.

Ron M said...

I am thoroughly enjoying this series of posts, JMG – it’s a great way to synthesise a lot of your views in a fictional setting. Keep it coming!

I am also delighted to see that Retrotopia has some not so “retro” appropriate tech! Way back in my Masters student days I fell in love with biogas: first by researching it and then by spending the better part of a year in remote Indian villages where biogas was used extensively. Most families had 3 or 4 head of cattle and the methane generated by the anaerobic digestion of their manure was sufficient to serve household cooking needs. The digester model was extremely simple with an inverted black “drum” sitting atop the pit: the drum would rise and fall according to the amount of methane produced. The black colour came in handy during the cool but sunny winter days, so as to use passive solar energy to bring the temperature closer to the optimum 32-43 degrees C (90-110 degrees F).

Unfortunately in temperate (or colder) climates, biogas production needs to be a bit higher-tech if it is to run year-round. Increasing the size of the “digesters” helps, but to combat temperatures below freezing, serious heat inputs are required. There are some farmers in Canada who have adopted biogas, but the gas is used to generate electricity that is then fed back into the grid rather than use the methane directly (as natural gas). It seems a pity to lose some of the energy in the conversion process.

Anyway, I am glad that the people of the Lakeland Republic have the good sense to use the plentiful resources around them (in this case, poo) in multiple ways, including electrical generation. Destroying all pathogens from manure also has great public health benefits too. Either deliberately or inadvertently, they have created a “Pootopia”!

Many thanks for the light and common sense that you spread in your two blogs and numerous books.

onething said...

Oh, never mind, I remember now, they recycle the manure.

John Michael Greer said...

Mister R., it's an interesting and very common symptom of organizational failure that when a disastrous decision has been made, defending that decision so often takes precedence over everything else. At this point, it looks very much as though the Dems are headed for a crushing defeat in 2016, and voter disgust at the Unaffordable and We-Don't-Care Act will be one of the main factors driving that -- but will the Dems recognize that in time and do something about it? It seems vanishingly unlikely.

Howard, exactly. Stock markets evolved as a way to get surplus wealth into hands that would use it productively, and with a few simple changes, they could function that way again.

Bill, they are indeed, because they make money by being diligent and lose money by not doing so. The profit motive is a great incentive, so long as it's harnessed to the right things. "Now you go right back out there, Jerry, and shovel that barn clean, you hear me? Every shovel full is money for the farm!"

Aias, Carr's visit is a few weeks away -- he'll be going to the drone shoot first. Still, it's on the schedule.

August, exactly. Your average urban house in Toledo in 2065 has a modest number of low-wattage light bulbs, a radio, and a couple of ceiling fans for the summer, and those are the only things that use electricity. The city streetcar system is the single largest customer, and it's very efficient, using regenerative braking on every downhill.

SLClaire, bingo. Bricks are baked at 1500 to 2000 degrees F., which can be reached tolerably easily with renewable fuels in a well-insulated kiln, but recycling is much cheaper and doesn't run into natural-resource taxes!

I Janas, funny. Still, it's a fairly common name in the US, especially among African-Americans.

Bob, water transport is vastly more efficient in terms of energy usage than almost any other way to get anything anywhere.

Buddha, of course -- I'm assuming that the Toledo plant is the outcome of close to thirty years of developmental work and practical experience. Glad to hear the chicory worked well for you@

Varun, no, companies do not need to grow constantly. That's one of the delusions hardwired into the current, wildly distorted way that stock markets are run; the only reason endless growth is necessary is that people expect to profit from rising stock prices. If, instead, people expect to profit by getting an annual dividend that's a fair return on their investment, and income from capital gains is heavily taxed to discourage speculation, a steady state is entirely viable -- and that's exactly the way things are run in the Lakeland Republic.

Stunned, heh heh heh...

Ron, you're welcome and thank you. "Pootopia" is a keeper!

Onething, why, yes, and that's exactly why that's in there.

Unknown said...

JMG from Tomxyza
Yes digestion of manures is a real possibility. I have been involved in building several in digesters in the past. Some examples can be found here From memory it takes about 2,000 cows to produce a megawatt of continuous output. By adding 10-15% of the proper waste like fats and oils it is possible to double production. Farm Power gets paid to take wastes like reject eggs from processing plants. No one should poo poo the possibilities of digesting poo.


Roger Arnold said...


One thing I question in the narrative you’ve been constructing is basing the tier system on historical levels of technology at particular points in time. The motivation you give is taxation -- the assumption being that level of technology for infrastructure and public services correlates directly with cost, rising over time. In general, I don’t think that’s true. There are many cases where “modern” technology is much more energy-efficient, productive, and sustainable than the older technology it replaced. Nor is the efficiency necessarily achieved at the expense of the new technology being more complex or requiring a more complex industrial infrastructure to support it. It can simply be that a better way of doing things was invented.

What I’d actually expect to see in a post-industrial future would be a mix of old and new technologies, selected for functionality. “Appropriateness”. The result might well resemble the Lakeland Republic at first glance, but there would be materials and technologies unknown in the 1950 year base for Lakeland’s “tier 1“ counties.

One simple example is ETFE plastic film. Wonderful stuff for greenhouses and for enclosed “outdoor areas” in cold climate regions. Tough, highly transparent, not degraded by UV light, self-cleaning, and seems to last approximately forever. Technology level? Well... There’s nothing in the basic chemical engineering that would baffle educated chemists from the 19th century. They might be amazed by the automated process control of a modern chemical process train, and some of the precursor chemicals, the catalysts, and the chemical pathways leading to the product would be novel to them. However, having learned about it, I don’t think there’s anything that would prevent them from catching the time train back to their own era and setting up shop to make the stuff.

Another example might be genetically engineered yeasts and other microorganisms. It’s getting easier and easier to edit genomes. We’ve been doing “genetic engineering” since Adam via the “blunt force” method of selective breeding. But as our tools and understanding advance, we’re increasingly able to select and combine desirable traits from unrelated organisms. Even if social collapse and a period of chaos put paid to that line of work, it’s unlikely to destroy the more useful self-propagating strains that were previously developed. It’s fairly likely, IMO, that the anaerobic digesters in Toledo’s power station employ a cultured strain of microorganism that work faster than wild strains to produce CH4 while making much less CO2, H2S, NH3, and other “off” gases. The organisms might well produce formic acid in place of most of the CO2, which would then be distilled from the digester liqueur, and fed to another batch of organisms to produce butanol. Green motor fuel. I fully expect to see such developments within the next 10 years -- as long as things don’t fall completely to pieces before then.

There’s a lot that’s ailing about our current society. However, I think blaming the problems on technology, per se, as many do, misses the real culprit. The deeper problem is consumerism and the “race to the bottom” implicit in the way our current capitalist system works. Whether that race is inherent in any variation of the capitalist system, or is a result of misguided ideology, a corrupt value system, and corporate capture of the regulatory mechanisms needed to make a free market system remain free -- that’s an open question. I find Retrotopia a fascinating exploration of the topic. Please keep up the good work!

Jim R said...

Poo Power?

I am sorry, John Michael, sir, but there isn't any 'there' there. The comment from thenoteswhichdonotfit is quite appropriate here. Future societies are not going to run roaring gas turbines on biologically sourced methane. To transport the poo to a central location would be energy-prohibitive. Maybe if you had each farm composting it and moving the gas through a pipe. But even then, I'm not seeing it.

By the way, I commented about sewage a couple of posts ago. The comment entered the queue late in the week, and it wasn't answered (not that it's necessary to answer every one) ... but it was an observation about my own city, where I happened to notice the lift pump stations in my hilly neighborhood. The Romans would have run sewer pipes along the natural inclines of the landscape, but modern city designers just slap down an arbitrary rectangular grid (or an equally arbitrary map of aesthetically curved streets and cul-de-sacs), and then they have to have these lift pumps. If the electric utility ever goes down, that creek in the greenbelt is going to get really stinky in short order.

