[permaculture] Can you live without indoor running water?

Saor Stetler saor at ycbtal.net
Sat Jul 2 01:42:49 EDT 2005


Can you live without indoor running water?

Written by Jan Lundberg
Culture Change Letter #101

The answer to the question "Can you live without indoor running water?" 
is simple: you'll have to. The passing of abundant oil is not shaping up 
to be a soft landing for those with the fattest asses. And in this 
world, we all know which nation leads the way in obesity. Contrast this 
with the image of slender villagers carrying water casks on their heads, 
and how their food supply tends to be very local: this will be the envy 
of U.S. consumers caught short.

You can live without functional plumbing, but you cannot live without 
water. Some indoor plumbing may work after the energy crisis hits with 
all its might. But, as this report endeavors to warn, the water in your 
outdoor environment -- such as it is -- will be what you live on (or 
that doesn't allow you to live at all). What a discovery for the nature 
deniers to experience. Will frightened hoards be the rule in U.S. cities 
rather than the exception?

The average amount of water consumed per capita in the U.S. is 183 
gallons a day (1990; U.S. EPA). This reflects public water supply usage, 
and it's twice as high in the western U.S. as in the east. One reason is 
that irrigation uses 81% of water in the nation. Problems with 
irrigation: huge energy demand for pumping; drawdowns of ancient 
aquifers, and salinization.

In Mesopotamia the salinization and deforestation once characterized the 
beginning of Western Civilization's illustrious march of degrading 
resources for profit and empire, culminating in today's occupation of 
Mesopotamia by the U.S. (The serpent is eating its tail.) Clean water is 
hard to come by in Iraq: 39% of the people don't have it. Deliberate 
bombing of water treatment and other such facilities has gone on through 
three U.S. presidents. Petroleum dependence for pumping, when petroleum 
is lacking in Iraq of all places, is another reason for poor supply. The 
contamination from petrochemicals and depleted uranium in Iraq is yet 
another matter for us water piggies in the U.S. to ignore as long as 

Back in the USA: picture the state of mind of ornery citizens if four in 
ten people had really bad or insufficient water. It will be over 9 in 10 
come petrocollapse. This is because of the extreme dependence on 
massively complex and centralized water supply systems that are run with 
mainly energy or materials from oil and natural gas. Although most of 
the systems run on electrical energy, and coal is the largest source of 
electrical energy, there is still a petroleum infrastructure involved: 
necessary to keep coal supplies moving and for running any system in the 
U.S. today. Also, petrocollapse -- System Collapse -- is going to bring 
down the coal sector as well, although not as fast as bringing down the 
petroleum-supplied aspect of the grid.

Although "every effort" will be made to keep water systems pumping and 
purifying, when supplies of fuel run short and other systems in the 
economy are affected and come to a standstill, the basics of industrial 
progress will show their vulnerability to bad planning and 
overpopulation. [Community solutions, covered later in this essay, may 
hold some hope for water supply.]

Water "return flow" means supplies recycled, such as in grey water 
gathered for the garden, as opposed to lost as in irrigation. Next time 
you see someone using a gallon of fresh water to wash a spoon, ask the 
person if that water could be useful for growing tomatoes -- on the 
balcony if there's no garden.

The U.S. is going to have to throw certain laws and regulations out the 
window if people are going to use greywater and take other measures for 
sustainable living. If for some reason water privatization accelerates 
before petrocollapse, and price rates jump, the behavior of militant 
Bolivians could be the model in the U.S.A. The U.S. corporation in 
question was ejected from Bolivia by protesters, and the nation's 
official leadership lost almost all its clout. [Later in this column: 
water politics and water history.]

U.S. officials in power today will be laughed about in future, if 
they're lucky. One hears of future hatred for our whole generation, even 
of everyone alive today -- although that's going too far.

I try not to pay too much mind to the constant errors and schemes of the 
wealthy elite and power players. I wish I could say it's because I'm 
busy writing songs. My main job that I don't like to be distracted from 
is to point out the main runaway freight trains on the tracks: a 
collapsing economy and nature batting last. It sure would be nice if the 
little boys in DC and London (and in most capital cities) would behave 
themselves, but what can ya do? Vote for a different little boy? It's 
too late to stop the train wrecks starting to overshadow human drama of 
the so-called status quo.

I say "so-called" because the status quo of almost anything is going to 
soon become history. There's good and bad in that, but those many people 
and other species that don't make it are not going to appreciate the 
good aspects of complete collapse.

Running water will be cut off and "the pump don't work," not because, as 
Bob Dylan sang "the vandals took the handles." It will be because 
energy, usually petroleum, is used for pumping water from major sources 
a long way from and to the now-teeming cities and wasteful 
factory-farms. Meanwhile, even drawing some cold water out of one's tap 
means warming the globe due to pumping-energy. Oops, well at least "I 
turn the tap off when I'm brushing my teeth."

