The Long Emergency becomes the Now emergency

This weekend, whilst most of us were keeping an eye on developments with Hurricane Ike, there was what some descried as a “Force 10 Financial Hurricane” blasting the global financial system. One of the biggest investment banks in the world – Lehman Brothers – has collapsed (filed for bankruptcy). These are profoundly dangerous times for the world economy.

Since reading “The Long Emergency” in 2005 I have been tracking the doomsayers and quasi-survivalists like LATOC.

Their predictions and warning have been getting more and more accurate.

In the light of the collapse of Lehman brothers today and bailouts of other massive banks and mortgage companies, they are now declaring that this is it.


Editors Note: We’re at Impact

Over the last 12 months there have been a number of times when informed people thought “this is it.” Well if today and this past weekend aren’t “it”, I don’t know what is. We now have multiple large banks fighting for their lives and a 10 day disruption in gasoline supplies coming out of the Gulf Coast, both on the heels of the government nationalizing $5 trillion in mortgages and the Big three about to let it known that they’re going to need government bailouts as well. And that’s before we even get to the crisis in Georgia over the BTC pipeline, the war in Nigeria MEND declared, or the rapidly collapsing climate

This could be a very interesting week.

The Long Descent

“The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler gave rise to a new phrase “The Long Emergency” which is used to describe the converging catastrophes and dangers facing mankind (Climate Change, world oil production peak, resurgent diseases, water scarcity, global economic instability and warfare (including terrorism).

Now there is a new book, with a similar title, an author with three names and covering a similar theme.

It is called “The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age” by John Michael Greer. The author is a bit of a cooky new age hippy type, but the book sounds interesting:

Americans are expressing deep concern about US dependence on petroleum, rising energy prices and the threat of climate change. Unlike the energy crisis of the 1970s, however, there is a lurking fear that, now, the times are different and the crisis may not easily be resolved.

The Long Descent examines the basis of such fear through three core themes:

* Industrial society is following the same well-worn path that has led other civilizations into decline, a path involving a much slower and more complex transformation than the sudden catastrophes imagined by so many social critics today.
* The roots of the crisis lie in the cultural stories that shape the way we understand the world. Since problems cannot be solved with the same thinking that created thyem, these ways of thinking need to be replaced with others better suited to the needs of our time.
* It is too late for massive programs for top-down change; the change must come from individuals.

Hope exists in actions that range from taking up a handicraft or adopting an “obsolete” technology, through planting an organic vegetable garden, taking charge of your own health care or spirituality, and building community.

Focusing eloquently on constructive adaptation to massive change, this book will have wide appeal.

[From New Society Publishers – The Long Descent]




The Q-Drum, a low cost rollable water container for developing countries.

The burden of fetching water, invariably over long distances by cumbersome and far too often, unhygienic means, is all too evident in rural Africa.

The idea of the Q-Drum originated in response to the needs of rural people for clean and potable water, as well as easing the burden of conveying it.

The solution had to be simple, water in adequate quantities is by far too heavy to carry, by rolling the water in a cylindrical container and not carrying it seemed to be the only solution. The container had to be durable, and breakable handles & other attachments would simply not do – in many parts of Africa even a hammer & a nail are scarce commodities.

The Q-Drum addresses these needs by providing a simplistic, cost effective and durable solution: The uniqueness of the Q-Drum lies in the idea and design of the longitudinal shaft or doughnut hole, and is acknowledged by the fact that Worldwide patents have been granted for the concept, thus confirming the novelty & inventiveness of the design. [From Q-Drum – About]

Massive algae bloom blights Sava

Algae in a Chinese village lake by Felix Andrews (Floybix)

As though things could get any worse for Belgrade’s Sava river-side, now a massive (and in my experience) unprecedented algae bloom is underway.

The entire bank of the Sava from the confluence to Ada has algae between 1 and 5 meters out.

Ada marina lake is almost completely covered.

I am not sure if it is the same Algae referred to in this report (Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata) but its not looking too good. This is from  Chronic toxicity of the Sava River [Water Res. 2008] :

The Sava River, the largest and most commercially valuable water body in the riparian countries, receives inputs of organic and inorganic compounds from a variety of domestic and industrial activities that may affect the health of human beings and wildlife. In this work, the chronic toxicity of sediment, sediment porewater and surface water from the Sava River and connecting tributaries to the freshwater algae Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata was assessed to characterise the potential impact on aquatic organisms. Samples of different environmental matrices were either tested directly (porewater) or subjected to pre-concentration (sediments and surface water) prior to testing in a 72 h growth inhibition assay using P. subcapitata. The results show that a combination of pre-concentration and bioassay testing was able to characterise the toxic potential and to identify several compartment-specific "hot spots" along the Sava River. Based on the resulting data, a crude risk assessment identified that some of the locations may represent a risk to algae. Additional testing using multiple species and exposure phases is required to conduct a thorough risk assessment, however.

Organophosphate pollution is the main cause of these blooms.

Incidentally, algae is causing mayhem at the Olympic sailing venue in Qingdao, China.

The shameful neglect of Belgrade’s rivers

Originally published at The Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club

Extreme plastic pollution on the Sava near Belgrade
People fishing in extremely polluted water on the Sava river near Belgrade (March 2005). Detail here.

Plastic pollution on the Sava
The same spot in May 2008, nothing has changed.

Water expert and member of the International Press Institute (IPI), Joseph Treaster, has posted a well informed article about Belgrade after  attending the IPI’s annual meeting held here this year.

He touches on a point very close to my heart, namely the state of the environment here in Serbia, particularly the gross neglect of Water resources.

The environment was not formally on the agenda for the International Press Institute’s conference in Belgrade. But climate change and water and other environmental issues worked their way into conversations over several days. Next year the International Press Institute will be meeting in Helsinki and it is purposefully carving out time for the environment.

