Viruses and vaccines

A discussion with emphasis on Sars-Cov-2

This blog will  deal with a few thoughts on covid and the various so called “vaccines”. In todays blog we are featuring the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna   and the Vector vaccines from J&J and Astra Zeneca. I will get back to talking about more important subjects like collapse of civilizations later. I think I may also talk about the the joys and pitfalls of a small farm and being a grandfather. Since I don’t keep a journal I might as well do it here.  This is a rambling discursive approach to a serious subject but I like to ramble  sometimes…………Today’s topic is how do viruses and vaccines work? Viruses have long been an interest of mine because they are just outside of what we call “life” . They are tiny and powerful and can give orders with the force of my favorite Cuban Marine drill sergeant back in Beast Barracks . Viruses can bring a civilization to its knees. If we tame them they can save a civilization. What’s not to like about viruses….?

      This digression about viruses and vaccines and the takeover of our civilization by the corporate big Pharma political alliances including the Gates Foundation worldwide has been better covered in places like the automaticearth.com and recently Paul Kingsnorth in Ireland on his website. Most of it is paywalled(which I am thrilled to pay) but the covid stuff is not. Read it and then do your weeping offline.

Lets get down to what these vaccines are and are not and whether we should continue using them. First what are mRNA vaccines and how do they work?

   The mRNA Vaccines are not vaccines in the traditional sense. In a traditional vaccine you isolate your pathogen and grind them up in a Waring Blender and then filter the mess thru a coffee filter and stick it into a vial for later use on some poor defenseless child. Ok. A little more complicated than that. You isolate and purify your bad viruses and inactivate them by chemicals or heat or radiation or what have you where they are now still in one piece so to speak, but have lost enough of their genome so they can’t replicate and do damage. Once in your arm or your stomach they end up in cells so that your immune system   can react to them because these are composed of amino acids assembled into protein”antigens”. Your immune system recognizes them as foreign proteins and kick starts your immune system to making antibodies of various sorts like T cells and neutralizing antibodies . Some of these are quick acting and short lived and some long acting and some somehow file away information so your body can remember and thereby mount an immune attack months or years or even decades  later if needed.

      mRNA  vaccines were part of Trump’s “warp speed” vaccine development program as you recall. Viruses are of all kinds of shapes and forms just like people, and it turns out this Covid 19 virus  properly called SARS-cov-2 was of the class of Corona viruses so called because of their “crown” or corona of spike proteins. It happens that these so called spikes in the crown were the way the virus attacked the cells to get in to the cell factory to make the cell produce viruses instead of the usual production of constituents for the cell and the body. The spikes attach to receptors on the cell called ACE receptors which stands for angiotensin converting enzyme receptors which are receptors plentiful in many organs primarily the heart and lung. These hijacked cells  now start to make new products sort of like during WW2 when the Ford factory in Michigan switched from making jalopies to making B-24 bombers.

      Pfizer uses protein nanoparticles  of mRNA  to enter the cell taking over the muscle cells to make the so called “S” proteins of the Covid  spikes. The instructions are very specific to the early variety of the Covid virus, the Alpha variant, which was first on the scene. Note they are not making the whole Covid virus but just the spike proteins. These proteins somehow accumulate on the surface of the cell and the body’s immune system sees them as foreign invaders and mounts an immune response making antibodies to these foreign protein amino acid sequences. These antibodies’ flood the body. When some schmuck now comes along and coughs in your face, you inhale his virus load which attacks your ace receptors but this time the now armed immune system attacks the invading virus spikes and binds to it or neutralizes it in some fashion. That’s the way it works or is supposed to work. Are there possible things that can go wrong like unintended consequences or side effects? Sure but we will cover that later.

    How do the non mRNA vaccines work like those from J&J and AZ?  Instead of using RNA they use DNA for the instruction set. The DNA is tucked inside a benign virus which has been made even more benign by “inactivating” it so it can’t cause you a URI. J&J uses a cold adenovirus and Astra Zeneca the other main player over there in merrie olde England uses a chimpanzee virus. They also inactivate the chimp virus to keep it from replicating. Once these so called Vector viruses get inside the cell the DNA  escapes and gives genetic instructions using DNA instead of RNA to make the S proteins and you know the rest. An immune response. There are a bunch of other players using similar approaches with  different viruses to deliver their protein instructions. Some work pretty well and some don’t.

   There are many types of vaccines.There are virus vector vaccines, protein subunit vaccines and mRNA vaccines.  Let’s get to the virus vector vaccines because they have been around the longest and have had the most research and testing. There are 4 types: RC,RD,SC, AND MS. RC is replication competent,RD is replication deficient,SC is single cycle, amd MS is multisegmented. RC means the virus can reproduce, RD means it can’t, single cycle is self explanatory, and SC and multisegmented I may try to take up in a later blog. This blog will just talk about the RC/RD vector vaccines.

   The RC vaccines have advantages and disadvantages. They have the advantage of reproducing releasing gobs and heaps of antigens and if you use them, you have what amounts to “leverage” in production. A few viruses can produce a lot of antigens. They have disadvantages which were noted fairly early. Specifically they can overwhelm people who have deficient immune systems, because of certain diseases like cancer or taking immunosuppressants. Virologists like the RC class because of the leverage involved which means fewer product needed, lower cost etc. They have tried tinkering with the RC virus vectors to tone them down to improve the safety profile which has worked in some circumstances and not in others so worries remain.