Profligacies of scale. But even with gravity flow, the city won't make enough methane to keep the lights on.

Poo power is being used in some dairy operations today, I understand, but only in quite large dairy farms and it would be running more of a purring Generac. I don't think there is much surplus there.

On the other hand, a solar panel could easily last 100 years, give or take a few hailstorms. Attributing a 'lifespan' of 20 years is really just an accounting gimmick. Maybe a few lithium batteries for after dark. :-)

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Tomxyza, if you can point me to a source for the cows-per-megawatt figure, I'd be most grateful!

Roger, this is really amusing. I wonder how many times I have to repeat that the tier system is only a measure of the infrastructure provided by tax revenue -- as I've said many times already -- before those of you who insist on not hearing those words finally pay attention. The tiers don't define what technology can be used -- only what infrastructure gets provided by tax revenue. If you want a more complex technology, you can have it, as long as you don't expect the infrastructure for it to be paid for by tax revenue. Infrastructure. Tax revenue. Are you listening yet?

Jim, it would help if you'd read the post before critiquing it, because I've already dealt with your objections. The great majority of the manure used in the plants is transported to the plants by canalboat, which is an extraordinarily energy- and cost-efficient means of shipping -- not prohibitively costly at all. As for pumped sewage, here again, Toledo had to be rebuilt after the Second Civil War -- I've indicated that already -- and saner arrangements to get sewage to municipal power plants by gravity would have been easily put in place during that rebuilding process. As you'll find if you read some of the other comments, moreover, methane generation from manure is a commonly used technology in quite a bit of the Third World these days. What makes Toledo different is simply that it sources feedstock from an eight county area, and thus generates enough methane to provide a modest amount of electricity for streetcars, household lighting, and the like.

As for solar panels, they look really good as long as you don't factor in the costs of manufacture and maintenance, including all supply chains for raw materials and manufacturing equipment. Include those, and methane from manure is a better investment.

Jim R said...

"As for solar panels, they look really good as long as you don't factor in the costs of manufacture and maintenance, including all supply chains for raw materials and manufacturing equipment. "

That wasn't my point. My point is that there are really quite a few solar panels around right now. If there's a decrease in population, you'll have solar panel deflation -- they could conceivably produce a significant fraction of precious electricity for the next century or more, without manufacturing any new ones. Storage is, of course, always a challenge.

Something that is likely to be much more difficult in the future is steel mills. You know, for things like railroad track. Even for a simple melting operation to recycle old metal. It's fairly easy to collect enough sunlight to melt a dime-sized hole in a piece of sheet steel, but melting a hundred tons in a foundry ladle is another story altogether. Scraping together enough sewer gas to do that chore will be a challenge, as well..

Dwig said...

Re the comments about the use of humanure in Asia: maybe time to reread F. H. King's "Farmers of 40 Centuries". One of King's comments was how clean the Asian cities and countrysides were -- literally, nothing went to waste. (Given the dense population, that wasn't just a good idea; it was imperative.)

Misty Barber said...

I really enjoy the poop power. Does the utility own and maintain the sewers with the revenue generated from the wastes and only require users to pay for the initial hookup fee or are costs subsidized through tax revenue or is there a monthly usage fee or something else entirely?

I noticed water heaters, dryers, ovens, coffee makers, toasters, garbage disposals, freezers, refrigerators, microwaves, washing machines, televisions, and electric heaters all absent from your list of load side appliances. Without those it is easy to imagine a single 20 amp circuit taking care of a modest sized and smartly illuminated house. What is the primary cooking fuel in Lakeland?

Might I suggest that flop houses, capsule hotels, or some other low cost lodging currently absent from modern America find its way into the Lakeland Republic? The normalization of such arrangements would go a long way to helping people starting out save enough money to establish a firm financial footing or allow tradesmen to freely move around the republic.

Roger Arnold said...

LJM, LOL! Well what you say you've been saying certainly makes a lot more sense. But if so many people are misunderstanding that you have to keep restating the point, you might want to review the places where you write about what Carr observes in the different counties and how the tier system is finally explained to him and figure out where those misinterpretations are coming from. You write well, but you might consider the possibility that it's not 100% the readers fault.

Just saying.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Are the winters cold enough for iceboxes and ice houses to make a comeback? Are most town dwellers getting by with California coolers, root cellars, an insulated box for the bottle of milk? Is a chilled drink in summer a cafe treat?

It's not essential to the story but I'm speculating on home cooking in Toledo in this period. Fuel-frugal Midwestern cookery might involve quick breads baked in solar ovens (built into a south facing wall when possible), stove top stir fries, alcohol stoves for hot drinks, pressure cookers and boiled dishes started on the stove and parked in a fireless cooker for a few hours to finish off, which is the retro-tech version of a crock pot. Perhaps neighborhood shops with a wood fired oven you can have your Sunday roast cooked in for a fee. Loaf bread from the bakery.

trippticket said...

My librarian wife, upon hearing your news about deindustrial SF, informed me that at her library at least, this genre is already moving full steam ahead, especially among the young adult set (16-24). Or something tentatively approaching a deindustrial SF genre anyway.

I'm just going to assume that there would be enough interest among this blog's readership to post a list of titles that she's collecting for me today. I'll get that posted soon as I can.

Have thoroughly enjoyed this tour of Retrotopia! And the interruptions just as much. Last week's post was just beautiful...thank you for doing what you do.

Back to the insulating and stove wood splitting...

Tyler August said...

I ran across this morning a research project to study building "A 10 Kilowatt Rankine Cycle Agricultural Waste-to-energy Conversion Module Utilizing Ultra Micro Turbo-alternators." -- they cite 50 cows as the feedstock generators. Citation:
That doesn't jell with 1MW/2000 cows, but efficiency does go up with scale when you're talking about turbines. I'd love to hear more, if anyone has more-developed/practical technical references about this technology.

Shane Wilson said...

This seems like a change from what you've previously proposed for deindustrial electricity in the future. In the past, you've mentioned how inefficient the electrical grid is, and how much electricity is lost to the system, yet Toledo still an electrical grid, albeit not as big nor reaching into Tier 1 counties. How 'bout voltage? Is it still 110-120, the current North/Central American norm? If so, what about what you'd mentioned earlier about 12V being more efficient? What about the micro hydro and wind turbines you'd mentioned in Ecotechnic Future? Are those just reserved for Tier 1 & 2 counties, or do Tiers 1 & 2 even have localized wind or hydro power?

Shane Wilson said...

Oh, FYI, there was a past president of the University of Kentucky, Otis Singletary, whose name adorns the performing arts center, the Singletary Center for the Arts...

Mikep said...

Hi John, I read this on the BBC news website and thought that it may make you chuckle


RPC said...

"Your average urban house in Toledo in 2065 has a modest number of low-wattage light bulbs, a radio, and a couple of ceiling fans for the summer, and those are the only things that use electricity." refrigerator? My reading indicates that the electric appliance most prized by the early 20th century housewife was the clothes washer, but the refrigerator was a close second. Its presence meant that marketing could be done weekly rather than daily, which freed up considerable travel time.

Mister Roboto said...

August, exactly. Your average urban house in Toledo in 2065 has a modest number of low-wattage light bulbs, a radio, and a couple of ceiling fans for the summer, and those are the only things that use electricity. The city streetcar system is the single largest customer, and it's very efficient, using regenerative braking on every downhill.

No refrigerators? (Yeah sorry, that's one thing to which I've become pretty attached over the forty-four years of my life that I can mostly remember).

David James Peterson said...

