Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Essential Bottom Line - The Human Goldilocks Zone

Basic human survival needs define the human Goldilocks Zone:
These needs are summarized here -

1. Oxygen (usually as a component of air) - People can begin to experience brain damage after as few as five minutes without oxygen. For humans and many animals to sustain normal functions, the percentage of oxygen in the breathing environment must be within a relatively small range. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, determined the optimal breathing range to be between 19.5 and 23.5 percent oxygen in air.
            A. Several things may prevent you from getting the oxygen you need. Environmental risks such as high altitude, dense smoke, or carbon monoxide can prevent you from getting enough oxygen.
            B. Some medical issues may prevent your body from receiving oxygen like cardiac arrest, stroke, drowning and others.
            C. Without a consistent supply of oxygen, you can experience a condition called cerebral hypoxia which affects our brains.
                1. At levels at or below 17 percent, your mental abilities become impaired.
                2. When levels drop to 16 percent or below, noticeable changes to your behavior will occur
                3. Levels under 14 percent will cause extreme exhaustion from physical activity.
                4. Once levels drop below 10 percent, you may become very nauseous or lose consciousness.
                5. Humans won't survive with levels at 6 percent or lower. After 10 minutes without oxygen, the brain damage can be so severe that most people will die.
            D. Higher-than-normal oxygen levels in air aren't as harmful to life, however there is an increased fire or explosion risk. With extremely high concentrations of oxygen in the breathing zone, humans can experience harmful side effects. Very high levels of oxygen causes oxidizing free radicals to form. These free radicals will attack the tissues and cells of the body and cause muscle twitching. The effects from short exposure can usually be reversed, however lengthy exposure can cause death.

2. Water - Other than the air we breathe (and it's approximately 21% oxygen), water is the most essential component for human survival. The body’s functional chemicals are dissolved and transported in water, and the chemical reactions of life take place in water.
            A. It is estimated that an average person cannot survive for more than 3-4 days without water. The daily requirement is about 3 liters (approx. 3.2 quarts). Ideal drinking, sanitation, and hygiene needs can be met with approx. 50 liters (13.2 gallons)/day
            B. During hot weather it is recommended that the average person consume more, if available, to replace the amount lost due to sweating, respiration and excretion to maintain a balance of body fluids. In moderate climates you may be able to get by on less.
            C. When the hydration balance is unable to be maintained the body will start to go through the dehydration process.
                1. A 2.5 percent loss in water volume in a person leads to a 25 percent reduction in blood volume. This means the blood gets thicker and the heart has to work harder to pump nutrients throughout the body.
                2. This lower blood volume also reduces flow to the extremities, leading to numbness in the fingers and toes.
                3. The thicker blood also has a harder time making its way through the small capillaries in the brain. The lack of oxygen to parts of the brain can make it impossible to concentrate or focus for any period of time.
                4. The length of time one can survive without water depends on activity level and environmental temperature. Higher activity will invariably reduce life span, as will higher temperatures.
                5. With no water, the maximum length of time a person can survive is 10 days. Starting at 80 degrees Fahrenheit life expectancy is reduced to 9 days. With every five-degree increase in temperature, the life span decreases a day.

3. Food - sustenance, a source of biological "fuel", or what we call food, is the next most important factor after oxygen and water.
            A. A body that does not have food can survive for quite a long time by subsisting on the fat reserves in the body and the glycogen reserves in the liver and, eventually, the proteins in the muscles.
            B. The first two to three days without food, the body will depend solely on the fat reserves to run the muscles of the body. These fatty acids can’t cross the blood-brain barrier. The body can survive for as much as two weeks without intake of energy rich foods (fats & carbohydrates) 
            C. The brain relies on the glycogen reserves to send glucose to the brain. After day three, the liver begins to synthesize ketones (short strand fatty acids) that can cross the blood-brain barrier. The ketone stage can last for up to two weeks.
            D. Once the fat reserves are used up, the body will begin breaking down the musculature into proteins that can be converted into amino acids that are then transformed into glucose. Muscles break down quickly, within one week.
            E. Once this process has completed there is no other internal source of energy and the body dies. Signs of starvation include apathy, listlessness, withdrawal, changes in hair color, flaky skin, and massive edema in the abdomen and lower limbs, all of which lead to a higher chance of infection.
            F. Most individuals who experience starvation don’t die directly from it. Most die due to infectious diseases that attack the body as it consumes its own defenses.
            G. Virtually every food resource of humans is another form of animal or plant life... which also has a Goldilocks Zone!