      The RD class of virus vectors on paper looks good because with the virus prevented from replication, the safety profile is much improved. With these viruses you may be dealing with real nasties like the Ebola virus so you want to prevent them replicating. There have been a few success stories with human and animal vaccines, Most notably the ERVEBO by Merck used for Ebola, a very dangerous virus. It took 5 years to develop the vaccine and was licensed in late 2019.  According to the NIH this year over 300000 people have so far gotten the jab including babies and pregnant women and even HIV folks. This after extensive animal testing. Data on efficacy is still being collected but so far so good. Fingers crossed. Contrast this Merck work with the Pfizer trials of 50,000 people over six months. I wonder why Pfizer  got the nod for the Covid vaccine instead of Merck. It might have taken too long and Trump had an election to win? Just sayin’. Of course with such rushed trials the Trump administration couldn’t wait for the wheels of careful responsible vaccine development to turn so they had to sweeten the pot with help from the Pfizer lawyers so Pfizer was released from liability in case the vaccine was a dud or caused injuries. Because everything was a big Emergency don’t you know. Trump had to give it a EUA(emergency use authorization) to get it out to the voters . The trial results and data from the research should be a matter of public record because much of this initial research was underwritten by the public. In order to backstop my comments I would need to look at the data with help from vaccine experts who would have to be impartial and independent. But guess what ? Our FDA has sealed these records until 2076 at Pfizer’s request!!! Do you think it’s possible they have something to hide? Do I look cynical to you? Lily Tomlin said:”No matter how cynical I get, I find that I just can’t keep up.”

     Somehow I got off track because I wanted to talk about all the fascinating and incredibly complex work done with the other virus vectors using all manner of viruses. Here is just a sample of those viruses used for human and animal diseases and cancer immunotherapy:Retroviruses and Lentiviruses. Lentiviruses have been used for immunotherapy. Then of course we have the ever popular pox viruses, herpseviruses, arrenaviruses and flaviviruses. Yellow Fever is a flavivirus and I read that immunity in some have lasted 39 years! Then of course I’m sure you are familiar with the paramyxoviruses which cause rubeola and mumps. There are others of course like the Rhabdoviruses which cause Rabies but I think I see a lot of glazed eyes out there so let’s wrap this up. We can talk about the social cost and the political polarization with world wide protests against this globalized vaccination against a virus which as Trump said was no worse than Flu. FYI look at this year by year  fatality  table from  of all people, the CDC:

SARS-Cov-2 mortality by year

BTW I should list this most excellent paper from Pub Med about the excellent work developing the Ebola vaccine:

pubmed logo Search:





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Review Vaccines (Basel)

. 2021 Feb 25;9(3):190. doi: 10.3390/vaccines9030190.

Development of Pandemic Vaccines: ERVEBO Case Study

Jayanthi Wolf  1 Risat Jannat  2 Sheri Dubey  3 Sean Troth  4 Matthew T Onorato  5 Beth-Ann Coller  6 Mary E Hanson  7 Jakub K Simon  6 Affiliations

Free PMC article

Compare and contrast with the botched and secretive Pfizer trials. I read the whole paper but I forgive anyone for not doing the same. It would be a slog for some…hugh

Book Review:At the End of the World

by Lawrence Millman

At the End of the World putatively is about a series of murders in the Belcher Islands in SE Hudson Bay in 1941. Anglican missionaries had instilled ideas of Jesus, God and Satan into the animistic Inuit islanders who already had an ancient belief that any animal or spirit could enter a person leaving them unchanged on the outside and transformed on the inside. A few folks imbued with fear of the devil decided that the devil had possessed some of their own and several of them whom Jesus and God had entered took it upon themselves to extirpate the Devil using harpoons, bullets and clubs with predictable results. The RCMP was notified and a trial was held with just white men on the jury from outside the village and punishment was meted out.
The book is very little about those murders and more a running commentary about loss of habitat in this our sixth mass extinction. Millman doesn’t directly come out and include the extinction of homo sapiens but does imply that the digital transformation of the culture is a very bad thing leading to evolution(devolution?) of the human species into what he calls homo insapiens. This new species lives divorced from nature, from the real world, living in a virtual world which he calls Cyberia. He bemoans these pitiful creatures with their heads down scratching on their glass faced hand tools checking facebook posts and emails addictively. If you are one of those people you are liable to feel insulted at Millman’s tone and declare this book a waste of your valuable screen time. If you are a Luddite or a Neo Luddite like Millman you will be entertained by his gentle needling of this feckless pointless activity of the past 2 decades transforming the world. The book has quotes from naturalists John Muir, Loren Eiseley, Also Leopold , Henry David Thoreau and others extolling the value of wild nature which is fast disappearing along with the culture of these arctic Eskimo people who have given up their dog sleds for snowmobiles which they navigate using the gps in their smart phones. It is a story of loss but he uses the Inuit word to conclude the thin book……”Ajurnamaat”……………Trans: “That’s the way it is…………”

Book Review:A Higher Call

By Adam Makos

I don’t know how I missed this book but reading it was cathartic to this former Army officer and his B17 Flying Fortress bomber pilot father.