I haven't read the rest of the comments yet so I could be repeating others about the gas generators.
I'd say that using manure as a feedstock seems pretty reasonable, though I'm unsure about how much power could be produced.
The issue with using human waste for producing methane in our current society (not the Lakeland Republic) is how human waste is collected (flush toilets mixed with every other source of water that goes down the drain). In general, the huge amount of water mixed with human waste in the sewer systems makes the water too diluted. They human waste then has to go into huge ponds when the water is constantly aerated to get the bacteria to purify the water. This makes it nearly impossible to get any usable amounts of methane productions out of human waste (too much water and not enough poo). If the poo wasn't mixed with the general sewers, it would be possible to get more methane production out of it (there are a couple methods this could be done, sewers that use vacuums rather than water to move the poo around, or simply having humanure buckets for the average household) (buckets also have the advantage of not requiring a $4,000 to $14,000 per house installation cost that a sewer line costs).
One good way to produce methane these days is from landfills. It does require petroleum products (because they have to cover the landfills with an impermeable tarp to collect the methane). North Little Rock has a 4.8 Megawatt Landfill gas-to-energy plant (

MawKernewek said...

I haven't crunched the numbers of electricity generation from manure, but I wonder whether it would be more common for gas from fermentation to be directly used for heat, either as a community scale heating system, or perhaps for heated greenhouses that produce tropical fruit as a luxury good to replace imports that sound like they weren't coming in your backstory to this.
It might be that Toledo as the capital is somewhat exceptional, in that a large-scale facility of this kind exists whereas in most of the country this kind of recycling is done at a more local scale.

daelach said...

I think I have an idea for secure telecommunication in Lakeland. Radio is there, so radio stations are also there. Partners interested in secure transmission could generate a whole bunch of one time pads (OTP), that's possible e.g. using dice as random generators. Then they would distribute the pads by courier or meeting in person (that is the point why OTP isn't widely spread today!). Next time an urgent, but confidential transmission is necessary, they could be used. That would be a low-tech system, but it still could not be broken, not even if a possible listener disposed of massive computer capacities.

In case someone is interested: I've set up a manual how to implement such one time pad stuff using pencil and dice. Included is also a little demo program (Linux only, sources included, commented in English) for playing around with.

The most important part, however, is the manual, which is aimed at working without any computer. It's also in the ZIP file, both in English and German. It's 17 pages, or more if you decide to print out the actual pad template more than one time. Maybe some printouts would make their way into a non-digital future?

pygmycory said...

I find myself agreeing with Patricia Mayhews. I don't have a very good sense of Mr. Carr as a human being at all - who he is, how old, married, single, looks, personality. It took me ages to find out that his first name is Peter. I'm also not sure precisely what his mission is. All I know is that the Atlantic Republic is having problems that involve an electricity shortage and Mr. Carr is looking at how Lakeland has dealt with it, presumably to make some sort of recommendations to his home government. Could we maybe see him thinking out how some of Lakeland's solutions would/wouldn't transfer to the very different conditions of the Atlantic Republic? This story might benefit from a bit more about the protagonist.

Ed-M said...


Very... intersting (phew!) post here.

So what happens to the "waste produst" of the fermentation? Is it used for fertilizer? Otherwise there'd be a fertility crisis in short order.

And speaking of power... I was thinking, that Toledo could have had a hydro plant built (despite Lakeland having hardly any hydroelectric cogeneration / dam potential) by immersing electric turbines horizontally in the river. After all, the Boulder Dam has electric turbines and they go back to the Great Depression!

Now OT: It seems like JHK has gotten himself in a bit of hot water with a thought policewoman at Boston College, because he used the term Black for African-American during a private dinner conversation -- after his public lecture on the importance of blacks using proper English the college -- that said thought police-officer did not attend. Apparently, she got wind of his private "microaggression" by hearsay.

Patricia Mathews said...

I should think that methane gas fro that source could be used for both heating and gaslights. Anything that natural gas does now, in fact. But wouldn't it have to be scrubbed because of the smell?

Patricia Mathews said...

From al-Jazeera:

Albatross said...

Hi there Mr. Greer,

It's fascinating to read your 'Retrotopia' story and then in parallel to read as much of the the comments as time allows. Beefs it all up, so to say. :) Anyway, I noticed an article in ScienceDaily of a couple of days ago that discusses the harnessing of energy from human waste. Might be of interest. See: Vast energy value in human waste

Roger Arnold said...

Given the interest in "poo power", I thought I'd run some numbers to see what we're really talking about. Data here can easily be checked with a little googling. That's how I found it.

One "cow unit" consumes ~100 lb. of green grass per day, or ~35 lb. of dry hay;

It takes anywhere from 2 acres per cow in a well watered temperate region with good pasture and hay fields to 100 acres of open range in an arid region with cold winters;

One cow produces ~65 pounds of manure per day, containing ~ 7 lbs of dry matter;

The heat content of 7 lbs dry matter is about 60 MJ, or 17 kWh thermal;

Anaerobic digestion can convert ~75% of the thermal energy potential of its input to the equivalent amount of methane. That translates to methane with 13 kWh thermal per cow per day;

Assuming 60% conversion efficiency in a CCGT (combine cycle gas turbine), that would be 8 kWh per cow per day;

8 kWh per day is one third of a kilowatt per cow. One megawatt would require a herd of 3000 cattle.

The cattle would need to be kept in a feedlot for collection of manure. Alternatively, in a rural subsistence economy where children are economic commodities, gangs of children could be sent out daily to comb the 10,000 or so acres of pasture for collecting cow patties. Neither approach quite fits the image of an enlightened, sustainable de-industrial economy.

That's not to say that an energy economy based on biogas can't be made to work. It just means that trying to base it solely on cow manure is a bad idea. Fortunately, manure is far from the only type of biomass that can be handled in an anaerobic digester.

onething said...

No refrigerators in Toledo? All I want is a fridge and one light bulb. Yeah, a summer fan, too, but that is so sporadic. Can trade it for the light bulb.

onething said...

"Roger, this is really amusing. I wonder how many times I have to repeat that the tier system is only a measure of the infrastructure provided by tax revenue -- as I've said many times already -- before those of you who insist on not hearing those words finally pay attention. The tiers don't define what technology can be used -- only what infrastructure gets provided by tax revenue. If you want a more complex technology, you can have it, as long as you don't expect the infrastructure for it to be paid for by tax revenue. Infrastructure. Tax revenue. Are you listening yet? "

I still don't get it! I get that a person can have whatever they want so long as they pay for it. But the point of the poster you replied to was that a set time frame for infrastructure using particular years will not always make sense, as some things might actually be done very efficiently now that were not back in the day, and also I'm thinking that there might be some quite new technologies that could be used in multiple tiers if they are affordable/simple low energy.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, sure, there are quite a few solar panels around now. How many of them will be left in the Lakeland Republic's territory after that's been a war zone for four years, subject to prolonged aerial and cruise missile bombardment, and then fought over via town by town infantry battles? There may be a few left, and I might even put one into a future scene, but it won't be a significant factor. As for steel rails and the like, of course that's not being produced by solar energy; there are any number of fuel sources that will allow for that, and we'll be getting to one or two of them as we proceed.

Dwig, it's an excellent book!

Misty, I'm not sure that sewers are the best means to get manure from the source to the plant -- I'll be working that out as we proceed. The primary cooking fuel in the Lakeland Republic is alcohol, and hayboxes and solar ovens are much used to make the heat go further -- and yes, flophouses, rooming houses, and the like are quite common.

Roger, I'm well aware where the misunderstandings are coming from. People in today's America are taught to believe that you can't pick and choose among technologies -- each technology is assigned to an era, and if you embrace that technology you have to embrace everything else about that era. I've run into that over and over again in these posts! Still, thanks for the reminder -- I'll have to have Carr use that same bit of illogic at some point in an upcoming post, and get corrected on it.