4. Shelter (Protection From temp and moisture extremes… or the frequently cited "elements") - A shelter that helps to keep your body at a constant temperature and stable water content - temperature and humidity being the key components of climate - is also a necessity. This could include appropriate clothing.
            A. When a person is exposed to "the elements", water loss is increased and core temperature can increase or decrease beyond the survival range.
            B. Cold temperatures and high winds can strip away valuable moisture as quickly as high temperatures can cause sweat related loss.
            C. A shelter should consist of a place to make fire to create heat as well as protection from the wind and rain.
            D. Without the ability to keep a constant temperature and hydration, a person runs the risk of hypothermia or heat stroke.
            E. A person’s normal temperature in 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit. If the core temperature drops to 91.4, a body will go unconscious. At 86.0 degrees, the body loses the ability to control internal temperature. At 82.4 degrees, there is complete muscle failure.
            F. On the other end of the spectrum, a temperature of 107.6 degrees results in a breakdown of the central nervous system. At slightly over 111 degrees, the brain overheats and causes death.
            G. Extreme temperature fluctuations can cause hallucinations and illogical behavior, which can cause a person to fail to take the proper steps to keep himself alive.

5. Rest/Sleep - For a long time sleep was not considered a basic human need. Studies on sleep deprivation helped to change this in the 20th century. In terms of human need, sleep is one of the five most important elements.
            A. Sleep deprivation can cause a myriad of problems ranging from decreased body temperature to cognitive impairment and hallucination.
            B. Although the mechanisms of sleep are not well understood, the problems associated with lack of sleep are.
                1. Headaches can begin as soon as 24 hours after missing sleep.
                2. 72 hours in, memory is impaired and temporal and spatial distortion start to occur.
                3. After 96 hours without sleep, cognition is markedly impaired.
                4. After 144 hours, hallucinations ensue and there is a considerable loss of attention and manual dexterity.
            C. The longer a person goes without sleep the less coherent thought patterns become.
            D. This lack of clear thinking can be detrimental on its own, if coupled with a lack in any of the other basic needs areas it could be life threatening.

NOTE: There are other things you could add to this list like sex, mobility, emotional connection, sense of belonging, etc. The difference is that although sex is needed for the species to survive an individual can live without it. Mobility is an important function and improving one's mobility usually improves one's survivability but humans are essentially mobile as they are created so this is not a basic external need. Emotional connection and a sense of belonging are group needs, not individual survival needs. The truth is, there are only five basic needs; Air, Water, Nutrients, Shelter, and Sleep.

How Does This Stack Up For Us?
1. Our Goldilocks Zone -
        A. Air has to have 19.5 and 23.5 percent oxygen, fairly clean, and fairly constant (no longer than
5 minutes without) - preferred intake = 12-20 breaths / minute.
        B. Water has to be fairly clean, freshwater, and ABSOLUTELY no longer than 9 days without @ 80 F (on average) - preferred intake = periodically during the day @ 3 liters/day
        C. Food has to be fairly fresh (NOT decomposing), provide critical nutrients, and be at least every two weeks (to prevent serious damage and loss of faculties). This means having the ability to either access fresh foods on a very regular basis or to access preserved foods in lieu of fresh on an even MORE regular basis. Preferred intake - several times per day @ approx. 2 lb./day mixed nutrient food (fats, carbohydrates, sugars, protein, salts, trace minerals, & vitamins) and 2400 calories. If the Goldilocks Zones of your food sources are being exceeded...
        D. Shelter is primarily to ensure stable body temperatures and moisture levels, as well as basic security from harms. It must be able to prevent extreme exposure to "the elements" and protect us from extremes of condition or environment. This may be as little as good clothing or as much as a fixed location dwelling. Preferred availability = full protection as needed, with a minimum of nightly for functional rest, while maintaining core body temperatures between 91.4 and 104 degrees F at all times, and providing protection from temperature extremes or other harms to skin surface and extremities.
        E. Rest is a key biological factor, and completely within our control. No greater than 72 hours of sleep deprivation before critical functional loss, and preferred intake = daily for at least 8 hours.

