Enough with the problem recitations, please. Article after article, in all sources both print and electronic, all we get is descriptions of problems, admonitions to face the reality (whatever it is at the moment), and the advice that we should do something.
But hardly anyone offers concrete steps to be taken or solutions we should implement to solve our problems.
Typical of the proliferation of such articles is this one: “Are we prepared for a climate crisis in the middle of a pandemic?” by Olivia Aguilar. According to Dr. Aguilar, we are not. So what should we do about it? Form committees. In about 1100 words that is the only concrete step she recommends.
Articles of little merit or value are generated by the score every day in colleges and universities that pressure their faculty members to publish something, anything, whether they have anything to say or not.
So-called think tanks are also prolific factories of shrieking calls to do something without even a scintilla of solutions offered. I’ve read article after article, watched countless mind-numbing Youtube videos, and listened to a few podcasts, all about how we need to prepare for this or that problem: global warming, swarms of climate refugees, the Coronavirus epidemic, food shortages, overpopulation, and on and on. The list of problems facing or about to consume us is endless. The list of solutions is, well, pretty much blank.
What follows are a few of the problems that need solutions, at least in rough format, that come to my mind without a lot of thought (which is my preferred mode). They could be fleshed out with a little research and high-powered thinking on the part of these people who have sinecures in academia and think tanks. With more of a project-orientation—solution centered as they like to say—they could actually earn their money by giving us some steps to follow.
Lawn to gardens. For at least eight years there has been a push in some quarters to convert our ridiculous lawns into gardens, especially vegetable gardens. Food supply is going to undergo serious threat so we need more how-to instruction on things like: — Getting municipal codes changed to accommodate gardens in place of lawns. — Psychological methods for breaking homeowners away from their grass fetish. — Protection methods against natural pillagers and human thieves. — And while we’re at it, canning procedures to store the produce from those gardens.
Golf courses to affordable housing. Golf courses are going to rapidly become a thing of the past. The areas they occupy could be converted to affordable housing. Focus on: — How to bring about forced change of ownership from private golf course owners. Municipalization? — Political action to achieve conversion of municipally owned courses. — How to incorporate the renting of small garden plats for individuals on former golf courses.
Farmland conversion. The dominance of beef and corn production are extremely problematic aspects of agriculture that must be radically changed. — Alternative crops appropriate to particular areas and circumstances. — Debt amelioration for farmers heavily invested in equipment and land.
Wind and solar acceptance. Over 70 percent of the American public supports alternative energy sources. But when it comes to actually implementing them the public wants them anywhere but in their own vicinity. — What influence techniques or methods would bring better acceptance of local installations? — What financial incentives or other benefits could be generated, and what would their sources be, to gain acceptance?
Propaganda remediation. Talk radio, social media, and Fox News have been seriously and in some cases almost entirely subverted to propaganda machines for contemporary populists and other rabble. — How can these media be effectively neutralized without censorship? — What methods could be employed to undo years of biased influence in people who have willingly subjected themselves to the relentless barrage of right wing misinformation and anti-social ideas?
Education rejuvenation. Starting in the late 1950s the far right-wing segment of the Republican party began to advance a policy of influence over the educational system to bring it into alignment with their warped values and focus on personal, financial wealth. Their strategy included gaining control of school boards, state departments of education, and educational legislation. They have in large measure been successful. — What kinds of political strategies will be necessary, and effective, in returning school board representation to the broader swath of the public? — What will be required to bring about truly free education from preschool through college? — State legislatures need to step up and fund higher education. How can that be achieved? — How can organizations like parent teacher organizations be more empowered to help bring about substantive, positive changes in public education?
Enlightenment values. The United States was once the proud embodiment in the world of higher enlightenment values. That is no longer the case with our incessant, never-ending wars and interference with foreign governments everywhere. What would it take to get back to a positive moral stature?
Freedom. It would be difficult to enumerate all the losses of freedom and liberty that have occurred just in my lifetime. This must perforce be the broadest and most difficult topic on this list. In brief, how do we regain our liberty?
This is a list I conjured up in just a few minutes. Certainly they are among those topics I think about frequently, and they are really only a small subset of the possible topics people could be studying, researching, and writing about.
And of course some are doing exactly that. Do an Internet search of any of the terms of this list and many sources will come up. But they are often, as is this one, isolated and relatively obscure websites. What we really need is for those with the biggest megaphones to stop dithering with resume or CV padding crap and produce something meaningful and useful.
Wife Chris and I have decided to install a natural gas powered 16 kWh stand-by electric generator.
Natural gas powered generators are quieter than the smaller, portable, gasoline powered types of generator. The location we have chosen for the generator, plus its quieter sound, will make it minimally obtrusive. We do not like noise and assume others feel the same way. The only time the generator will be running–other than when there is an electricity outage, of course–will be for periods of 10 minutes or less, once a week, which is part of the maintenance program. We will schedule this for a time during the middle of the day.