Unknown Deborah, I haven't worked out all the details, but alcohol stoves are common, and solar ovens and hayboxes even more so. Local bakeries? Naturally, not far from the butcher shop, the greengrocer, etc.

Trippticket, I'll look forward to that list!

Tyler, okay, five cows per kilowatt is a nice round number. I wonder if anybody has comparable figures for pigs, horses (all those horsedrawn taxis ought to produce a fair bit), etc.

Shane, yes, it's different. Electric grids make sense in restricted areas, such as cities -- it's when you extend them into rural areas that the losses really pile up. As for what's reserved for which tier, ahem -- once again, you can have any technology that you want and can afford, no matter what tier you're in, but the infrastructure for it won't be provided by tax dollars unless you're in a high enough tier. It really isn't that complex!

Mikep, yes, I saw that! Once again, Japan is on the cutting edge... ;-)

RPC and Mister R., there are refrigerators in the Lakeland Republic, but they're somewhat expensive and not everyone has them -- and not all refrigerators use electricity, by the way. Iceboxes are also in common use, and a lot of people have returned to the old habit of going to market daily.

David, that's a valid point. I'm considering alternative collection methods.

MawKernewek, I'm sure that in rural areas, especially when canal transport isn't available and selling manure to the cities isn't an option, a lot of methane is produced on site and used for cooking, as happens today over much of the Third World.

John Michael Greer said...

Daelach, there are any number of good codes and ciphers that can be used for that purpose, and yes, one-time pads are among them. Thanks for the link!

Pygmycory, you're not supposed to know what his mission is. Not all fiction benefits from that sort of everything-up-front approach.

Ed-M, er, if you go back and read the post you'll find out that I've already addressed the fertility issue: the slurry left over from the fermentation process is dried and shipped back to the farmers. As for hydro, there are several ways to get a modest amount of electricity from rivers without damming them, and I'm looking into some of the options.

Patricia, that's one of the advantages of burning it in a combined-cycle turbine right away -- the compounds that smell get incinerated, and don't stink any more.

Albatross, thanks for the link!

Roger, okay, now show me where I said, or even hinted, that the Toledo plant runs solely on cow manure. Keep on whacking that straw man, and he'll be fit to go into the fermentation tank any time now!

Onething, as noted above, refrigerators are available in the Lakeland Republic, but the average house doesn't have one. If you lived in Toledo and saved up for one, you could certainly buy one, though. As for the tiers, of course there are other ways that things could be done; I'm not claiming that a date-linked tier system is the only option -- just that it's one option for sorting out what infrastructure gets paid for by tax revenues. As we'll see, the system has begun to drift in some unexpected and interesting directions...

Shane Wilson said...

JMG, unlike others, I get the whole tier thing, what I was wondering was not whether microhydro or wind turbines were ALLOWED in lower tier counties, but whether they were COMMON. There's a difference. Once you'd mention that before grid electricity, it was common for farmhouses to use a windmill to generate some basic electricity for a radio or a light. I was just wondering whether that practice was in effect in tiers without grid electricity in Lakeland.

Dennis D said...

The term for the power plants run by regular river flow is "run of river",( here in Alberta there are several, even some on irrigation canals ( There is a history of small hydro plants powered by water flow at locks on canals being used to power electric mules or other motive means on the canal itself. As for refrigeration, I have been researching small fridge units for use on a sailboat, and the possibilities show that a 4 cubic foot bar fridge, laid on it's back and 3 inches of insulation added can run on 10% of the power required by a standard fridge. I case this seems too small, this was the standard fridge size in Germany when I lived there 25 years ago.

Unknown said...

JMG and Commenters. Tomxyza here. Having worked on manure digesters as a design engineer for a number of years there are several issues and solutions that need to be considered. Someone commented that typical American sewers are a problem for producing methane feed stock and they are quite correct as typical sewage is way too dilute for anaerobic digestion. Most municipal plants that produce digester gas produce it from settled sludge. One advantage of dairies or pig farms over other animal operations is that both of these are often scrape or flush systems where the slurry is in the right range of 15% solids for easy use in a stirred style digester. You can use higher solid content mixes in a plug flow digester also. For really dry material the best bet is a “dry fermentation” system. Here is an example of a municipal system that has recently installed a dry system.
The other major issue with gas production is feedstock. Animal manure makes a great basic material for digestion as in the case of cows it comes seeded with bacteria ready to get to work. Many European systems (Europe is ahead of the US in using digesters) use a process where the feedstock is first sterilized so the bacterial content can be more closely controlled. This also eliminates the concerns about using post-consumer food waste as the sterilization eliminates the concern, often expressed in the US, about human pathogens. In Wash State it is not legal for the farm digesters to take any post-consumer food waste.
The question of proper feed stock management is highlighted by the Farm Power NW experience. They found that adding the proper kind of other waste material in fairly small quantities, on the order of 15% could double the gas production from a digester running dairy manure as a primary substrate. Really good additions are chicken entrails from processing and reject eggs.
On the subject of cows per kilowatt that depends on a lot of factors. Primarily what percent of the manure is collectable? If the cows are confined on concrete all the time then collection is high and the output is higher. This is more common on dairy farms than beef operations. The following is based on figures for operating Wash State dairy digesters.
Cows 800 5300 1100 1200 2000 1000
KW 600 1200 450 750 750 400
Cow/KW 1.33 4.42 2.44 1.60 2.67 2.50
The above is based on installed KW and in some cases the generator is oversized so the output potential would be overstated. This is done if there is ample opportunity for acquiring other wastes. In other cases the generator is undersized because the farmer has other uses for the gas and generators are expensive. My experience with dairy digester operations is that once up and stabilized they operate at a fairly constant output 24/7.
The above figures come from this report.
There are a lot of factors that go into digester design and configuration. I pointed to the “dry fermentation” example above as it has two advantages. It can take very dry feedstocks, which transport well and it uses no extra water as the liquid is recycled. The material that is left is easily composted for use as fertilizer and can have excess thickened liquid added to increase value.
Googling cows per kilowatt or dry fermentation will get lots of hits if one is interested.

Unknown said...

JMG, Tomxyza again one more piece.
Scale is important as heat is required for good operation. Waste heat from generation is used to maintain proper working temperatures in the digester. Digesters will still work if not heated but gas production and required retention time vary with temperature. Smell can be an issue if using gas for direct heat or cooking. JMG is quite correct in his comment that one advantage of a turbine or IC engine is that the smell is incinerated. There is a major issue in running IC engines or turbines and that is that they must be run 24/7 or acid condensation in the internals will cause problems. Even then careful maintenance is required. The biggest culprit is H2S but not the only one. Again these outputs are a factor with what inputs are used.

Patricia Mathews said...

And as for washing machines, I'm sure the old-fashioned professional laundry will make a comeback. And in the lower-tier counties, even public bath houses combined with the laundry? Or is that too low-tech?

Pat, whose indoor clothes dryer popped a broken wooden peg out of the top rack. Subsequent attempts to fix it proving futile, I will be hunting for a metal one.

Roger Arnold said...


"okay, now show me where I said, or even hinted, that the Toledo plant runs solely on cow manure."

You didn't. Now show me where I said that you did. :-]

Sorry. I should have been clearer. I wasn't commenting on the Toledo power plant. I was responding to other comments on the question of how many cows per kilowatt would be needed for a biogas-fueled power system. I just wanted to quantify the issue, so we could better see what we were talking about.

It appears we have a genuine expert in the crowd in the person of Tomxyza, so I'll leave any further comments on 'poo power' to him. One note / question to him, however: I assume that in the figures posted on cows/kW for Washington state dairies, it's kW thermal? Because unless I blew the arithmetic or used bad data on the amount of manure per cow, it would seem hard to do better than the 3 cows per kW (electrical) that I figured for a 60% efficient CCGT.