2. Conditional Status
        A. Our air is frequently out of our control. We rely upon what could be called "the commons" - the sense that the air belongs to everybody, and as a result we have significant increases in health problems due to poor quality air, caused by a variety of issues - mostly man-made - like factory exhausts, car exhausts, chemical pollution, etc. Much air in high human populated areas has the oxygen we need... but a lot of other gunk we don't need - smog, smoke, gaseous pollution, particulate pollution, etc. For many people the answer is - we don't handle our air well. Global warming makes air warmer, and climate change means air becomes more of a threat because of increased movement and violence of movement.
        B. Our water availability is excellent - at the higher socio-economic levels of the developed world! Everybody else has problems to varying degrees. We have VERY low levels of freshwater world wide, compared to the vast amounts of salt water, and much of that is frozen at the poles. We, collectively, don't get, use, or handle our water well. Climate change radically changes the distribution and availability of fresh water supplies in any given biome and increases the risk of poor consistency and/or quality of water availability.
        C. Most of our food comes from, and is dependent upon, plant and animal propagation - what we call agriculture - and ALL of that food production is dependent upon the same kind of conditions (the Goldilocks Zone) as we are, with varying specific requirements - but outside the Goldilocks Zone, they die… just like we do. This is where our critical problem really lies - the fact that climate change threatens the entire food supply both directly and indirectly.
        D. Our available shelter is directly dependent upon the health and functionality of our environment, and thus available shelter components/options, as well as our functional ability to easily attain the first three critical needs above. The more difficult it is to acquire the first three, the more time in a day acquiring them takes up. The more time it takes the less time there is for acquiring and applying the components of effective shelter. The critical needs is the ability to maintain core body temperatures but extremities can take a hit if conditions get too hot or cold.
        E. Our rest opportunities are largely dependent upon our degree of rest deprivation and the degree to which the other four have been attained. Any shortfalls in the other four mean we are closer to critical survival issues and may be less able or inclined to rest. That said, at some point the body will almost force a rest state, and that could be at exactly the wrong time from a life sustaining standpoint, so, better to chose the time earlier. Abrupt climate change increases the probability that routine periods of rest will not be available or will be disrupted, unless substantial accomplishment exists in the first four.

Think about it! Be prepared! Keep your powder dry and your candles lit!

The Smokemaster

Friday, June 30, 2017

On the "Problem" of Climate Change in the West

The unfortunate news is that the western half of the present United States has a long history of dryness and bleak conditions that well and thoroughly predates white occupation. We are just getting to see one of it’s major shifts as it happens. In the map provided below, you see the major desert ecoregions that we recognize today in North America. They are, by number,
Cold Deserts   
1. Thompson-Okanagan Plateau
2. Columbia Basin
3. Northern Basin and Range
4. Wyoming Basin
5. Central Basin and Range
6. Colorado Plateaus
7. Arizona/New Mexico Plateau
8. Snake River Plain
Hot deserts:
9. Mojave Basin and Range
10. Sonoran Desert
11. Baja Californian Desert
12. Chihuahuan Desert

Notice that they take up a sizable chuck of what we think of as the Rocky Mountain west. What we do NOT recognize as desert today is the area (that is encircled by an aqua line) to the east of the Rocky Mountains, more formally referred to as the high plains (the western part of the so called Great Plains west of the Mississippi). Notice that this area exceeds the boundaries of the present United States. This area was a desert 6 thousand years ago. As we were driving across this area last year I told my wife to look for any area where the soil might have been thinned by wind or rain, like the base of a rock outcropping, and notice the composition of the soil. It was very pale and tan colored. This is because we were seeing that desert exposed. It takes about 1000 years for 3 centimeters of soil to form. That’s more than an inch but not by much. That means that about 18 centimeters of soil (or 6-10 inches) of soil have formed in the intervening time. Not much when it gets right down to it. That desert is still there and it will be coming back over the next 10-20 years as global warming and climate change really hit with full force.