    This is a story of chivalry by a Luftwaffe ME 109 fighter pilot named Hans Stigler who pursued a gravely wounded B17 attempting to return to England following a bombing raid on Bremen  Dec 20, 1943.  While on the ground refueling and rearming, Franz  Stigler saw a shot up B17 Flying Fortress limping slowly toward the North Sea on 2 engines. Stigler fired up his ME109 and flew off in hot pursuit finally catching up with the bomber just south of the Flak gun protected Atlantic Wall north coast of Germany. Creeping up astern at slow speed the fighter ace could not believe the bomber was still flying.

Ye Olde Pub as she was named, was missing most of its horizontal stabilizer and rudder and and was shredded  with numerous bullet holes and  20mm cannon damage. The tail gunner’s position was shattered along with what remained of the tailgunner himself, His 50 caliber guns dropping down aimlessly.. Just as Stigler was about to pull the trigger on his 20mm cannon he paused, stunned by the bloody carnage in front of him. He pulled ahead just above the bomber’s right wing  to survey the remaining crew who glanced over at the fearsome  German fighter,  assuming the worst. After 10 minutes in which Franz Stigler escorted the lumbering bomber past the upraised eyes of the Flak gunners who refused to shoot because one of their own was in the sky, Stigler peeled off to return back to base. This is the story of that encounter which remained secret for more than 45 years but it is much more than one incredible inexplicable incident. It is an emotional biography of a famous German fighter ace and the B17 bomber pilot by the name of Charlie Brown who against all odds managed to reach England on a wing and a prayer. The story begins with 12 year old Franz crashing on his first flight in a home built glider and traces his flying life initially as a Lufthansa airline pilot in the 1930’s until he was drafted to become a fighter pilot helping the Desert Fox Rommel in North Africa and ending finally in the dying days of the Third Reich with Stigler flying the world’s first jet aircraft, the twin engine ME 262. The narrative shifts back to the Eight Air Force bomber command and what it was like for Lieutenant Charlie Brown getting ready for his first mission over Germany.  Author Adam Makos does a masterful job delving into the emotions of these two characters in a way that few war books have ever done. One can compare it to “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a tour de force of what war is really like. A quarter of the book is the heart warming epilogue of these two pilots’ lives after the war and their improbable reunion 47 years later.

     The story has personal poignancy for me because my father was a WW2 B17 bomber pilot and I was a military officer in Germany in the 1970’s. I visited many of the WW2 bombing targets, most notably the ill fated slaughter of Eight Air Force planes attempting to knock out the ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. I stood on a hill with a former German officer who was there during the raid watching Allied bombers spiraling down on fire and smoke, one after the other. The book is also a back story of the conflict between the code of honor of the German Air Force and the ruthless evil of  Nazi  SS Air Marshal Goering whose inept leadership eventually brought down the Luftwaffe. The book is destined to become a classic.

COP 26:my take

Comments on Cop 26

Well…………there have been 25 iterations of this global climate meeting. Glasgow Scotland is the backdrop and unfortunately it will be yet another drop in the bucket of climate conferences that may start full of sound and fury but signify and constitute nothing.  For the most part just more pledges of emissions cuts decades into the future using the nonsensical term “net zero” emissions targets. You know what net zero means: It means BAU but wishin’ and hopin’ that we will invent some way to capture all that CO2 that we will continue to release resulting in net zero emissions.The political class has promised us new technologies of CCS(carbon capture and storage), DAC(direct air capture of CO2), dematerialization and a hydrogen economy replacing and sucking up carbon emissions. All of these ideas are unscalable and consume vast amounts of fossil energy. They are the lies embedded within their pledges. For India that pledge is 2070 with the big emitters like China and the US and Russia all chiming in with their meaningless unenforceable pledges from 2060 on down. What is needed are emission cuts now, this year and the next year and the next but that is not what happened because there are virtually no leaders of the large industrialized countries willing to do that. They don’t want to, most of their people don’t want them to and almost none of their high energy consuming companies want to either. In order for emissions to be reduced, energy has to be reduced. By energy I mean of course fossil energy. In order to make some headway the world needs to reduce fossil energy starting NOW and it wont, and it really can’t if the industrial GROWTH economy is to continue. If you believe that renewable energy can replace fossil energy, then it needs to do just that: REPLACE IT. But that has not happened for the past 25 COP meetings and is unlikely to for the next 25. Renewable energy has just added  to the energy mix. It hasn’t replaced any. A few nuggets were thrown out like attempting to reduce methane emissions mostly from the oil and gas industry. That was a pretty easy softball slow pitch what with gas prices up 100 to 400% this year. There’s money to be made now that the price is up so let’s just try not to waste it and sell it instead! Great idea. Will anybody enforce the idea? My hope is that gas prices stay high and go higher. The best thing for the world’s lungs would be the elimination of all coal power plants and replace them with something else. That something else should be gas for several reasons: 1. Coal power plants make steam that spins generators, a terribly inefficient process, less than 40% efficient, some far less. Old school gas plants did the same with the same crappy efficiency but the new combined cycle cogen plants are pushing 60%, far better than any other plant other than hydro. 2, Coal ash is a toxic pollutant that piles up until it falls into the nearest river. Moving coal around requires diesel trains and digging it up uses more diesel and all those miners drive to work in their diesel pickups. Oh sure, a few drive Priuses.  3.Coal has about half the delivered energy of gas and a some varieties of coal like lignite are little more than dark rock, even less. 4. Gas flows down pipelines, no fuss , no muss.