Of course, I have been known to blow the arithmetic. Now where did I put that slide rule?

Raymond Duckling said...


I have given a look at your one-time-pad manual, and I think it is pretty cool. You managed to convey a number of sophisticated ideas in a very down to earth way. Having said that, I don't think this would make a good military solution for the Lakeland Republic.

I once read an article from a chess grand master on how to play against a computer. The core of the argument is that you have to change your style to negate the advantages of the machine; i.e. a computer can evaluate many more possible moves in much less time than yourself, so you shall force the match to go to closed positions whenever it's feasible. In this way, there are less options to evaluate, and you can benefit from creative thinking that the machine lacks.

A similar situation happens to the Lakeland army. They have foregone their reliance on computers for regular forces (though I suspect they may keep, and considerable expense, a small number of elite unit cyber-warriors to wreck the communications/logistics of invading armies) but the enemy still has their own computers and can use those really well. It would be a big waste of resources to generate and manage such large amounts of OTPs by hand and dice that a junior cryptanalyst will be able to brute force - I know OTP is theoretically unbreakable, but there is not such a thing as a "fair dice" in real life. there are always patterns, and there are always weak points in the implementation - in a few hours using specialized hardware.

What Lakeland wants to do is negate the computer advantage of the adversary, and the most straightforward way to do so is to use analog communications instead of digital. One possibility, which was invented during WWII, is frequency hopping. Imagine that instead of having a dial to choose one frequency to transmit, you plug a signal from a phonograph. As the music plays, your transmission will keep changing and changing "channels". Now, the "key" to this encryption is that both you and the receiver have to be playing the same disc at the same time. Any eavesdropper listening in any single channel will only read small bursts of "noise", and a jammer will need to transmit simultaneously (and at great expense) in most available frequencies in order to block your signal. Of course the details are more complex than that, but that's the general idea.

Other way to negate the computer power is in the encoding of the message itself. You can use again music as your carrier signal, this time live music. Let's say you have a flute playing the tune of "Yankee duddle dandy" over and over. First, you encode the message in music keys. Then the flutist will introduce the message in the tune, one wrong key at a time. A modern computer would have a hard time to figure that out, and even to an untrained human the tune will just sound like a really bad musician playing the flute... but the receiver side will have their own flutist that will tell right away what are the wrong keys and the message can be decoded from that.

Of course a computer can be programmed to defeat that, but you are also allowed to get creative. You change the tunes and the instruments every day. If the programmers get to figure out the basic rules of melody, you cheat and have your musicians add counterpoint (and they will love you for it), or you can create a whole orchestra of hell where every musician will make random mistakes at fixed intervals but only the intended receiver will know that on Tuesday evening the carriers of the real message are the oboes.... let them try to figure that out!!!

Martin B said...

A couple of details on the generating plant: There would need to be a tank farm attached to generate all that gas. The optimum size of tank is uncertain. One big pressure vessel or many smaller ones? While one tank is generating gas, the other is being cleaned and the slurry sent to the driers before the tank is recharged. Or could it be done in a continuous process, with fresh poo in one end, and gas and digested slurry out the other?

The underfloor turbines described are typical of a hydroelectric plant. Gas turbines are basically big jet engines and would be above ground, roaring away under load.

Agreed. that the stock market will survive. Although Lakeland is a steady-state economy, there will certainly be large projects needing fresh capital, like new tram lines, canal repairs etc. There might even be some derivatives, like agricultural futures that enable farmers to proceed with piece of mind, knowing what price they'll get for their produce.

One thing every tier must have is a tax collecting system, and a police force and courts to enforce it. Presumably Tier 1 forces are much better equipped than the Tier 5 bobby with his truncheon.

How about schools? I imagine education is free in Tier 1 and totally private in Tier 5, with various degrees of fee-paying in between.

Cherokee Organics said...


The Wealth of Nature is a very thoughtful book and I appreciated your time on the blog here developing the ideas and also in its final version. Your concept of the Tertiary economy has always resonated with me as an unnecessary aspect of the current economy. But wow, is that beast being pump primed or what? It is like a ghost that is devouring the material world until it can eat no more. They're saying in the papers that house prices have flat lined here, but I'm unsure whether to believe those stories. Incidentally I came across an article where an old timer statistician of serious credibility was complaining in the public realm about the unemployment statistics: Former ABS head says employment data 'not worth paper they're written on'.

The ABS is the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the guy fell short of naming and shaming possibly for a reasonable fear of repercussions, but I thought that you may find it to be an interesting article all the same.

Another very laughable concept (except that it is not funny) that I read thrown about by current economists is this weird concept of the consumer economy as if we can somehow just spend and not earn. That consumer economy meme gives me a mental image of that concept as a circle that gets slightly smaller every single year as it feeds on itself. What do you think about that concept? I've seen it used as a foreign policy bludgeon too, so I'm instantly uncomfortable about it.

Did you get any quince fruit this year? I've started poaching the fruit which provides many different outputs: poached fruit (total yum!); quince jam/jelly; and quince wine. A very versatile fruit and also a hardy fruit tree.

Oh yeah, I've been observing an unusual occurrence recently here and thought that you may be interested in the observation: As the diversity of plant life increases here, so too does the diversity in both the bird and animal life. It is amazing to watch the entire farm get more complex with each passing season. A few weeks back a very rare pair of Black Cockatoos (with yellow tails) popped by to say hello and today a King Parrot turned up to enjoy a drink. Fortunately, the King Parrot was vain enough that the bird hung around for a photo opportunity - if I looked like that brightly coloured bird I'd probably be vain too! Hehe! ;-)! The flip side of the increase in diversity is that the farm produces a wider diversity of edibles and gets lower maintenance at the same time through more extreme weather conditions.

Incidentally, I was wondering whether you were going to work in a bit of agriculture into the story? The reason I ask is that people have this bizarre notion that somehow soils don't require green manures or resting in between productive crops. Mind you, your soils in the US are far more fertile and less fragile than here, so perhaps I'm a bit over zealous on such matters?



Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the great belly laugh: Hicksville! One of the local farmers around here who I have a great deal of respect for always used to stir me up by calling my part of the landscape: Hill Billy country, which has no cultural baggage down here so I just said: yeah, whatever! :-)! It was all very amusing.

And you know what, I'd probably be comfortable with Tier 1 as long as there was a minimum of basic road maintenance and policing? And you also know what is going to freak out some of your readers: I've got solar power here!!! (Apologies, I couldn't help myself with that one). Oh yeah, and King Parrots too!



Unknown said...

JMG more from Tomxyza
Roger Arnold's comment above is the theoretical approach that is used to determine the output per animal. As with a lot of science this is good in theory but hard to put into practice. Manure output depends on the breed, the feed and the ability to collect it. Diary cows produce more manure than beef as they are breed to process a lot of feed into a lot of milk. I quoted you the output numbers based on actual digesters earlier because as an engineer I am interested in the real world application.

Using a dense municipality's digestable organic refuse as feed stock to generate a small but useful amount of power and heat is very sustainable. Treating a plant as JMG described in the story as a combined heat and power station is a very practical way to optimize the outputs and supply very desirable fertilizer.

patriciaormsby said...

Regarding the use of poo in the Orient, since that seems to be an "urgent" topic this week, we are living in rural Japan, and about once a month my Japanese husband runs out and transfers the poo from our john to an open-air pit in back, and just leaves it there. If the wind is right, a passer-by could detect it, but we've never had complaints. Just the same, I run out and pull up a bunch of weeds to put over it, and then there is no smell reaching the sidewalk. Everyone in town has pit johns like ours, but I think they just call for the honey wagon these days. But it is still within the memory of people in their sixties here of being sent out to run after the mailman on his horse for a little extra power for the potatoes. They don't mention it, but I think they also remember using night soil. It was practiced universally by farmers in post-war Japan until chemical fertilizers came along.

