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Thursday, November 20, 2014

dark ages forever


DARK AGES FOREVER
Scott, you wonderful bastard!  Got your very generous book box in the mail and have already started on them.  Very exciting, much better than stinking greenbacks. Merry X-Mas to me.  Many thanks!
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About a week or so ago I was reading something or other and I encountered a line which said in effect that civilization might never rebuild after the next collapse because there was would be no recoverable ores in which to do so.  That thought stuck with me.  All this time I’d been holding two separate views.  One, it would take centuries for denuded soil to naturally rebuild up to the point it could support a decent size city nearby and until then was good for next to no farming.  Two, with global ore extraction now almost totally dependent on massive financial investment, huge machinery and high levels of energy needed for extraction, no more rich surface ores were available for low tech mining for the future.  So, while I knew we were in essence using the very last ores and fuels now, I was just assuming after soil fertility recovered from our over extraction due to over population, we could build back up from a highly decentralized fragmented government to larger empires once again ( fun to speculate about far away futures since no one can tell me I made a wrong call, and since this will most likely never be printed on paper any evidence of my asshatery will vanish with the Net ).  But what if that is only possible through both surplus food AND surplus metal?  Can a new round of empire building be constructed on the back of scavenged metals?

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Even the Chinese, about the only example of an area able to continually rebuild itself quickly ( well, quicker than the 500 years it took Europe to recover from Rome’s collapse ) after the fall of an empire ( and that might not be a perfect example because the Chinese usually were just sweeping away a corrupt emperor along with surplus population and retained the agriculture infrastructure ), still were not a closed system.  They had to import material to keep up growth ( despite nightsoil from the cities, far away hillsides were still striped of vegetation to add needed nutrients back into the farming soil ).  Without surrounding countryside to conquer, even if they had to eventually cede their latest gains, new ore deposits would have been unavailable and the cycle of military growth would have been shut down.  So, without knowing detailed history, I can’t guess at the effectiveness of metal scavenging to jump start an imperial military campaign, or even if it is even possible.  If military technology stays stable, X amount of metal weaponry stays X amount, but it isn’t always the case that you have no worries about your enemy getting better weapons, nor can you count on no losses or breakages or battlefield theft.  So you will need some kind of growth in ore supplies regardless.  The question remains, will there be few enough people so that the salvaged metal remains in large supply and whether you can reuse refined metal as well as virgin ore.  I find it a fascinating ponderable.  Regrettably, I don’t have more information.

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22 comments:

  1. We can have empires without much metal because we already have. Pre Colombian America. There were empires of textile and ceramics. They had swords of wood and volcanic glass that could cut the head off a horse.


    They also knew how to build fertile soil in the Amazon, but the knowledge of exactly how that was done is lost.

    I

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    1. I don't buy into the simplistic argument that steel won the Spanish the New World ( it was smallpox or hemorrhagic fever as per our earlier discussion ). Yet, I would be hesitant to fight their army against steel armed anyway. Not in a head to head equal fight. The south new worlds empires lacked both metal and draft animals and meat herds.

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    2. ChadZ from WisconsinNovember 20, 2014 at 3:36 PM

      Terra Prita -- not sure on the spelling. They mixed charcoal into the soil... absorbs nutrients, moisture, lightens the soil, pores give soil bacteria a place to live. A frend of mine in the Philipines told me about it. Explorers discovered garden plots with charcoal mixed in with the garden soil. They couldn't figure out why.

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    3. I've read snippets of such. Should get a reference printed out for it.

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    4. re: simplistic argument that steel won the Spanish the New World

      right so far....

      then: it was smallpox or hemorrhagic fever

      Wrong! Really wrong.

      I ain't gonna tell you the answer. Do some more reading.

      How bout you Russell? Think you got the answer? Hmmm?

      YKW
      MM

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    5. Are you going to tell us it was because Baby Jesus was on the side of the Spanish? Nice to hear from you again, MM. :)

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  2. Salvaging can go a long way.

    Look at Cuba for a real world example.

    Idaho Homesteader

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    Replies
    1. Sure, but in the context of empire building...