Only problem is that most countries don’t have gas and building pipelines means a lot of steel which is only made using coal furnaces. If coal could just be used for smelting ores we could maybe live with coal. But then you have to use fossil fuels to make concrete and gypsum board and silicon solar panels etc. Granted some of these high temperature processes could possibly be using gas or pie in the sky ideas like hydrogen but don’t hold your breath. Solar panels can not make solar panels nor windmills make wind spinners.

    Now here is the crux of reducing CO2 emissions: Reduce economic growth which is directly correlated with energy use, fossil energy use. If you reduce economic growth below zero, what is that called? Recession, if it lasts 2 quarters. If it lasts years it’s called Depression. That is what is needed to reduce energy emissions. There are some delusional economists who claim we can “decouple” energy from fossil sources and move to wind spinners and rooftop solar panels, you know:renewable energy to power an industrial economy living on mines and shipping supply lines and trucks and flying vacations to Cabo and smelting and concrete………….like Gretta  Thunberg says:”blah, blah, blah.” We can’t decouple these kinds of processes from fossil fuels. The only way we can decouple is to decouple the entire process and mine less, smelt less, travel less………… and most importantly blah, blah blah less.

     On a teeney weeney positive note it is theoretically possible to try to turn around this airliner heading into the Grand Teton’s north face: Read Richard Heinberg’s latest Book: Power: limits and prospects for human survival. I just reviewed it on this blog. My fingers are crossed.

Book Review:Power

Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival by Richard Heinberg, 2021

Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival

  POWER is Richard Heinbergs latest book and is a departure from the kind of books he has authored in the past. His previous books have dealt with humanity’s relation to the use and extraction of  our finite natural resources and what that is doing to our planet. Primarily he has focused on the primary resource: fossil fuels, most especially Oil because it is the most utilizable, portable and possesses the greatest utility of the three. The others of course: gas and coal. I have read every book of Richard Heinberg and his writing has been clear and informative and extremely broad based covering the role of energy in the development of civilization. This role has been primarily economic  but goes far beyond just economics. Fossil fuels beginning with coal were the raison d’etre of the Industrial Revolution which began about 250 years ago altering not just how performed work shifted from animal and human muscle to  fossil energy energy powered tools. More importantly this abundant, surplus and almost free energy freed up our muscles to to engage in new professions, activities and pursuits. New inventions and technologies exploded into being utilizing this new miraculous energy source resulting in massive expansion of the ability to do work from the power provided by energy driven tools. There are always consequences to a new technology. both intended and unintended and it is the array of unintended consequences that are coming home to roost just as these transformative energy sources are showing signs of depletion. The reserves of these fuels are finite because the planet is finite. These resources will never be depleted but the amount in economically recoverable reserves certainly will.

        Heinberg has chosen to cone in on the Power these energy sources have conferred to individuals and societies and now that we  have burned through the cheap “lower hanging fruit” into the less expensive reserves, the world is coming to a reckoning which Heiberg calls “The Great Unraveling.” The  use of these fuels has primarily been thermodynamic. Combustion of oil, gas and coal releases carbon dioxide and water as its price to liberate heat and energy and we have over a short time released enough C02 to warm the planet which is having an array of unintended consequences beyond just changes in the climate. We have created an economic system, a civilization addicted to fossil fuels. More explicitly we have an economy addicted to the energy and power from fossil fuels . We have had the emergence of a small alarmed populace fearful of continuing down this destructive path, primarily the youth who want to see a change in how we use energy. Many feel that we can attenuate or reverse the damage to the climate by moving to non fossil energy, to so called renewable energy. I do not want to enter that debate which I have covered for years in my energy blog, reliant as I have been on writers such as Heinberg, Friedeman, Orlov,Hagens  and Tverberg, to name just a few. This would be an unwelcome diversion from reviewing Richard’s book which is coming at a crucial phase in human history. It is an important book that deserves broad distribution and discussion if there is any hope of taming the unintended consequences of our fossil energy powered industrial civilization.

     Heinberg traces  the role of energy in the evolution of primitive life forms up to the present in great detail. He does the the same analyzing the power relationship from proto humans of the Pleistocene 2.5 million years ago to the Holocene period beginning about 11000 years ago when hunter gathering blended into horticultural and then agricultural activity with the establishment of states and kingdoms. This in simplistic terms marked the beginning of civilization. Heinberg follows how power evolved influencing the trajectory of civilization. Because energy and power was limited,changes to civilizations tended to be gradual. The utilization of fossil fuels began in earnest about the middle of the 18th century with the steam engine and really took off with the discovery of oil about one hundred years later. Oil energy through the distillation of kerosene came just in time to replace the whale oil in lamps which was disappearing just like the whales. The other components from those primitive distillation or refinery outputs  like gasoline and asphalt  were just thrown away, buried or drained into rivers where they sometimes caught fire on their way to the sea. It wasn’t long before some bright engineering minds saw the energy potential of these fuels using contained burning and explosions within machined blocks of steel to drive spinning shafts. And you know the rest: weapons of mass destruction, the chemical industry,the automobile and tractors, ships and planes all powered from oil. And importantly powering generators and turbines releasing electrons into grids powering motors doing work and transforming communications, transforming food production allowing vast increases in population and spawning all manner of new technologies with those electrons as the their lifeblood. As I previously mentioned there are consequences to new technologies and unintended consequences and the biggest and most unexpected consequence has been the sheer rapidity of change which has far outstripped humanity and the planet’s ability to respond to those consequences. There have been many: increasing income, racial and gender inequality, pollution of the air and water, extinction of species and forests, globalization and elimination of middle class jobs, increases in interpersonal conflict and shattering of communities and the social contract.. Polarization of the body politic is a fact of life now worldwide. This is Heinberg’s “Great Unraveling.” Are we seeing the beginning of the end of this experiment of the Holocene now renamed the anthropocene?   Has the world outgrown its “carrying capacity?” Will the end be hothouse earth this century and could we primates go extinct? These questions form the real meat of the book and Heinberg really shines here as he explores possible options for humanity which now at almost 8 billion souls has been renamed the “Superorganism”.