Each year, I dig several deep pits in various parts of the garden and transfer the material to those, covering them with about a foot of soil. A year after that, it is good soil with no smell at all. We have a lot of rain and heat to help decomposition along.

The first time I did this, I felt some psychological resistance, but the second time I was happy to have such rich, rich stuff for my corn. Even with El Nino, and too much rain, we've had a great harvest this year. We are lucky to live in a country where people do not object to this. In Denver, Colorado, they won't even let you use gray water on your garden.

Dagnarus said...

My first question with respect to the stock exchange, Is that with the dividend model there is still the capacity for certain people through continued investment to turn themselves into the equivalent of monetary blackholes, i.e. people who love money for its own sake rather than for what it can buy, this leads to a point where at a certain level they have no intention to exchange any more of there money for physical goods and services, but only for more money, thus either incentivizing ponzi schemes (a method of converting money into more money with no troublesome physical processes to get in the way) or money being horded and thus causing deflation. Assuming you at all agree with what I just said does the Lakeland Republic have a tax policy to prevent hoarding?

Secondly, does the Lakeland Republic have computers:)

I of course mean the human variety which were used in world war 2 (and indeed before) it occurred to me that it should be possible to optimize the use of canal boats by representing the flows of goods through the canal system as a set of linear equations and then using the simplex algorithm to assign the use of canal boats in such a way as to minimize the number of boats needed. It is interesting to me to consider whether or not the area of computer science related to algorithm design could potentially survive and evolve in a world of energy descent, as if anything a human computer will need to be more particular about using the best algorithms which require the least amount of time. This of course would assume that there would be enough activities which would benefit enough by having such algorithms being applied to them to pay for the human computer.

Patricia Mathews said...

I wonder if Carr is going to see the inside of Lakeland's criminal justice system? If he's really a spook, perhaps someone attacks him and they both spend the night in the cooler for fighting.Or disturbing the peace, or whatever. This should be interesting.And of course if he is injured, the look at the medical system (and how it's paid for) you mentioned earlier.

Jim R said...

Well, OK, JMG, that was the extent of my vision. I much enjoy reading your essays, if not perfectly prescient, they are interesting bases for discussion.

As for the centrally-located poo fermenter, and centrally-located electric generator, I'm not so sure of the "efficiency of scale" there. In our current living arrangement, we have overshot not only population levels, but common sense, and have done so to such an extent as to distort all of our thinking. The architects of the Internet (not the Web, by the way) pondered resiliency back in the '70s and '80s, and came up with a distributed/local model as being the most robust. They had an ongoing debate with the Bell System, whose model was centralized (and although it is a very large network, it is arguably fragile).

This tension between local/distributed and centralized/authoritarian controls is so far from being resolved, that the Internet itself has now been subsumed by a handful of gigantic networking corporations, and therefore now susceptible to disruption. Fortunately the IETF wrote down their protocols, and there are countless copies of it out there in the public domain. Someone, somewhere, has probably even printed most of them on paper (though probably not low-acid paper, nor with long-lived metal-based inks).

Back to the essay, your remarks about the canal system has me hitting up Wikipedia for some study. I was reminded of the Midwestern town where I grew up, which has a tiny piece of the Wabash-Erie canal preserved in a City park.

One of those amazing little facts about America that we don't think about all that much ... before the over-done railroad craze of the late 19th century, there was a similarly exuberant canal craze. The history of the Wabash-Erie is probably a good rundown of what *not* to do when building a canal system, but the rights-of-way still crisscross the Midwest, and center on Toledo!

Good one, the canal system! I look forward with relish to your thoughts on scraping together enough fuel, renewable, biological OR mineral, to operate a small steel recycling industry! (Presumably some hydroelectric capability will still exist, those things can last a century or two as well.)

william fairchild said...


I kinda like your idea of poo power. Derrick Jensen, whose work I know your don't care for much, wrote once that one creatures waste is anothers food. It seems that the LR has come about as close as you can to a closed, self sustaining electrical grid that feeds right back into the ag that produces the fuel in the first place.

We also have a pig problem. There is a CAFO not six miles from the house. As you drive down the blacktop the smell is overpowering. I understand that the "effluent" is often just sprayed way up in the air, willy nilly over farm fields in some places. Or is put in impoundments. Eeeeewww! Meanwhile, we have a brand spanking new mountain of coal ash, next to the mine. Talk about a toxic moonscape, and the county just approved a new one, under threat of losing jobs. :(

Hubertus Hauger said...

Splendid! What a nice poop-fiction. Makes me smile quite a lot. Thank you.

Having before me that terrifying image of "soylent green", which was squeezing all out from human bodies, to use it for the peoples survival.

Definitly I like that poop-ficion much more to become real, than the cannibal one.

However taking, literaly spoken, ones farts to create elecricity to drive all the wanted gizmos, it has so much charm. Sweet idea!

Cherokee Organics said...


Quote: "Mister R., it's an interesting and very common symptom of organizational failure that when a disastrous decision has been made, defending that decision so often takes precedence over everything else."

I read this quote last night but woke this morning to an insight which I thought might be worth sharing with you.

The above scenario has a delightful side effect of allowing a person or organisation to ignore the fact that they may have even made a mistake. The bonus of that policy is that it saves having previous decisions cast into question. It is a policy of escalation - and isn't that an inherent policy of our culture? I see it everywhere and it is not good.

Of course following such a policy is a recipe for disaster. This is the exact policy that appears to have destroyed the local seed saving group here. A bit sad really, but life and time moves on. But when it is being pursued by society as general policy, it is a bit more than a total disaster. To me it seems like lemmings running off a cliff at full speed! Spin and escalation does not put food on the table!

Anyway, my further insight on this whole problem is that it is a policy for individuals and other entities that have basically failed to display the ability to learn. You see, humans are pretty smart creatures, but they make mistakes - no dramas, I don't have a problem with that. But when we fail as individuals and/or entities to admit to those mistakes for fear of losing social "face" then we also neatly side step the process of learning from those mistakes. We instead appear to be employing other tactics to get around that messy problem like: doubling down; escalating; lying; cheating... I think you get the picture. And those are a dead end path.

Incidentally, and further to that when a situation can no longer be ignored we simply ask for our leaders to fall onto their swords. Look at the whole VW debacle as a case in point - but that one example is a microcosm of the larger worm eating away at the core of our culture.

When I ran a graduate program for a large corporate I said to the graduates: I've never shot anyone for making a mistake, so I suggest you always come clean on them because I have shot people for lying to me. It never took long before I got to make an example of someone - because our culture is so dysfunctional.



Tidlösa said...

Hurray, the free world is saved!

From the news agency AFP:

>>>Carter [U.S. Secretary of Defense] said the United States was modernizing its nuclear arsenal, investing in new technologies such as drones and a new long-range bomber, as well as lasers, an electromagnetic railgun and new systems for electronic warfare.The defense chief hinted at additional new weapons that would be "surprising ones I really can't describe here."

Maybe they really did stash UFOs at that secret base at Area 51?

I think its high time that the Lakelanders show Carr Agent 007 some drone shooting!


Jim R said...

Getting into the rhythm of the retrotopians, I can sort-of imagine them finding a warehouse full of old 1960s-era analog telco switch equipment (which was still in use in some Lakeland areas well into the 1990s), and make use of some of the buried cables that would still exist between Lakeland cities, to re-create a low-tech telephone system.

It would have the advantage of being immune to 'cyber' warfare. Insufficient processor power to run any of the malicious software of the more technically inclined republics.

And old ASR-33 telex machines or the equivalent, clacking away in a corner of the old-fashioned news room. Mechanical ink on paper. Type something into the keyboard of one machine, or run a punched paper tape, and the text is printed out on a machine at the other end of the line hundreds of miles away.

