I traveled home this weekend for the inspection of my building and to do some more work on the apartment at my childhood home. The weekend started out as a bit of a fiasco because at the last minute I decided to try to take Sergei (the young man whom I mentor) and made plans to do that and then he changed his mind on going. I also was asked by a friend to take his mother to Erie and that required some frustrating coordination. Everything worked out...but it worked out due to me doing a lot of needless additional stuff. C'est la vie.
I arrived home with a pretty full list of things to get accomplished. Friday morning I woke up and got everything started. The apartment on my aunts house was first. It has poured concrete walls with no insulation. I stared at them wondering how, in all the years able bodied men had owned and lived in the house, insulation had never occurred to them as a good idea. Then I remembered, that like most things in America....the house had been constructed, and used, in the age of abundance. That in an era of growth energy cost was never a factor. And how now, only in an era of persistent decline have those things come to matter. It's a good thing that I, while resources are still available, have decided to do something about the situation. That's something of a comforting feeling when faced with the sad realization that the world is headed into an era of permanent decline. The acceptance of that decline and the knowledge that in some small way...I'm doing what is available to me to prepare for it, and to help others prepare, is very fulfilling.
After setting up my work area and laying out the materials I left the apartment and headed to my building. There I met the inspector, the owner, and the realtor. The inspector and I quickly got to work investigating the details of the building. I took particular interest in the electrical system, plumbing, and the masonry I was worried about on the rear of the building. The inspection took 6 solid hours of work. Then I spent 30 minutes each with 5 of the 7 tenants getting to know them, hearing their complaints and desires, and signing them up for leases that will take effect when I take ownership.
With that very exciting and rewarding day of work accomplished I then had a dinner meeting with what I have begun to think of as my choir. Since about 1996 I've been known to my friends as treehugger Terry. The first 10 years, while I was learning solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind generation, etc.. they all thought I was a bit of a weirdo. Enjoyable, but weird. In the last 7 years, my message started to get a bit annoying to some, and a bit enlightening to others. Slowly, as my group of friends began witnessing the same signs I'd been studying for a decade in books, show themselves in real life in the form of climate change, prices quadrupling, etc...(all the things I, and many, many others, had predicted) we all started to attempt to deal with what we were facing. In the last few years as my warning and writings have become even more pointed and direct, and the warning signs more clear and devastating, the choir has grown into a group of 12.
About a year ago my choir, the 12 of us, formed a bit of a pact. Since then we've each worked, inside our own area of expertise and with the help of others, to prepare for the future we see we're facing. A big part of that has been to prepare for a future with less, as well as to position ourselves to prosper when others, having missed the signs, are faced with a reality they get, instead of the future they ordered. Some of the members of the pact are still not fully converts to our crazy beliefs, but the draw of the prosperity our group seems to be attracting has made them productive members.
The purchase of this building is one of those steps. You see, our little group believes that our country is slowly headed for Imperial decline as the result of diminishing availability of the key ingredient of our success...cheap energy. We also believe that expensive energy, coupled with climate change, is going to dramatically change how Americans live. You see, most of the infrastructure of industrial society has been built during the period of abnormally good weather we call the twentieth century. A fair amount of it, as New York subway riders have had reason to learn, is poorly designed to handle extreme weather, and if those extremes become normal, the economics of maintaining such complex systems as the New York subways in the teeth of repeated flooding start to look very dubious indeed.
As we've seen with the the failures to rebuild significant areas after hurricane Katrina, and more recently with Irene, and Sandy.... the population is slowly moving, and will move. Now they might not do so all at once, or as part of their own design. I can't even tell you where they'll come from because predicting where and when disasters will strike isn't a very good line of work to be in. But I'm quite sure they'll be moving. A rise in sea level and a nice hurricane now and then will push some west, it's a pretty sure thing a drought and heat coupled with expensive electricity for their AC units will push many north. A reenactment of the famous dust bowl with aquifers drying up and poor mono crop farming practices will surely send some East. Slowly but surely, over the next century Americans are going to return to a pattern of land development started in the 1800's.
When we glide back down the bell curve of decline then, it's a safe bet that using history as a guide will tell you the areas they'll return to. Reading a urban design book will tell you what makes towns go from trade routes, to agricultural centers...to cultural centers....to industrial centers. What towns need to grow and how they develop isn't something they teach in schools much anymore...but you can find out. Then do a little historical research and see how your town came about. Was it an agricultural center located near a rail line, canal, or navigable body of water? If you can find one conveniently located near all three I bet you'll find an old rotted rust belt city that formerly bustled with wealth and affluence. Purchasing in those areas, where things are currently cheap, then....should be a good recipe. That is if you're lucky enough to choose correctly and not get whacked in the process with the same sort of disasters we're sure to see coming regularly down the pike (and can no longer afford to rebuild after).
And so my little group met. Reassuring ourselves that our ideas our sound. That our religion is true and that others will die a fiery death because they have yet to repent and live their lives embracing our simpler live with less creed. Ignoring evidence that seems to disagree with our hypothesis. All the normal things humans do. Then I returned home to the apartment faced with the task of insulating, weather stripping, etc. Satisfied that my religion, my choice of beliefs about the path of our future, have prepared me for what lay ahead. I had spent the evening preaching to the choir....and it was good.
So I have, or soon will have, purchased in an area where air conditioning is not a necessity. Where water is abundant, sea level is not predicted to reach, transportation and trade are less dependent on cheap energy, etc. I've also created, invested in, or assisted in the development of businesses that have, in the past...proven to be resistant to economic contraction, and spent time obtaining skills and building a like minded community. All this in the hope that, while there are still resources flying around practically free for everyone (who's passport happens to have an eagle on the cover), I can grab them and use them to prepare for the future we're sure to get....not the future we want to get, or hope to get....or in the case of most Americans...require for survival.
As a side note....I regret to inform you that yet again....I've done something horribly stupid and injured myself. You see....as much as I like to scream self righteous, self congratulatory babble on my blog...I'm really a dumbass.
Charles Darwin gives me a frown..
This weekends feeble minded dipshit move was to decide to check the fire escape on the building next to the bar my friend owns to verify it worked properly. The act was, possibly, influenced by an apparent inability of my body to take in and metabolize large quantities of ethanol (drank in the form of beer). You see, the 3rd story has a fire escape with a wonderful view. From there you can go down to the 2nd story....but after that you need to "ride" down the ladder as it will slide down with your weight (but stays raised so the local hooligans do not have access to your building). It's a safe bet that "riding" down the ladder is best done from the fire escape. As it turned out....running through the bar, launching yourself out the window, and grabbing the ladder to ride it down (in true Jackie Chan fashion) has a few less than desirable side effects....even if there seems to be a large pile of snow at the bottom to cushion your fall. The side effects, which I didn't really feel when I initially landed with a thud on a less than cushiony pile of snow....seems to be some sort of injured (but luckily not broken) bone in your foot and irritation of tendonitis in your ailing knees..... DOH!!! Sorry Dad....I'm an idiot. Looks like a few weeks or more of only biking for me :-( If you don't see me on the bike path....look for me here.