        I will not detail all his bullet points and fortunately Heinberg does not descent into an“optimism bias” so common with books on collapse. He is hopeful that we humans have mitigating strategies which can soften our transition into a different world using what energy we have more efficiently, with less waste and pollution. He points out that for this path to have a chance we must consume less using less energy renouncing power, and grow our economy less. We must reduce world population. If we fail to do this voluntarily, it will be forced upon us by circumstances too horrible to contemplate.

    The book is fairly long with some digressions which some readers might find not relevant to their lives but the abundant annotations were a delight. There are 27 pages of notes underpinning his treatise.  This is an exceedingly important book  which lays out the desperate predicament we face. I will spare my reader(s) my opinion of the outcome.

Industrial Economic Collapse:Energy driven

Collapse: Energy Driven.   Collapse is a scary word and sparks visions of something sudden and dramatic. Houses of cards collapse. Condos in Miami collapse. Civilizations collapse. All civilizations collapse eventually. All human lives face collapse. But not all things that collapse crumble in the same way or at the same rate in different places at the same time.   I think collapse is not a precise enough teerm especially when we use it in the context of something as complex as an economy or a civilization. In this paper I may try out other words to illustrate the process of something ending, or breaking down. Engineering understands that structures for example are designed to last a certain period of time, to have a lifespan. Certain design features can be incorporated to lengthen or shorten such a lifespan like higher quality materials or redundancy. Using metaphors that apply to something as complex as a civilization or an economy which has millions of components like feedback loops and people interacting is inherently squishy and difficult to quantify. But perhaps it can be done, even scientifically and mathematically.

     Peter Turchin, a professor at UConn has contributed mightily to what happens when civilizations collapse. His approach follows the cyclical theory of history which doesn’t have universal acceptance but his approach is unique in trying to quantify the factors using an assembled database called Seshat. The embedded link explains his methodology. I found his book and his current work very persuasive and will try to incorporate his theory into this paper. There are many factors that will be driving the collapse of this technoindustrial “machine” this century and I hope to lay out these factors in simple terms, simple enough for myself and the reader to grasp. The single most overriding driver of this collapse will be overshoot by humanity of the  carrying capacity of the planet. William R Catton published a book of that title in 1982  which I have alluded to and sadly it was published by the University of Illinois Press as a textbook which is why it has been missed by the reading public. Thankfully it is still in print and I consider it one of the three most influential books on this subject of collapse I have ever read.  It is exceedingly readable. The other two are Limits to Growth by Meadows et al   and The collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter and I will come back again and again referring to these milestone publishing icons.

    The proximate driver in this collapse will be the decline and cheap availability of fossil energy.  This might be also stated as “cause in fact” causation. These are legal terms but the result to society’s economy will be the same. Cheap fossil energy has allowed the huge expansion of this industrial civilization generating wealth, improving living standards, expanding public health with technological miracles of computation and communication generating a lifestyle of rising expectations in an exponentially increasing human population. This is progress which has increased our standard of living’ It has also generated a huge variety of occupations that consume energy and make nothing.   But this progress has downsides. World population is increasing 80 million births a year and declining energy resources means declining energy availability per capita.  Energy per capita  correlates almost perfectly with GDP and is also closely tied to the aforementioned expansion of civilization. progress and “growth” of the economy.  But In fact energy per capita has been falling for the past 5 years or so and this trend will continue if for no other reason than world population will continue to increase 80 million a year for the foreseeable future. Are we talking about fossil energy per capita or just energy per capita?  It matters not how the energy is produced whether from a windmill or from burning coal when you are computing the numbers but it matters a great deal on how that energy is used. Non fossil energy typically gets delivered directly as electricity which is fine for urban living but useless for heavy manufacturing like steel making, mining, cement or heavy transportation uses like trucking or flying. Thus the type of work powered by energy depends very much upon the character of the energy. Since electricity is  a carrier of energy and not an energy source like oil, coal or gas it cannot be   readily stored. It is less than a fifth(19%) of  the global delivered  energy mix and most electricity is produced from fossil energy emission producing sources. One important fact almost never mentioned is that the generation of electricity from burning fossil energy is exceedingly inefficient. Most coal plants have efficiency well  below 40%. The most efficient coal plant I was able to find was the newer Turk plant in Arkansas and it is just at 40%. Only the newer combined cycle gas plants have efficiencies between 50 and 60%. The old open cycle ones were well below 40%.  The major reason they are so low is that they boil water to produce steam just like a nuclear plant. Nuclear plants are even less efficient than gas or coal plants, around 30-33%., but that is so called “thermal” efficiency. If you look at how much theoretical energy is contained within a kilogram of uranium and how much energy ends up as electricity, it is far less. Think of all those water cooled pools of “spent” fuel. They are still hot which means they are still full of energy that will never be utilized. Efficiency of steam driven turbines increases if you increase the temperature and pressure of the steam but at some point you can start blowing up boilers like what happened on the Mississippi river steamboats in the 19th century.  .  If steam in boilers are such lousy inefficient ways to power a civilization, maybe there are better ways like developing energy from renewable sources. Maybe technology will save us.