You might be wondering, why? Natural gas powered generators
with their permanent installation are not cheap. Plus they require
maintenance and upkeep. So why did we decide to do this?
Given the tenor of the times and the ways in which so much of our contemporary world is clearly breaking down, I have been giving a lot of thought to just how our quality of life is most vulnerable. It did not a lot of thought to conclude that one area in which a catastrophe would be most devastating is electricity.
Almost every aspect of our lives depends on the electricity being on. In the past we have lived in places where electrical outages were commonplace. Loss of power for even an hour is pretty inconvenient. It never happens at a good time.
We were living in New York during the Northeast blackout of 2003.
When that struck we were without power for several days. That made us
outage sensitive, so we subsequently invested in an emergency
generator (portable, gasoline powered) and electrical transfer switch
wiring. That made a world of difference in our quality of life during
those frequent times when the electricity went off, sometimes for
The Achilles heel of that system was the fact that it was gasoline
powered. In a widespread blackout, like the one in 2003, gasoline was
hard to get because filling station pumps require electricity to
work. We had to either drive outside the blackout area (too far) or
find a filling station that had its own backup generator (and had not
run out of gasoline to sell).
An added inconvenience was the limited number of household
circuits we could power with our portable generator. We could power
some of the basic circuits but we were nowhere near whole-house
With our electric-outage experience in mind I contacted the local electric utility before moving to the Madison area in 2013 to see what the outage history was like. I was told there had been only one brief outage, lasting less than an hour, in the previous ten years.
Great! I thought. We won’t be needing an emergency generator.
In the six-plus years we’ve lived here there have been a few brief
outages. More than I expected from what I had been told, but nothing
to get seriously bent out of shape about. So I was feeling pretty
secure about our electricity supply and the unlikelihood of
experiencing a serious outage.
It detailed the four most likely ways in which the national
electrical grid is vulnerable to prolonged collapse:
Electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) via a high altitude
Kinetic attack. (Structural damage resulting from acts of
terrorism; nature, such as lightning; vandalism, such as someone
shooting at transformers; etc.)
The DOE Assessment makes for some bleak and scary reading,
especially when you consider that we the public are usually fed
feel-good nonsense that paints a rosy picture. If these people are
bad-mouthing the situation, then it must be really bad. Everything is
“Even if all the recommendations
of the Congressional EMP Commission were implemented, there is no
guarantee that the [national electrical] grid will not sustain a
prolonged collapse. There should therefore be contingency plans
for such a failure.” (Emphasis added.)
Evidently there are no contingency plans: “There should be an
actionable plan in anticipation of a possible prolonged collapse of
the grid—a retro-structure and a skill set to provide a framework
for survival. Our sense is there is no plan.” (Emphasis
So just how bad is it? I wondered. How likely is it that the
national electrical grid could go down, that there could be a
“prolonged collapse”? How long would the collapse last if
it did? After all, in modern times we have never experienced a
complete collapse of the national electrical grid. But if is
possible, and there is no plan . . .
I looked into the four “postulated mechanisms” that
could potentially cause grid collapse:
Geomagnetic storms. According to Science Daily,
a “geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of the Earth’s
magnetosphere. Associated with solar coronal mass ejections, coronal
holes, or solar flares, a geomagnetic storm is caused by a solar wind
shock wave which typically strikes the Earth’s magnetic field 24 to
36 hours after the event.”
Often called solar storms, these magnetic disruptions can wreak
havoc on electrical equipment of all sorts, especially the essential
components of the national grid. In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm
blacked out large parts of northeastern North America. In 1921 there
was a solar storm several magnitudes stronger than the 1989 storm.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has
estimated that if a storm of the 1921 magnitude were to strike today
it would take down the entire U.S. grid. (There was no grid in 1921
like there is today.)
The 1921 Solar storm was not a unique, one-time event. NOAA is
confident that a storm of that magnitude, or even greater, will
eventually strike us.
Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks (EMP).
An EMP of sufficient magnitude damages electrical equipment. The most
likely EMP vehicle would be a high altitude nuclear
detonation. From what I can gather this is the least likely thing to
happen, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part.
A lightning strike is an EMP. As a result of global warming,
storms are getting more frequent and more powerful. A few unluckily
placed lightning strikes could leave us in the dark a long time.
Cyber attacks. A
cyber attack is an assault launched against computer networks and
systems. As might be
expected, the electric grid is managed by computers from stem to
Not long ago Russian hackers
took down a large part of the Ukrainian electric grid.
The damage, destruction and loss was enormous. It has been suggested
that the Russians could take
down the U.S. grid whenever
they want to.
A power company in the Midwest hired a
group of white hat hackers known as RedTeam Security to test power
company’s defenses against hacking and sabotage. The team was able to
break into buildings and hack into the power company’s network with
relative ease. They were able to gain full access and could have
easily done serious and permanent damage, plunging the entire region
into darkness for an indeterminate time.