Andrew H said...


Manure production from cows is about 27 kg per day wet weight or about 3 kg dry weight. (1)

Methane production from cow manure is about 0.24 m3 per Kg dry weight or about 160 g per Kg. (Mol.Wt. of methane is 16 and 1 mole of gas is about 24 L.)(2)

Digestor gas is about 75% methane (rest mostly CO2) and energy content of methane is about 55 MJ per kg.(3) Therefore the 160 g per Kg represents (160 * 0.75 * 55 / 1000) 6.6 MJ of energy or (6.6 / 3.6 MJ per KWHr) 1.83 KWHr. Then if the generator has an efficiency of about 70% this would reduce to about 1.3KWHr per Kg of dry cow dung or about 4 KWHr per day per cow.

50 cows should produce about 200 KWHr per day or about 8.5 KW continuously. Circumstances, such as changes to food type, could affect this a bit and it may be more efficient on a larger scale.

I would estimate that it would take at least 5000 cows to produce 1MW continuously.


As for refrigerators. You don't need electricity for refrigeration but you do need some form of heat. In the old days we had a kerosine refrigerator but it could be made to run on just about any fuel. Then again the 60 L camping fridge we have uses about 0.25 KWHr per day. Even then it could be made more efficient. The limiting factor is the insulation and most fridges are built for style and ease of use, rather than efficiency.

Jon from Virginia said...

With with tongue in cheek, I suggest replacing the name tiers with Public Activities and Services Tolls. So they could call tier 1 PAST 83 for 1830, for example. Actual bureaucrats would probably call them C-SMUDs or something, but it's your playpen.

Aron Blue said...

Here's a song that often comes to mind when I read this series.

Stevie Wonder

But what I'd like to know
Is could a place like this exist, so beautiful
Or do we have to take our wings and fly away
To the vision in our minds

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

For some reason I've been thinking about the movie industry in the Lakeland Republic. IIRC still photography goes back to the 1840s and projected motion pictures to the 1890s. If the chemical industry in higher tier counties is capable of producing fast exposure film, they can make movies. Even if that isn't possible, animated movies can be made if there is a way to transfer images to a transparent medium for projection.

You need a camera with a fast shutter speed and gears to move the film strip along. The projector needs a bright light and more gears. Sound can be recorded and synced in a variety of ways. Speakers for a large theater require electricity. 1890s tech would be a hand cranked projector and a Victrola or a live musician/narrator.

Some of the 1890s era motion pictures are still watchable for entertainment (Melies) or historical information.If film is available, I can see movies being made in the top three tiers, and being exhibited in Tier Two. Movies are a form of popular entertainment and a way of conveying information. I would expect high demand for the products of a domestic film industry as an expression of national culture. I can even see motion pictures as an export industry if the sound quality is up to international standards.

Come to think of it, if the world of 2065 still includes an international fashion market, I can see Tier 5 exporting retro chic couture and the lower tiers exporting folk style clothing like the hand worked blouses from Mexico and Afghanistan that I bought on Telegraph Avenue in the 1970s. But perhaps only countries with empires can afford to buy that sort of thing.

Hubertus Hauger said...

@ Karl Ivanov; About "the anguish" of "human folly" and "to those who bemoan the things humanity does as “unnatural”- everything we are doing" ... "is completely normal and natural for a species to" be "egocentric" and give its "own interests primary importance" It is "evolution" and does "ensure the survival and prosperity of our species!"

I see, that to back off from change is most natural and that´s what we do and shall so futuremore.

Let me explain, why I say so;
That poop-fiction did let appear memories of old stories from my motherlands countryside. I the old times agricultre was wide spread. The farmers being poor and did have high regard of their excrements. While I recall a hillarious funny story, of a labourer, emptying by hand a cesspit, standing deep in the feacal mass. Then a fine lady came, asking him down below to search for a precious ring she dropped, while been on the toilet. He agreed and sweeped with his arms touching the ground trough the soft feaeces mash. Finding it he smiled and holding it on the tip of his fingers he lifted his shitty smeared arm over the cesspits edge, asking her to fetch the ring from his fingers. The fine lady, with utter disgust on her face, did cover her nose with one handkerchif, while with her other hand she slowly but visibly reluctantly reached for the stained ring.

Why do I tell that odour intense manure story together with our natural ecocentricity? Both I see connected. Natural selection pushes strongly towards beings to cover their personal interest foremost. So rather than being covered with smelly brown stuff, a perfume coulorful dress gives a much better chance, in communicaton be treated respectfully, not to mention, how the other sex is then more eager for getting in contact with oneself. Do I have to explain this. No, I don´t think so. So, who whant´s to argue, can do so.

That all leads to the central point. Often here comes up the complaint, why does mankind not change for the simplified life? Why do the repeatedly and again blamed responsible VIP´s not change our policies radically for that transition, so that we can follow after? And much more silently, very quietly, the question asked, why do we ourself not leaave behind our life of possesion and boundage and follow our adored masters to that life of simplicity?

Whatever the answer vocaly will be ... there is one physically. 99 % of us remain, where they are. In handreach to our refrigarator, and our bathroom ready for a sweet hot shower with our perfumed shampoo, instead of on the countryside gardening, sweating, and in particular smelling.

Future is full of stink! Future can wait!

Glenn Murray said...

Thank you JMG.
Great installment. Will we see Mr Carr work his way through a party line or a live operator to make a telephone call? Could be a little comic relief, especially for a spy. Also, Will Carr get to experience a Grange or Fraternal Lodge? I could see a revival in popularity of such organizations once TV no longer is available. I understand that in earlier times Lodge members pooled their resources to hire a doctor, or insure their membership in addition to all the other social and volunteer functions.
Refrigerators: There are absorption refrigerators that doe not require electricity to run, only a heat source, any heat source from lp gas to kerosene to solar. Probably could work with a wood fire (as in a rocket stove) concentrated solar or even wood alcohol home brew but once commercial aviation is gone, we will likely see larger diurnal temeperature swings much colder nights (like immediately after 911)due to the lack of contrails. It wood be foolish not to take advantage of free ice from the Maumee and Lake Erie for several months out of the year. Ice boxes might get moved outside for the winter.
Burlesque is making a comback in Cleveland: Were you looking for a Vaudville revival?: Pinch and Squeal are quite entertaining (and more than a little racy)
Anaerobic Digester in Cleveland:
Trolleys can last a long time, and the running gear frequently gets rebuilt and recycled into a new trolly.
It is exiting to read about the Lakeland republic, and see some of these things coming together in my hometown.

marxmarv said...

Raymond Duckling,

With veetoys and a wireless metanet around, software-defined radio technologies probably came along for the ride by sheer necessity. If one knows the band that will be used and it's not very wide, one could do the IF processing digitally, perhaps even retrospectively given sufficient storage. If factorization is still a hard problem fifty years hence, the RSA algorithm performed by hand can en/decrypt smallish messages under special circumstances. Finding good, large primes wouldn't be so easy as better tradecraft, though.

I love the direct-song spread spectrum modulation. My mind's blown just thinking of all the bits a skilled vocalist and a golden ear could covertly communicate. You done Hedy Lamarr proud. :)

Jim R said...

marxmarv and Raymond Duckling,
There is an old fashioned linear/analog circuit for combining sound signals to get "music-based spread spectrum" -- it's called a ring modulator. If you've listened to single sideband amateur radio, you'll recognize the sound of it, where one sound is mixed with another (by multiplication instead of addition).

As a crypto technique, it is not too useful, however. It does make a nice exercise for the students in an Intro to Signal Processing course. "Please sort out the stuff in this mixed signal"...

On the other hand, the OTP is an excellent old idea. It comes down to physical security of the keys. I have heard stories of key pads printed on nitrocellulose stock, for quick destruction of a key after use.