Collapse of an Industrial Civilization: A systems approach

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Preface and introduction:

It has been a while since my last post and it is not for lack of things to talk about that has caused this hiatus. Most of the recent posts have concerned the trajectory of the Covid 19 “pandemic” which is becoming a political clusterfuk of misinformation and a Tower of Babel from many sides. I have bigger fish to fry. I am back on familiar ground trying to understand our current civilization, its values, origins and morphology and of course its future. I am trying to generate my own General theory of Collapse, mirroring the quest that Einstein embarked upon in his attempt to create his General theory of Relativity. As in many aspects of life, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know and how much more there is to learn. The other thing I have realized is how incredibly difficult it is to understand all the factors that influence how civilization operates and how it may cease to operate.  These factors are   more than historical and anthropological and it is a subject that has interested authors from Plato to Plutarch, to Gibbon and Toynbee and Spengler in the last century. These authors were observational and tended to use comparative historical perspectives, often with “compare and contrast” techniques. Some like Ostwald Spengler in his  book”The decline of the West” freely  issued value judgments, personal opinions  and predictions. Gibbon ascribed Rome’ fall to the decline of traditional values One writer(Danandt) compiled 210 causes!! While often entertaining to read I find such writing not helpful in trying to analyze the deeper factors that must be present. In this blog which is sure to be long, I hope to draw as many thinkers and authors and choose what I think are the important memes driving the discussion. No doubt I will be omitting many more but my hope is that I hit most of those memes. I will try to cite sources and if this blog becomes too long I may need to add a bibliography which could be a daunting task. I also want to state that I am writing this for my personal education and I will not be making any efforts at dissemination as I am not in the same class as most of these innovative thinkers. I think I have a few original opinions but my goal is to aggregate as many of these opinions and marshal data so anyone reading this can try to form their own opinion just as I hope to do. I will emphasize authors aggregating those whom I feel have done the most to power the discussion. I am not above criticizing those people and schools of thought who I think have a flawed understanding.

       Normally crisis authors will write with historical perspective listing challenges and cite trends and events and conclude with solutions and hope for the future. Since I am just starting out I can make no such promise. It is time to get started                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The human organism like most living things is a small dynamo powered by energy that it collects from the environment. The cell uses this energy to assemble molecules and breakdown others to maintain its metabolism using certain metabolic pathways.. The energy furnace of the cell is in the mitochondria, an organelle inside the cell usually called the powerhouse of the cell. This energy is released when an important molecule called ATP(adenosine tri phosphate) splits off one of its phosphates and energy is released. This energy is now free to do work.  This work can be assembling new molecules or moving muscle proteins, or firing neural connections but we call it work. Work is what gets things done whether in the cell or by a backhoe digging a ditch. I will stop this physiology lesson now because I see you are starting to doze off. . It is possible to measure how much energy a person uses and needs under steady state conditions just to survive. It happens to be 90 to 100 watts.

The watt is a unit of power. There are many units of power and energy and they can be very confusing but we will KISS now. The basic unit of energy is the joule. The most common unit of power is the watt, which is power elaborated over time. One watt is one joule for a time period of one second.  746 watts is One horsepower. The watt is named for James Watt a Scottish engineer who invented the first efficient steam engine in the late 18th century; a form of power which kick started the industrial revolution. The watt can be used to measure heat or electricity or solar energy among many others. To get back to our humans, we need 100 watts  of power to live in an average day. We need more and use more of course during exercise but 100 watts is the basal state. In the US the average person uses far more exogenous watts to get through his day, upwards of 11000 watts  which come from outside sources primarily from fossil energy. With all this extra exogenous power we can do a lot of work. Carbon is oxidized to produce all this extra energy which yields CO2  and you know the rest.

     The reason I have started this essay with definitions of energy and its related stepsister, power is that I see it as the heart of trying to understand how we got to this crucial point in the world’s existence and where we go from here. This is the fundamental assumption of this paper.  My arguments and conclusions will follow from this assumption. If you accept this assumption I will lead you down my garden path.  This path will include a variety of arguments to support my opinion from fields of economics, comparative history, ecology and most particularly growth factors in ecology, evolution, physics and thermodynamics, meteorology and climate science, anthropology and other social sciences. I will use tools from of course mathematics and modeling techniques often computer aided and paired with systems analysis. I will also draw in many theories some of which are speculative and some well grounded and becoming accepted such as Chaos theory, Complexity Theory and others. . It would seem to me that retrograde or retrospective modeling would be useful but I rarely see it done. Since my blogs have often dealt with Energy issues, one can assume that I will return again and again to why I think energy is at the heart of this discussion and driving the trajectory of our civilization like no other single factor can. This is my introduction. More later.

