Category Archives: Uncivilization

Desalination’s Grim End: The Persian Gulf

Kuwait is a Connecticut sized piece of land with 4.3 million citizens at the far north end of the Persian Gulf. They pump not quite three million barrels of oil per day and hold roughly 10% of the world’s oil reserves. Which they are going to need, because they are 100% dependent on desalination for water and the Persian Gulf is becoming too saline to use.

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Kuwait & Persian Gulf

Three million barrels a day times forty two gallons per barrel is 126,000,000 gallons. Divide by 4.3 million and that’s twenty nine gallons of oil per person produced daily. Let’s turn those into some water numbers. 126 million gallons is 387 acre feet or 477,272 cubic meters. Tankers used to top out at  two million barrels but now the largest VLCCs in operation are half that size.

Per this report, Kuwait is producing 1.65M cubic meters of water per day by desalination. A cubic meter is 6.29 barrels, so that’s around ten million barrels of water a day. Importing that much fresh water seems a daunting task, given that there really isn’t anywhere on the coast of the Indian ocean that has large amounts of fresh water. Maybe they could build a fleet of OTEC vessels, they’ve got access to pretty good temperature differential right outside the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea.

OTEC Potential

OTEC Potential

But that is an enormous conceptual step for a monarchy whose entire resource base is the oil beneath their feet, supplemented by a financial sector that grew in parallel with that wealth.

 

Since we’re applying Functional Triage to areas of human habitation the water challenge alone puts Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the U.A.E. on the death spiral list. Add the expected months of 50C+ temperatures expected in two or three generations and you’ve got an area that is about as hospitable as the Dead Sea region is today. The populations of North Africa and the Mideast are going to be direct climate refugees, or under pressure from those who are, and when the water runs out they’ll start moving.

Yemen already has a food and water crisis. The Levant isn’t going to get better until Syria’s water problems are solved. Those desalination dependent Persian Gulf states have a population of about twenty two million. Their breakdown is a problem similar in scope to Yemen, with twenty million, and Syria, with twenty six million. Add the concerns of Iran, where 60% of the population live in places that are becoming uninhabitable, and you’ve got a party.

 

If the Persian Gulf were like Somalia we’d ignore the situation as best we could. But 20% of the world’s oil transits the Strait of Hormuz and the U.S. 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. Long before we admit the situation is untenable we’re going to put ‘boots on the ground’ trying to control that which is long past control of personalities.

The combined populace of North Africa and the Mideast is roughly equal to the of Europe – both are just below 750 million. The 508 million member European union is starting to fray and immigration pressure is a key component of that. Regions don’t break down in isolation, the Syrian conflict has nearly bowled over both Jordan and Lebanon. Things are going to get progressively more prickly between Europe and MENA, and the Trump administration is an excellent tool for fanning those flames.

If this leaves you feeling creeped out, go read the Eight Principles of Uncivilization again …

Antibiotics: A Golden Age Receding

Influenza victims crowd into an emergency hospital near Fort Riley, Kansas in this 1918 file photo. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic killed at least 20 million people worldwide. (AP Photo/National Museum of Health)

Much of my thinking on the future of our species focuses on the Iron Triangle of Collapse – namely economy, energy, and environment. If any two are stable we have the means to do something about the third. Unfortunately for us, all of them are troubled to some degree. There are some issues that straddle the boundaries between these three areas. Antibiotic resistance is an economic and environmental issue that is going to blow up in our faces sooner rather than later.

One of the marvels of the 21st century has been the anti-vaccine movement. Based on a point source conspiracy theory whose origins is a single discredited doctor, such an attitude it would be amazing to any anatomically modern human from the 199,910 years preceding the 1928 discovery of penicillin. We hunted smallpox to extinction, it’s purely bad luck the there is still a reservoir of polio in Pakistan, and if you’re reading this in your native language it would be astonishing if you actually knew someone who ever had tetanus.

 

Setting aside the ‘antivax’ nuts for the moment, there is an even nuttier problem at a systemic level. Right now we are fighting a rear guard action against multiple antibiotic resistant bacteria, with carbapenems being the last resort, and resistance to them is common enough that there is now a quick carbapenems resistance test to ensure we don’t further educate resistant strains.