Kinetic Attacks. These are old fashioned methods like
bombs, fire, bullets, and so on. A few years ago in California
someone with a high powered rifle took down a large power transformer
by simply shooting at it. Much of the region was without power for
Speaking of transformers, they are a critical component of the
transmission system. They adjust the electric voltage to a suitable
level on each segment of the power transmission from generation to
the end user. They are essential to the transmission of electricity
across the grid.
High voltage transformers (HVTs), sometimes referred to as large
power transformers (LPTs), are big and heavy. They weigh between 110
and 410 tons, and cost millions of dollars apiece. They are all
uniquely designed so they cannot be mass produced, and it can take up
to two years to make one.
There are approximately 80 to 90 of these LPTs in use across the
country. They are essential to the U.S. electric grid. Because they
are huge, transporting them from the point of manufacture to their
destination in the grid is costly and expensive.
Making them is even more problematic. It can take up to two years
to make one of these LPTs. That is, if the materials required to make
them are immediately available. (Don’t even get me started on the
problems associated with electrical steel, a special steel that is an
essential ingredient of all LPTs.) Keep in mind there can be no
economy of scale with these things because each one is unique. They
must be designed and built for the particular requirements of where
they are to be used.
It would seem reasonable to make a large power transformer in
place, where it is needed. But that is impossible. There are only a
couple of manufacturers in the world capable of making the largest
LPTs. One is in South Korea and the other in Germany.
The German manufacturing firm is Siemens. In an impressive 568
page company publication they state that LPTs have a lifespan of
around 35 or 40 years, and approximately 70 percent of the LPTs in
the U.S. are at or past their end of service date.
The publication cited above says the entire U.S. grid would go
down with the loss of no more than eight or nine LPTs. Yikes!
Think about it. Around 60 of our LPTs are outdated and could fail at
any time. And most of the rest of them are approaching that point.
Call me Chicken Little, but I find that more than a little scary.
From what I have learned over the past few months there is no
doubt in my mind that we are going to experience more frequent and
longer lasting electric outages. (I haven’t even mentioned the aging,
inadequate, and sorely neglected infrastructure of our national grid
of which the LPTs are a part.)
What to do? The first thing I wanted to know was if the electric utility had any kind of program, or perhaps suggestions about how to deal with outages, especially an extended outage which might even be nationwide, and might last for months or even years.
The utility’s manager courteously responded to all my questions in a timely manner, but what he had to say was not comforting. In his words, they were a small electric distribution company. It has little to no control over the supply of electricity to them. If they can’t get electricity, game over for them.
So! If an extended power outage is a real possibility, what’s to
be done? Do we really want to make a sizable investment in time and
money to install a permanent, natural-gas fueled stand-by electric
generator? After all, the national electric grid has never totally
gone down, and local outages have never been very long-term. It’s
never happened; maybe it never will.
First I looked at it from an actuarial perspective. We have paid
and lot in premiums over the years for life insurance, even though
neither of us has ever actually died. Same with fire insurance, auto
insurance, health insurance, and so on. We’ve had some claims over
the years but we’ve certainly never recouped the total cost of the
The way we’ve usually looked at it was that we were insuring
against catastrophe. The ramifications of a possible catastrophic
event were far more horrendous than paying the insurance premiums.
I believe the same applies to electricity. To be without it is
one of the most disruptive and potentially dangerous conditions I can
imagine. Or in some ways, that I can’t imagine. Things can
happen that were undreamed of just the day before.
Like the sudden appearance of a new virus for which no one has
immunity. As I write this Chris and I have isolated ourselves at home
due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I don’t know how long we are going
to have to be holed up here, but I would not want to do it without
We finally decided to get the generator if we could be
confident there would be gas to power it. I wanted to hear from
Madison Gas & Electric as to whether or not they could continue
to provide gas in an extended power outage. It was difficult to get
them to answer my questions but I kept badgering them until they did.
Their answer: Their ability to provide gas is not dependent upon
electricity from the grid. They do have to power the gas pumps with
electricity, but they have some very large stand-by generators for
that. I have to take their word for it that they can continue to
deliver gas even with the electricity is off.
I did ask, a couple of times, just how long they would be able to
provide gas with the electricity off. That question never got
So we decided to install a permanent stand-by generator. One that
is capable of powering our whole house. As long as there is natural
gas we will not have to be without heat or air conditioning,
refrigeration, light, hot water, computers, charged cell phones,
CPAP, and so on.
Solar panels and whole house batteries would be a better solution
but that option is not presently available to us because the
homeowners’ association voted against allowing solar panels. We would
prefer solar because it is renewable. But instead we will have to
burn fossil fuel. (I have wondered how many of the homeowners’
association members who voted against solar own MG&E stock.)
Wind power is out of the question for the present circumstances.
That just leaves natural gas
By the way, potable water was of concern to me in case of an outage. Local water company told me they have natural gas powered generators that back-up several of their water-well pumps. They can continue to supply water as long as there is gas.