6000 years ago, the western part of the present United States was much more inhospitable to human life than it is now. A period of relative increase in moisture and decrease in regional temperatures (hold that thought for later) resulted in increased forests, increased ecological opportunity for everything we have come to know and love about those mountains during this life time. All that is about to change. What I am describing, is, unfortunately the direct impact, on a continental scale, of “average global temperatures” rising by 1-2 degrees Centigrade. Ecological zones change. Land ecosystems gain heat and lose moisture. Most of the entire ecosystem has to adapt, move, or die because that much of a change (which seems like “so little” to so many) takes most of the life in an ecosystem out of the narrow ranges we call their “Goldilocks Zone” - that space where everything is “just right” for them to thrive.

Mankind is an amazingly adaptive animal - but when will we be outside of OUR Goldilocks Zone? We rely on our technology to maintain the processes of adaptation that we apply in every climate zone of Earth. What will happen when massive human migration - on the North American continent alone, not counting anywhere else - cause a complete restructuring of society and our way of life as we know it. Will that technology be available? What of “localized” agriculture, in the form of permaculture and the like? How localized can your agriculture be when the heat and the sun and the wind don’t really support the growth of typical moderate zone perennials and annuals that we rely on for our staple food supply? The so called growing zones of the United States have already shifted north by one whole zone worth in the last twenty years. Was no one paying attention?

I have been saying, for some time now, that if you want a rule of thumb draw a line from the n.e. corner of the state of Washington down to about the city of Charleston S.C. I call that line the line of progressive depopulation. Everything south west of that line will become progressively more inhospitable to humans as we proceed into the century with pockets of habitability and vast areas uninhabitable by humans by the end of the century and we’ll be well on the way to that by mid-century. The human population of the current United States will have suffered a relatively HUGE area of habitat loss. Remember that habitat loss isn’t just about living conditions for humans, it’s about living conditions for EVERY OTHER LIVING THING we depend upon for functional human life. That doesn’t just mean crops that won’t grow, fruit trees that will die, and a relative sudden lack of fresh water supplies, that means every form of ecological service that Nature provides today that will change our world as the ecological conditions change, as well as the availability of food, water, and shelter.

We turned the rudder on the human ship of civilization over 150 years ago, and we’re baffled that the ship is starting to turn. Had we known the intricacies of ecological inter-relationship then that we are just beginning to understand now, things might have been different… but I doubt it. We are a greedy and lazy animal at the baseline. We have a minimum of 40 more years of continuing offense to the natural world, based on the aggregation of effect for greenhouse gases over a forty year period. The effects we are feeling today are the cumulative effects of the last 40 years of our offensive and egregious behavior with greenhouse gases and the last 150 years of human disregard for the natural world. If we stopped doing EVERYTHING offensive - and unsustainable - to our way of life TODAY we’d STILL have another 40 years minimum to ride out. There you have it. Read it and weep.

Thanks for being there and being you. Keep up the good work.

Keep the candles lit, and your powder dry.

The Smokemaster

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's About OUR Personal Consumption and the Energy Behind It... REALLY!!

I've been preaching for some time now - some would say "preaching to the choir" except the choir isn't getting religion either - that the absolute and ultimate bottom line of our current environmental, climate, and global warming problem is the personal energy consumption IN TOTAL of EACH & EVERY ONE OF US. YES - Particularly Americans!! That means EVERYTHING we do on a daily basis - WHERE does the energy for that come from? EVERYTHING!!

The further back from YOU that you have to go to find the source and the more energy that is expended between the source and you, the worse the problem is. Water? Pumped from your own well? Food? Grown on your own property or traded with other growers? Seeds? Saved from your own produce, traded with another grower, or bought from a catalog? Your clothing? Made from fiber grown, harvested, spun, and woven locally? Or ??? Where did your toilet paper come from??

The following article, reposted here (just in case problems with reaching anything from NPR emerge in the Trump maligned future) speaks to the difficulties of trying to return to a life of personal responsibility for ALL energy expended for one's own benefit on a daily basis -

Food For Thought

By Returning To Farming's Roots, He Found His American Dream

(all photographic credits to Dan Charles/NPR) 

Eighteen years ago, on New Year's Eve, David Fisher visited an old farm in western Massachusetts, near the small town of Conway. No one was farming there at the time, and that's what had drawn Fisher to the place. He was scouting for farmland.