…According to the United Nations Environmental Program, Serbia is the only country in former Yugoslavia that has not updated its laws on water management in keeping with new science and technology. But that may change. For economic reasons, among others, Serbia wants to become a member of the European Union. Serbia and its neighbors face a string of barriers. But one way they can impress the European Union is to improve the way they deal with water and the rest of the environment.

I think it would have broken Joseph’s heart if he had seen the banks of Sava between the Old Sava Bridge and Ada. Rusting hulks of abandoned river boats snag river pollution in the form of plastic bottles and other junk (see above). The bank-side is littered with river detritus and discarded rubbish. Near Ada,  raw sewerage from Banovo Brdo and Topcider runs into the Ada marina, a beautiful spot ruined by the stench of raw faeces. 

The cycle route to Ada from 25th May is supposed to be a premium tourist attraction, one of Belgrade’s best natural heritage sites. It is instead one of the saddest sites one can see in Belgrade, a gorgeous environment abused and neglected to the point of ruin.

Every month citizens of Belgrade pay part of their  local taxes towards River-side care (Listed as Naknada za priobalja here). Apparently this amounts to a mere €30,000 per month (2.2million dinars) , but even €30,000 is a relative fortune with which to address some of the worst horrors, like the eyesore pictured above.

There is some good news however. The new “National Programme for Integration of Serbia into EU” is explicit in addressing both the lack of water legislation Joseph mentions above, and an aggressive action plan for dealing with both the pollution and neglect ( see section 3.27.3. “Waste Management”  and “3.27.4 Protection and management of water resources”).

Government recognition and actions plans are most welcome, but there needs to be a culture change for this to work. The river people (that is, people who live and work on the boats and splavs lining the river banks) need to help with this. If they refrained from throwing their rubbish into the river, installed septic tanks instead of using the river as a toilet (especially the clubs and restaurants) and kept the areas surrounding their riverside properties clean, then there would be a massive improvement.

I am not too hopeful that this will happen any time soon. When even the people who live on the rivers fail to care for them, how can visitors and tourists be convinced to respect them?

I have toyed with the idea of raising money to have a 500m stretch of the Sava river bank cleaned and restored to show people what can be achieved. Perhaps all they are missing is vision of what is possible?

Acid poisons Belgrade air

Last Wednesday as my cycling partner rounded 25th may sports centre on our way to our Ada circuits we both noticed a yellowish type mist hanging over the Danube near Zemun.

I remember thinking it was either smoke from a fire in Zemun or dust thrown up by a cement barge. Little did we know that it was in fact a cloud of poisonous gas from the nearby industrial hell-hole town of Pancevo, east of Belgrade. A mistake at the Azotara nitrate factory led to the release. During the bombing NATO hit the same facility causing a massive environmental crisis in 1999.

Pancevo is the most polluted place in Europe, where they actually have sirens to warn people of Pollution Alerts.

Belgrade is not much better. Atmospheric pollution, heavy metal pollution in the rivers and severe noise pollution in the city are all critical environmental issues blighting Belgrade.

The air, land and water in Serbia is full of ammonia, iron, manganese, methane, carbons and carbon dioxide, say experts.

Chemistry expert Rade Biočanin says that the causes of pollution are numerous—from local ecological disasters, to the global situation.

“We can start first and foremost with urban pollution, such as traffic, and physical pollutants, such as noise. Then production—sadly, our factories don’t work as well as they once did, so there’s less industrial pollution, but there’s waste. We need to keep an eye on that in terms of the ratio and parameters that affect us,” Biočanin explained.

The most common consequences of pollution are lung problems, allergies and a rise in malign illnesses.

Waste, whether it’s chemical or nuclear, is one of the most serious pollutants and is a problem that requires an urgent solution, thinks Miodrag Pantelić, a professor at the Technology Faculty in Čačak.

“I think we devote very little attention to this, we leave it to the next generation. They should solve the problem of nuclear waste, we’ve not done anything there. That sort of waste is harmful in terms of both bacteria and viruses, pollutes our land and water, and enters our bodies via the food chain, so that our bodies are polluted,” Pantelić said. [Source]

[From B92 – News – Society – Press: Acid poisons Belgrade air and Belgrade 2.0 ]

PS. That same day there was an attempted suicide. We cycled past people videoing the incident, but could not see what they were filming. I presumed it was the poison cloud,but it was the jumper, who thankfully did not jump.

How Africa’s desert sun can bring Europe power

From the Observer:

Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.

More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.

Billions of watts of power could be generated this way, enough to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs and to allow it to make significant cuts in its carbon emissions. At the same time, the stations would be used as desalination plants to provide desert countries with desperately needed supplies of fresh water. [Source]

Here is the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) website.

Porn, Poverty and unpaid energy bills

Many Serbs cannot pay their energy bills. This has been highlighted again by report in the media of massive backlogs in electricity payments. Serbs owe over EUR 187mn to the electricity companies, and many have no hope of paying their debts.

The desperation of may Serbs vis-a-vis energy is underlined in Mladen Djordjevic’s documentary about the Serbian porn industry, “Made in Serbia“, in which a Serbian porn actress explains she does it to “pay for firewood”.

In parts of Serbia life is very much about survival. These people are the victims of the economic suppression of the country and they will benefit most from its economic liberation.

The sooner gangsterism and corruption are seen as the national security and national pride issues, the better. Next time you read about some grafting politician or you demand your own “3 to 5%”, remember you are large part of the reason Serbian girls are driven to porn and grannies freeze to death in the provinces.

B92 – News – Economy – EUR 187mn in unpaid energy bills discusses “Made In Serbia”