Return of the Prodical grampa

Back to Blogging…………..

Now that the sun is well into its descent here north of the equator I may find some time to post some thoughts about lots of things, agricultural and non agricultural. I think I will steer clear of long screeds on the politics of descent into chaos which seems to be playing out not just here in the US but virtually worldwide. I have repeatedly said this current decade will tell the tale of our likely trajectory for the rest of the century. The driver will be energy depletion and decline but that is as of yet almost never mentioned by the MSM because they are tied to the political propaganda machine and the corporate business model of growth, expansion and surveillance, as well as digital tracking to sell us stuff we don’t need or can’t afford.

       The noise emanating out of Scotland at COP already looks to be just more of the same tap dancing and dodging of what needs to be done to really combat climate change. Nothing of consequence will come out of it to change anything to reduce emissions to any meaningful extent. The obvious proof to me at least are the terms they use: Net Zero by such and such a date, usually 2050,60 or 70. Their silly meaningless pledges of course will not be met because there is absolutely no will to reduce carbon emissions in the near term, say in the next year or even the next decade. We need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and that will never happen unless we see emissions starting to decline this year, next year and the coming years. Their solutions are more electric cars, heat pumps, expanded solar panels and wind farms to shift electrical output from fossil power plants to these misnamed RE sources. I have stated why this cannot and will not happen and I will return in future blogs to expand on this opinion as necessary if I have the time. The emphasis on climate change as the great and only evil of our industrial emissions is also ignoring all the equally significant related interconnected changes going on in the world: Overpopulation, rampant accelerating pollution of land and water, overproduction of chemical poisons which are wiping out organisms like  mycorrhizae at the bottom of the food chain to all manner of animals at the top(The Sixth Extinction), vast income inequality and corruption of politics and the financial and corporate technocracy, digital surveillance and tracking of our every word and keystroke, destruction of the middle class  by off shoring of our industrial base and no sign of any awareness of the need to limit “growth and progress” in the economy which has brought us to this point. There are many other factors because this economy is complex beyond any possibility of understanding or control. This hyper complex civilization has blown past into the realm of diminishing returns and I think some form of collapse is baked into the cake. Don’t ask me when as no one can possibly know. Is there any hope? Of course there is hope but not until this complexity implodes to a lower energy level and a simpler structure. There will be hope when oil, gas and coal deplete far enough to stop the machine which can only run on fossil carbon. There is no will among the major emitters to cease use of carbon based energy and some countries like India have almost all their energy eggs in the carbon basket and stopping coal emissions would crash their economies and explode into revolution in the streets.  A few countries do have enough varied sources of energy to reduce emissions if everyone else did. Norway is an example as well as some small island countries but not the big players like the US, Russia, China, India and Brazil.

     Well this post is long enough. I would like to post our little tales of trying to farm in a harsh mountain climate and how we are trying to feed ourselves and some friends by the sweat of our brows and the oil in our Kubota tractor. I also would like to start short serialization of my analysis of our energy economy civilization in as much detail as I can muster. I do this mostly for my benefit to try to understand what is going on and why. I have hope of only limited success.

Book Review

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology

The Way Home by Mark Boyle

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology


Mark Boyle is an Irish thinker and writer who made the choice in his thirties to disengage from the industrial civilization of England and move to a small abandoned holding in the west of Ireland.He built and rebuilt the tumbledown structures there doing without fossil energy tools like tractors and saws and electricity, electric lights and running water and by extension no television, radio, telephone,internet or any digital toys. Some years previously he had spent three years trying out a life entirely devoid of using money. He wrote a book on that subject called the Moneyless Man but this move to living a life without all the so called modern conveniences of a technological civilization was an attempt to recreate his life around life’s basic necessities as experienced by the rural Irish of the late 19th early 20th century. He wanted to experience an existence close to and within nature growing and foraging for his food, hauling his own water from a spring and cooking his food over a rocket stove and a wood range using firewood he hauled and split himself by hand in a modest home hewed also by hand.
The book has great value in his detailed telling of the tasks of his daily existence living far from the madding crowd by the sweat of his brow. Mark is very literate and well read and his book is sprinkled with quotations from the likes of Also Leopold, Edward Abbey, Wendel Berry and Walt Whitman . He lives or lived with Kirsty, fine spirited and sociable young woman to whom the book is dedicated, a woman who loved to dance, often with her eyes shut.
A significant part of the book relates the experiences of a community who lived for almost two hundred years on the Blasket Islands, just off the southwest Irish coast who until 1953 lived a life of basic self sufficiency which Boyle clearly admires and emulates. Their community of 175 people eventually dissolved under the onslaught of industrial scale commercial fishing and the lure of urbanization especially to the young.
I waffled on whether to give the book a 4 or 5 star rating. His writing style is 3 or 4 star but the content and story he tells has 5 star value beyond a doubt because this book is a preview of what many of us will be living sometime as early as this century. There is certainly a long term future for living as Mark Boyle does, close to nature not utilizing the energy from a fossil fuel powered civilization which will never be replaced by the chimera of so called renewable energy once the coal pits close and the finite oil and gas reservoirs deplete as they will someday.
Mark Boyle feels very strongly about what he does and why he does it and to some readers this may be interpreted as dogmatic and ideological but he shows the how and why of the tasks involved of living with the basics of human existence. Most people who live a safe dopamine besotted technological urban existence of quiet desperation would flee from the hard physical lifestyle of Mark Boyle. Little do they know how fragile and precarious their own lifestyle really is.