Ron M said...

One small observation: in this installment Mr. Carr ate a BLT sandwich for lunch. Unless the weather has moderated significantly by 2065 (and by the description, Novembers are still as miserable in future Ohio as they are now), then the lettuce and tomato that went into that sandwich were grown in local greenhouses. Will Mr. Carr be getting a tour of Lakeland's all-season agricultural tech any time soon?

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Regarding the longevity of trolleys, San Francisco runs a fleet of refurbished historic trolley cars aka "heritage streetcars" along Market Street to the Embarcadero. The majority of the cars were built in the twenties and thirties; a few date back to 1895. The cars were sourced from San Francisco's old equipment and from many other cities throughout the world. They have been repainted in the historic liveries of several dozen cities (not necessarily the city they hail from). This is a regular working line, not just for tourists, and fare for riding the historic trolleys is the same as a regular street car or bus.

PatriciaT said...

What about access to clean water in the Lakeland Republic at the different tiers? How is the water collected, stored and distributed? Clean, inexpensive, ample and easy to get water is something that is taken for granted by most people in the U.S. and other 'developed' areas of the world. Turn on tap and out it comes! It usually takes some sort of natural disaster to shake people up, and then only for a relatively short while until things can get back to 'normal'. Some decades ago I visited a friend who lived out in the boonies and used a hand pump to get water from a well and kerosene lanterns for lighting - I got a good lesson on how not to waste water!

FWIW: a few months ago the Albuquerque Free Press had an interesting article on sewage treatment: the objective is to get cleaner water that gets put back into the river, the sludge is 'cooked' and produces methane gas that provides about 35% of the power needed to run the plant, after being 'cooked' and centrifuged to extract the remaining water the sludge eventually gets turned into compost.

nuku said...

@David Jame Peterson
Re problem of mixing water with poo: There is a home-based flush toilet system that uses water to transport the poo a short distance outside the house, then separates the transport water from the poo by simple centrifugal action. The poo then falls down into a collection drum. The system uses gravity only and therefore the separator/collector needs to be a few feet lower than the standard flush toilet.
This system works well for people who can't handle having a composting /long-drop toilet built into the house itself (which again needs the seat to be higher by at least 3 feet than the bottom of the long drop -otherwise it ain't a "long" drop).
This system could maybe by scaled up for use by a few houses built on a slope.

nuku said...

Re refrigerators: Electricity and ice are not the only ways to "power" a fridge. Gas or kerosine powered fridges are still available. I had one for several years when I lived off-grid in Big Sur Ca. Mine was a full sized fridge with a smallish freezer compartment and ran on LPG from a large stationary storage tank we had refilled 2X a year by a tanker truck.
These fridges are not cheap but last forever, are totally quiet, and work by using the heat from the small gas or kerosine flame to drive the absorption cycle.
Check it out:

Re alcohol stoves: in the 60's they were still common on the off-shore racing yachts I crewed on as a teenager. They do work, but there is not as much heat content in alcohol as compared to other stove fuels such as kerosine, "white" camping gasoline or LPG. Its a relatively safe fuel to use, and it can be used in a very simple non-pressured type of stove if you can live with very low heat output and a flame that is easily blown out by any breeze. Pressurized, via a simple hand pump, stoves put out a hotter flame.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Patricia T - you read the Albuquerque Free Press. Do you live around here?

Pat (Patricia M) in the Nob Hill/UNM area. (No, I did NOT pick a gentrified area. The neighborhood association "upscaled" it out of everything that made it interesting. Almost. PM.)

Bootstrapper said...

Hi John,

You wrote: "There was a reader board, a big one, covering most of the far wall; it was mechanical, not digital, and flipped black or eye-burning yellow in little rectangular patches to spell out the latest prices. " I remember seeing the Stock Exchange on the TV when I was young; The reader board was a series of chalkboards with the mames of the stocks printed in rows and space for scribes to write the latest prices in chalk. The boards could be slid vertically so the 'chalkers' didn't need to bend or stretch. No electronics or even electricity required!


PatriciaT said...

@Patricia Mathews - yes, I reside in Albuquerque (not sure I would call it 'living'...). Having lived in Santa Fake some years ago I know all about gentrification - growing (metastasizing?) from a small, walkable community with real downtown stores (in addition to galleries and tourist hangouts) to larger, sprawling pretentious city with virtually no real stores in the downtown area.
You can reach me at handmaden75 (at) gmail.

Raymond Duckling said...

@marxmarv and Jim

I am not sure I follow the argument on music-based spread spectrum. The concept of the ring modulator is new to me, so I will have to check it in detail, but it does not sound like what I had in mind.

This has gone quite off-topic already. Maybe green wizard's forum is a better place to talk?

Patricia Mathews said...

Looks like the usual flow of comments just sort of pooped out on this one.

Steve in Colorado said...

Been quite busy the last few weeks and just got to reading last week's post; a belated thanks JMG.

Perhaps I am the only one of your reader who had this reaction, but I found the whole manure to methane to electricity meme and the reactions here to be very reminiscent of the biofuels craze of a decade or so ago. Before folks start attacking me, let me explain:

One can certainly make methane out of animal (and human) waste, it has been known for some time and is currently being done at many places at varying degrees of size/scale. It works. But as in all things done within a system there are no free lunches; and along with what you are doing, there are unintended consequences which come along for the ride.

It may appear that since the end product of waste digestion is returned to the land, that it is no different than using the manure directly as fertilizer. But that is not really the case. Soils in the US, and most of the developed world (anyone using modern ag techniques/fertilizers for long) are suffering from a long term reduction of organic matter (OM). OM levels in virgin US soils were at >5%; those soils today are typically around 1% OM or less. The results of this loss in OM are soils which are less productive, don't hold/adsorb water as well, and have reduced microbiological activity. The plants grown on them become dependent on human applied fertilizers. In short the soils don't grow crops as well as they could, as well as being more prone to causing floods and suffering from droughts. That extra carbon in the wastes which becomes the methane for electricity is needed in the soils, especially soils which have been depleted of OM.

The problems caused (or continued) by a large scale diversion of waste product carbon from the land to energy production are likely rather long term, so might not be visible for some time; unlike the problems of biofuel production which hit us in the face rather quickly. But regardless of the timescale, its a failed solution. There are no free lunches, the carbon for the methane and electricity will be paid for in further loss of fertility in the croplands of LR. Maybe no one will notice the declining fertility for a generation or so, and maybe the droughts and floods won't point a finger back at the electrical generation scheme. But regardless of whether or not anyone sees what is going on, it will happen.

Perhaps I am the only one who sees it this way, but the LR electricity system is not that much different than the biodiesel or ethanol fuels craze of a decade or so ago. Nice "green" solutions to our energy problems with no side effects. While I think such a system would be better than ethanol, at least would have fewer side effects and at a smaller scale. But that does not mean that it is without side effects. Everything has a place in system, and when you "steal" a resource from where the flow used to take it, you create an imbalance. There is no "waste" in the system, something/someone was counting on that stuff to live. You can't appropriate for your use without consequences.

Hubertus Hauger said...

@ Patricia Mathews "Looks like the usual flow of comments just sort of pooped out on this one."

... because poop is not attractive!

Hubertus Hauger said...

I made a real-check on the poop-electricity thing.

We have a sewage treatment plant. Since the last update they use the decomposing gases for generating electricity, producing 50 KW.
However we have a hydro-power plant, which produces 85 MW. Compared to that, the poop outcome is rather minor. Less than 1/1000 actually. And the Hydro produces 4 times of or towns consumption.

Now at least 1000 lightbulbs they can energize. But we have to get rid of the refrigerators and all the other gizmos. So again that problem of leaving the comfy-zone. Which the majority will not do, until the majority is moving.