We over prescribe antibiotics to humans based primarily on viral infections and we foolishly pour certain other types of antibiotics into the food supplies for animals raised in confinement facilities. They aren’t sick, this is done to drive weight gain.

Factory farms are rolling the dice on creating superbugs every single day for the sake weight gain. I’m struggling to come up with an analogy that conveys how dangerously shortsighted this practice is.

 

We haven’t had a good sized global pandemic since the 1968 Flu Pandemic and it’s been a hundred years since the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, which between 3% and 5% of the world’s population. The biggest infectious disease event in our history was the 14th century Black Death, which killed at least one fifth of the global populace.

Infectious disease makes the news – we’ve worried about H5N1 flu, which killed hundreds globally, and Ebola, which killed many over 10,000. But we haven’t had a Black Death style ‘slate wiper’ since we mastered sanitation.

We might get a global pandemic that burns hot and fast thanks to air travel, but I worry more about the daily grind. If the virulent resistant bugs in the western world can manage a jump to Africa or developing Asia, they could run wild there. MRSA is difficult to control here. If it gets loose in sub-Saharan Africa already stressed hospital systems could become completely useless.

Keep in mind we’re facing Functional Triage, but as I described in African Corn, American Pest, it may turn out that living in a less developed, more grounded society is safer than the west, from the perspective of continuity for one’s society, or indeed even our whole species.

Societal Simulacra’s Rest Frame

Does the universe have a rest frame?

This little article got me thinking. Classically, we don’t have a non-inertial reference frame – the Big Bang happened, everything is moving, and we have no way to discern its point of origin, or more correctly there isn’t any location that isn’t accelerating relative to another. Keep in mind physical space is expanding. This image is one of the least confusing ways to envision it.

Our Expanding Universe

Our Expanding Universe

The inception, expansion, and prognosis for our civilization is something we ought to consider in a similar fashion.

 

Our species arose early in the Quarternary; a period of alternating stadials of continent spanning glaciers and warmer interglacial periods. We are children of ice and chaos. I am again at one of those points where Baudrillard’s Simulacra & Simulation is sitting in the center of my desktop, taunting me over the time quanta I dedicated to proper reading. I wonder if we face a similar problem as a species – a lack of a universal rest frame from which we can relate all the societal simulacra we inhabit. If you’ve never read Baudrillard, spend ten minutes here and you’ll get the gist of his work.

 

Accepting Baudrillard, perhaps lacking the time to delve deeper in the area, simulacra began when we began communicating other than face to face. Gutenberg’s printing press nearly six hundred years ago marks the beginning of the commoditization of communication, but we evolved one to many communication much earlier than that.

Lascaux Cave

Lascaux Cave

My first direct encounter with ancient art were the petroglyphs of Rinconada Canyon, literally the day before Lyme changed my life forever.

Rinconada Canyon Petroglyph

Rinconada Canyon Petroglyph

As I reflect while writing this, I think I had subconsciously already started up the Dark Mountain trail just a little while prior to that. I snapped this unremarkable sunrise photo at a truly remarkable place – somewhere off in the distance lies Blackwater Draw, a nearly 12,000 year old Clovis culture site in eastern New Mexico.

Encamped Near Blackwater Draw

Encamped Near Blackwater Draw

The zero point for modern humans is 200,000 years in the past, the two thirds of our time before the Toba bottleneck. Male hunters, female gatherers, children tagging along, in and out of camp, with regular moves when the urge to go became too strong to ignore. I know this feeling, not because I sought it out, but because our society simply discarded me when I became ill.

For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled.

Even after four hundred generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten.

The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.

 

Things are changing again, changing as dramatically as the Quarternary cycles that drove our evolution. Discarded just as I was, this quarter of U.K. youth who’ve faced homelessness  are arguably the descendants of our roaming ancestors in a much deeper way that just genetics. We should look to them, alone and in small groups, for stories academics won’t explore, because they are simply unequipped with the experiences needed to interpret them.

But is that the resting frame for our species? Buddhists might say this is avyakata, a question for which there is no answer, or that which is meaningless in context for us.

Eight Principles Of Uncivilization

I have been sharing my recent free floating, angsty writing with a friend, and he just turned me on to The Dark Mountain Project. I’m reproducing the eight key points from their manifesto here for future reference.

 

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.
Eight Principles

Eight Principles

Mt Elbert

Mt Elbert