"I remember walking out [to the fallow fields] at some point," Fisher recalls. "And in the moonlight – it was all snowy – it was like a blank canvas."

On that blank canvas, Fisher's mind painted a picture of what could be there alongside the South River. He could see horses tilling the land – no tractors, no big machineryand vegetable fields, and children running around.

This is David Fisher's American Dream. It may not be the conventional American Dream of upward economic mobility. But dreams like his have a long tradition in this country. Think of the Puritans and the Shakers and the Amish. These American dreams are the uncompromising pursuit of a difficult ideal.

The scene that David Fisher imagined, on the New Year's Eve almost two decades ago, has turned into reality. It's called Natural Roots Farm.


To get to the farm, you have to leave the motorized world behind. Cross the South River on a swinging footbridge, and there in front of you are seven acres of growing vegetables, neatly laid out in rows.

It's early in the fall, on this day; the hillside beyond the fields is glowing with red and yellow leaves. It's idyllic, almost magical.

Anna Maclay is out checking on the fields.

"I came originally as an apprentice in 2002," she tells me. "Totally fell in love with the land. I just thought, 'I want to live here!"

Her wish came true in a way she hadn't expected. She and David Fisher fell in love and got married. They now have two school-age children: Leora and Gabriel.

It's a harvest day on the farm and David and Anna have some help. They're joined by Emmet Van Driesche, who lives nearby on his own farm, and two apprentices, Kyle Farr and Calixta Killander, who are living and working on the farm for a year. Together, they'll need to fill a wagon with spinach, beets, broccoli and a host of other vegetables and herbs.

About two hundred customers have bought shares in the farm's harvest. Among them is Maggie Potter. She arrives with her children to pick up her produce. "It's not only having the vegetables – the nourishment for our own bodies. It's creating community, making friends along the way," she says.

If this all sounds like a vision of peace and contentment, take a closer look. Watch David Fisher at work. While the apprentices stick together in the fields, chatting as they work, Fisher works by himself, cutting greens off just above the soil, hacking out heads of broccoli. He moves quickly, with purpose in every step, almost never stopping, from daybreak until dusk. And when you talk with him, it becomes even clearer: He's a very driven man. He's driven, in fact, by a kind of desperation. And to understand it, you need to know his life story.

David Fisher grew up in the suburbs north of New York City, in the village of Pleasantville, in Westchester County. He spent summers at a rustic camp in the Adirondacks. "You could only get there by boat, you couldn't drive there," Fisher says. "No electricity, bathe in the lake, live all summer in a tent."

Then, at the end of every summer, he'd get on a train back to Grand Central Station and it would hit him. "Noise, steel and concrete and lights everywhere," he recalls. It was an overwhelming sensory experience, and for young David, it wasn't a pleasant one.

When he was 15, that end-of-summer paradigm shift was more than he could take. He was overtaken by despair over the environmental fate of the earth. "I was like - this is craziness. The whole thing. Civilization as I'm seeing it is absurd. The way that humans are living on, consuming, destroying the earth is absurd," he says. "The only thing I could see to do was pack up and flee."

He determined to drop out of high school; his parents forced him to get a diploma, graduating early. Then, Fisher got as far as he possibly could from houses and highways and smokestacks. He hung out in the west, skiing and backpacking, immersing himself in nature to "soothe his soul," as he puts it. He loved it, but he still knew, in the back of his mind, that it was just an escape. It wasn't an enduring path out of his despair about the world.

One day, when Fisher was 20 years old, he was back on the East Coast, visiting a friend at Hampshire College, here in western Massachusetts, and he wandered into the college's small organic farm. It was another overwhelming sensory experience, but the opposite of Grand Central Station: "Autumn leaves raining down, and the lush fields of vegetables and cover crops. Open the barn door, and the tables are lined with this abundance of earthy, healthy, vital produce. And I was like, 'Wow!'"

He felt like he was seeing, for the first time, a way to live immersed in the natural world, and also be productive. To make a living.

He started learning to farm, from other farmers. And then he found this land near the town of Conway.