The Great Influenza by John Barry:A review

The SARS Covid pandemic has certainly spurred interest in previous pandemics and I have read many books and articles on that influenza epidemic but the best and most comprehensive so far is The Great Influenza by John Barry. An easy 5 star book. I almost always go to Goodreads or Amazon reviews just to get a feel for the terrain and the negative reviews did not really surprise me because there are parts of the book that anyone with no scientific background will likely struggle to follow.  Disclaimer: Having a medical degree is definitely an advantage and his comprehensive history of the medical profession from Hippocrates through Galen to the present was fascinating to this reviewer.This book is the closest to a magnum opus so far on the 1918-19 pandemic.

     At the outset I would like to urge my goodreads friends who have been toiling through lockdowns and social distancing to plan on reading John’s book if they can.

   The structure of the book bears mentioning. This is not a Cliff’s notes summary of what went down and if you want a quick concise overview, you best look elsewhere and I will try to provide some suggestions. John Barry mentions that he had to change his outline when he realized that a narration of how and where the pandemic began and spread worldwide would be incomplete without giving a background to the history of medicine and the scientific revolution of the 2 centuries that preceded 1918. Barry also chose to emphasize the personalities and lives of the scientists and politicians throughout the book with an abundance of personal anecdotes as well as detailed descriptions of the lines of research followed  from before the pandemic to the final triumph of sequencing the H1N1 influenza virus just a decade or so ago. Again, if you have little interest in science and medicine, just move along because there will be little here for you to savor. There is a whole lot more to the book of course than a medical detective mystery. There is an abundance of personal and  structural societal details of how it probably originated  as an avian or perhaps animal virus in Haskell County Kansas in the second decade of the Twentieth century The rapidity of spread by this exceedingly transmissible virus to the world was primarily due to the massive troop mobilization going on in the US  and their conveyance to the trenches of  France in sardine packed  train and ship  transports. Barry exposes the factors contributing to the stunning death toll in great detail. They include the propaganda and information and behavioral controls at the time on journalists and public opinion. The first casualty of war is of course the truth, and truth about the pandemic was ruthlessly suppressed to “protect morale” of the soldiers and the citizenry. The military demanded cannon fodder to throw into the fray against Germany and the generals wanted those young men there and NOW, no matter the consequences. Leaders at the time believed that “this was just influenza” and no reason to pause their sacred mission to save the world. Of course it was not “just influenza”, a virus endemic to the world even today. It was an entirely new and lethal variant which killed the young and the healthy viciously in as little as 6 to 12 hours. Many doctors thought that this was an entirely new disease or perhaps plague returning because the symptoms so little resembled the normal course and progression of “la Grippe,” that the world was used to.  Barry catalogs the absence of effective response to the pandemic in the United States from pooh pooh denials of its severity to an almost total lack of governmental organization to contain the exponential spread until far too late.  At the very worst of the outbreak, society was fraying and starting to break down  as fear took hold in the country and people began dropping like flies. Bodies were piling up in homes, on porches and in the streets overwhelming hospitals and graveyards. And of course no one knew what was causing this suffering and it became apparent that there was no effective treatment whatever. The pandemic hit in several waves staring in the spring of 1918 , ebbed a bit throughout the summer and really exploded in the fall of 1918 just about the time of the end of the first world war. It continued into 1919 and in years thereafter albeit with much diminished mortality. President Wilson contracted influenza at the Allies conference at the cease fire and reparations in Paris and the normally sharp and decisive Wilson after a slow recovery became forgetful and mentally and psychologically impaired likely due to Influenza, eventually caving to the reparation revenge forced on Germany primarily by the allies under Clemenceau and Lloyd George.  This  contributed to the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Second would war only 20 years later.

 There is obviously parallels to our current Covid pandemic with some of the antics and feckless responses of the last year almost carbon copies of what happened in 1918. This book was published in 2003 and could have been published last week. At the end of the book Barry summarizes the 1918 pandemic as well as later influenza outbreaks up to 2003 with recommendations on how the world should respond with the next pandemic. Some lessons were learned and many more forgotten. The expression that the only thing we can learn from history is that we don’t learn from history merits repetition.

 This is a long and heavy book,546 pages. The main text is 465 well written pages with copious notes and bibliography and index along with some pictures, I would have liked many more. The book is exceedingly well edited despite some comments on Goodreads to the contrary. His editor Wendy Wolf did an extraordinary job in my opinion. The value of the book is not as a synopsis of the 1918 worldwide flu outbreak. This is a comprehensive story of the largely sorry history of American medical education which late in the 19th century underwent a rebirth just in time to confront the worst pandemic in terms of actual deaths ever to hit the world. I really think that John Barry either needs to issue a revised updated edition or perhaps a new chronicle of the current Covid pandemic we are all experiencing now.