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  3. Great topic. Postulation because of multiple variables could go on for eternity. Complete collapse can be averted if the thorium reactors Northup-Grumman claims they will be producing (semi-cold fusion) are real. Soybeans are open pollinated and can produce any plastic or biofuel. Grain sorghum (milo) produces as much alcohol as corn. 95% of the ethanol produced in Kansas comes from milo. What I'm saying is civilization can be rebuilt if the knowledge base survives. This time there would be no surplus, so no slackers like we have today. Purpose in everything. Remember the Moties in "The Mote in Gods Eye" by Pournelle and Niven? They wiped themselves out with regularity, but saved their knowledge in museum/libraries so the next group didn't have to start from scratch. We are tool builders and with a wipeout we get rid of the bums. Only the smart and motivated will survive! I look forward to the opportunity to perform better than did my parents in reaching the stars, our destiny!

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    1. I know not of the reactors you speak. Do they use uranium? Peak Uranium was awhile ago. If the library of Alexandria wasn't torched, would have that changed history?

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    2. nope they use a trace amount of thorium as a cold fusion catalyst, and basically 'burn' the heavy water giving off more energy than put in.
      They claim that the will have a working prototype by 2016, and if they can get other industrial partners should enter commercial production by 2020. Just in time to make up for the declines in peak Natural gas and oil. The electric grid and internet could last a lot longer that way. And with energy intensive recycling the draw down on ores becomes much less urgent. Also the replacing of metals with ceramics glass and fibers, would help delay the collapse (collapse would STILL be in the cards, we couldn't make the power plants fast enough to keep up with the third world population growth and other growth of demand- but it could be delayed).

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  4. Nitrogen can be made from electricity and water. Natural gas is only used because it's cheaper than electricity. Corn is the only modern crop that cannot naturally be selfed. Like I said even if we have collapse (my guess it will be because of economic reasons) life still has meaning and purpose. We don't have to revert to caveman days.
    I will be the first to admit, the number of humans will be much reduced, resources will be harder to get.

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    1. I think you mean hydrogen rather than nitrogen.

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    2. I meant nitrogen for fertilizer (Ag's my bag). Norway has made fertilizer from seawater and excess hydro-electric power for about eighty years now. Most other countries cannot afford to waste the electricity on something as mundane as nitrogen based fertilizer so they use natural gas.
      All of our current population can not be included in a new farm based energy sourcing. There is not enough arable land. Resource depletion is real and it effects every commodity including N-P-K. The minable stuff is going fast, maybe forty to fifty years tops, at current production rates. Some semblance of civilization will survive, perhaps unrecognizable by those who've never lived in a serious dictatorship.

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    3. That's fascinating. I never heard of that process before. Please excuse my "correction".

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  5. If not Cuba then perhaps Japan in the lead up to WWII. Their Navy was built of American scrap metal. However they did have access to fossil fuels....Also present day China. They are literally importing the city of Detroit to the mainland. A piece of scrap steel at a time.

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    1. Isn't it dismantled pieces put back together? Not smelt and recast, which is where I'm not sure if the metal quality degrades or not. I know glass can be redone over and over, but I think steel can't be and retain original strength.

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    2. Steel can be recast..... You mainly need to worry about changes in carbon content..... And lots of worry over the cooling process..... Different rates of chilling can result in very different materials....

      Then of course you get into specialty steels.... So if you reclaim on food grade tank, you might have 304,316,316L, hastelloy, al6xn, or other materials... And some of the differences result from difference in molybdenum of 1% or extra something else..... So lots of testing is necessary to make the right adjustments to actually make the steel you want....

      But, it would still be easy enough to make something that looks like a spearpoint to force your neighboring tribe into the stew pot....

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    3. Thank you, much more informed than the partial info I'm working with.

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    4. Yep the only issue with recycling metals is that there is a small amount of loss while recycling, requires care and attention to get specific alloys out, AND the big one- it takes anywhere from half to 5 times as much _energy_ to re-refine it as it took to refine it in the first place.
      _Energy_ is always the biggest bottle neck.

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    5. So, the fact that China is re-refining so heavily would point to severe shortages of ore compared to a decade ago?

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    6. natural ore? yep. It has probably or is soon to hit peak for most metals. Who cares as long as we can recycle it though. There is plenty sitting in landfills, or in use in roles we could use other substances (ceramics, plastics, etc.) for.
      We just need to recycle it.
      Its not much harder then digging it up and refining in the first place.
      Except..... ENERGY. (oh, and total demand keeps increasing too).

      I remember 20 years ago buying 50 feet long of 6 foot tall '1 inch' chicken wire - it cost less than 10 bucks. Today? 20+ dollars for '2 inch' (size of the gaps, so less metal) otherwise identical chicken wire. Half the fence, more than twice the cost. Oh, and the wire itself is thinner.

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