You can call this farm utopian, if utopia is the kind of place where you work extra hard and live very frugally so that you can grow food in a way that's more in harmony with nature.

For instance: Half of the land on this farm is always devoted to "cover crops" that don't produce any food that customers will buy. The purpose of these crops is simply to protect and nourish the soil.

His most defining choice, though, is to rely on horses as the primary source of power on the farm.

Two of them, Pat and Lady, pull a wagon full of vegetables from the fields across the river and up a hill to a small barn beside the road where families come to pick up their produce. Kyle Farr, one of the apprentices, holds the reins and directs the horses with cryptic words and sucking sounds.

David Fisher is committed to horses partly because it makes the farm more self-sufficient. "It's so direct," he says. He doesn't have to rely on fossil fuels. "The fuel is there in the grass. The power is right there, in the form of these live animals." Also, he says, horses force you to work at a more natural rhythm.

But there's a cost, in the form of time. Horses need care and feeding every day, whether they're pulling a wagon that day or not.

Fisher learned this past year that two former apprentices at Natural Roots Farm who had learned to work with horses here and then adopted this method on their own farms, recently went back to farming with tractors.

It bothers him. But he's not giving up. Because for him, working with horses is one small answer to the despair that led him here. "The environmental crisis is heavy. It's a heavy, heavy situation. And to find any hope of effecting some sort of change, or examples [of change] is critical to my emotional, psychological well-being," he says.

Over breakfast that day, I ask David, "Are you a perfectionist?" He starts to deny it, but Anna cuts in. "Yes!" she says.

He and Anna both tell me that David's driving ambition to build a better farm — constantly working, always starting some new project — has led to conflict between them. "This is the long-standing disagreement," Anna says softly. "I always think that we need to take on less, you know?"

They've managed to keep this farm afloat for almost two decades now, but "it's still a serious struggle to make the economics of it work out," David says. And apart from worries about money, they have to manage the logistics of a complicated life — 200 families depending on a steady supply of produce from their farm, children in school and playing soccer, and their car parked on the other side of the river, a quarter-mile walk from their rustic home.

"There's not a lot that's easy about living this way," she says. "But most of it feels pretty right. And I guess that's turned out to be more important, for me."

Those are the words they often use, talking about their choices. This small, alternative American Dream, for them, just feels right.
( http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/12/31/505729436/by-returning-to-farmings-roots-he-found-his-american-dream - retrieved Jan 10, 2017)

This is where we need to be heading... again! Back To The Future! If we are to feed ourselves and make our lives sustainable, then the basic requirement is taking personal responsibility for the expenditure of ALL energy that is used for our comfort and well being - it's THAT simple! If more of us were doing this as community, it wouldn't be so hard for those few who do now. Many hands make light work.

If you need a model to think about very much akin to what David & Anna have done here then look to the Amish. They still do the large bulk of their farming with a heavy dependence upon animal labor, and relatively minor use of anything derived from fossil hydro-carbons. They don't make use of any exotic electronics or electricity and they rely on family labor first, community labor second before thinking beyond that scale - which means they usually don't get beyond that scale.

IT'S A CHANGE, people, no getting around it. But that scenario IS where we each can take responsibility for our use of energy - our own, our animal friends, or human neighbors - on a daily basis, for our own well being. That IS sustainability! Think back - it wasn't that long ago when much of the country was sustainable, meaning that we truly didn't make our world or the environment any worse than we found it and, with extra effort, we left it a little better. It's not the ONLY scenario that works but it's right in the middle of ALL scenarios that DO work, so we need to embrace the reality and join David & Anna making the world functional for human habitation again. It's well and truly up to us!

Meanwhile, while your wrapping your tender 21st century sensibilities around these concepts - take your money out of any bank that's invested in anti-environmental projects (like DAPL) and put it in a local credit union. Get off of that white sugar, white flour dependence.  Buy local. Farmer's markets are MUCH more fun! Make your own environmentally friendly clothes washing soap (it's actually quite easy). Remember the goal isn't home buyer-ship, but home ownership. You don't have to mortgage your soul for a decent home. Think about getting rid of the heavy lift vehicle and getting a Volt... or a horse!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Thanks for being there and being you,

The Smokemaster