A more optimistic scenario would include the following techniques, 
contributed by a reader in rural northern California:

"People in cities and burbs will eventually turn on a tap and get 
nothing. But they won't panic if enough folks in the community know and 
teach about rainwater collection, cisterns, barrels, and tanks, bucket 
composting toilets, composting one's waste (including urine and shit) 
into fertilizer, greywater reuse, swales, pavement removal, community 
gardens on a massive scale. -- etc etc etc. Hell, in-depth permaculture 
training should be mandatory in every school (if only I were dictator, 
ahh!). Don't sit in the dark quaking with fear, light an olive oil lamp 
(I've experimented quite a lot with them, and have written an article on 
it--easily feasible but a bit messy). Plant olive trees now, line city 
streets with them, so every neighborhood has a local source of veg oil."

I did not ask if you could live without indoor lighting; most places 
have windows and you can go to bed when it gets dark. In the long run, 
really living off the "fat of the land" (Hah!) of today's stressed 
ecosystems may mean the lighting source is rare beeswax candles where 
olive oil is not handy. What's that you say, "Oh how unlikely!"?

I did not ask you if you could live without food, because you can't. Not 
for long anyway. You can read my fasting treatise if you like, Culture 
Change Letter #92 April 8, 2005. Maybe the experience of a long fast 
will have an unexpected advantage, that of appearing sick and emaciated 
to those looking for fresh food in the form of human meat. There will be 
cannibalism for a few months at most, I figure, as the dust settles from 
petrocollapse. I am not supposed to say this, many readers say, even if 
it appears certain.

Then we see the Long Emergency, as James Howard Kunstler calls it, 
although I don't share his visualizing much industrial activity and 
consuming based on reliance on coal for major electricity generation. 
Petrocollapse is going to put a massive, crippling monkeywrench into 
business-as-usual. The extent and degree of upheaval will be matched by 
its rapidity and apparent suddenness. It is too late to escape it no 
matter who were put in charge of economics and planning for oil-guzzling 
nations. Meanwhile, petrocollapse is close on the horizon but is 
officially ignored. Must that be the way such a watershed of humanity's 
experience is dealt with? We could call it The Big Oops.

"Peak oil" can almost be an interchangeable concept with peak human 
population. The correlations on a graph, with plummeting extraction of 
crude and plummeting population size, are worth contemplating. I would 
like to be wrong about how imminent and sweeping collapse will be. 
Still, even if I am a bit premature, it's not like the collapse will 
"just be our children's children's problem" -- that would be too 
optimistic as to putting the time off into the future.

As to the potential for large disruption to supply from a relatively 
small shortfall of petroleum, a recent simulated energy crisis found "It 
was striking that by taking such small amounts off the market, you could 
have such dramatic impact" on world oil prices, said Robbie Diamond, the 
president of Securing America's Future Energy. He participated in the 
mock crisis on June 23, 2005 in Washington, DC with two former CIA 
directors and several other former top policy-makers. Drawing from my 
work at Lundberg Survey where we predicted the Second Oil Shock in 1979, 
I have been saying for years that the next energy crisis will be 
triggered by a relatively small shortfall of petroleum.

So, what will you do about clean water? Use a plastic tarp or the 
asphalt-shingled roof for rainwater when the petrochemicals therein are 
a health hazard? Yep, you betcha. I even did it myself when I lived in 
my own shelter in the redwood forest. But I made sure that tarp had been 
pounded by the rain for a good spell before drinking out of it. Sure was 
handy though.

For fat-asses to get in shape for petrocollapse, they might switch from 
drinking soda pops with dangerous chemicals and empty calories from 
sugar, and instead enjoy fresh water out of the tap (a safer source than 
plastic bottles).

I look forward to hearing from you on any of the above. I'm getting a 
lot of inquiries lately, so our new website will soon have a 
forum/bulletin board system.



p.s. - Water wisdom from Mexico: Culture Change's Editorial Board member 
Miguel Valencia Mulkay wrote over the weekend,

"Water is in the origin of law and politics; the most ancient 
recollection of registers speak about water as the center of people's 
agreements; water has been in history the basis for peace and coming to 
terms. Since the beginning of the water confinement as tap water in the 
XIX century, water consumption exploded: from one to three gallons a day 
per capita to 183 gallons mentioned above; water consumption went up at 
least twenty times when pipes and pumps were introduced. Today 
superpumps and superpipes and the use of English WC ( defecatión in 
clean water) have become the origin of clean-water exhaustion.

"The 4th World Water Forum to be celebrated in México in march 2006, 
promoted by the World Water Council (The World Bank and the big water 
multinationals like Coca Cola, Nestle, Suez Ondeo, Vivendi Veolia, 
Bechtel, FW Thames and others) is a political marketing effort to change 
laws in weak countries like México, to promote privatizatión of all 
water facilities. The more bottled water is sold the more unclean water 
comes from tap water; the more fresh water is contaminated by industry 
the more great business: To produce a liter of milk in México requires 
1,100 liters of freshwater. Water in now very expensive for poor people 
in our country.

"Now, the big business is water: the Blue Gold as is called by Maude 
Barlow from The Council of Canadians: one liter water costs more than a 
liter of gasoline."


Further reading:

Fasting for health and inner peace:

Jan Lundberg's analysis of June 20, 2005, End-time for U.S.A. upon oil 
collapse: a scenario for a sustainable future 

Peak Oil and Community Solutions - second annual conference, Sept. 23, 
2005, Jan Lundberg and Richard Heinberg among speakers. Yellow Springs, 
Ohio http://www.communitysolution.org/05conf1.html

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