Dead Reckoning

From the beginning of time, people have used a process to navigate their way around their environment. Today we call this process “Dead Reckoning”. In its simplest form, one starts from a known reference point and heads out in a particular direction for a certain number of steps, miles, days or weeks, to arrive at a previously unseen destination. As time went on, we added some sophistication to the process by factoring in water currents, winds and more accurate distance measuring, along with a magnetic compass for directional guidance. Until the availability of GPS, this was a fairly common method of navigation on the seas or in the air.

The prime requirement for dead reckoning always is to set out from a known reference point. All the other tools and processes are built upon that single requirement to hopefully deliver you close to your desired destination. If one starts from an unknown reference point, there is no indication as to what direction will lead to a desired destination.

A comment that I read in various blogs and news articles about the economy and the energy dilemmas is something to the effect of “We have never seen this combination of conditions before.” “We are in uncharted waters”. It will be very hard for us to proceed ahead, because there is no known reference point today, and hence no particular known direction to go. Friends have commented that we seem to be unsure as a nation as to what we should do, and so we have gridlock in our legislative bodies. Business is unsure of the environment it which it finds itself, and is unwilling to make any commitment to one particular direction or another. As this strange economic and energy uncertainty continues, we will see only increased gridlock both in government and in business.

Gridlock goes beyond government and business. All of us have become ensnared by a mental gridlock that sometimes brings us to a complete standstill. It is not hard to find examples of this gridlock among “peak-oilers”. One group advocates the direction of a deep woods hideaway in Montana or Wyoming. Another group advocates the direction of the transition movement. Still another group advocates the direction of stockpiling food and weapons while sheltering in place.

All of us have a desired destination of “Security”. Since we have arrived at landmarks for economy and energy that we do not recognize today, it is very difficult to plot a future course to “Security”. We are at a place in time where our internal GPS is telling us “recalculating”. To make matters worse, a concise description of what “Security” even looks like makes setting a Dead Reckoning course ever more difficult. My mental image of where “Security’s” location is likely to be far different from yours.

The economic reference location at which we currently find ourselves, although not at all familiar to us, bears certain similarities to such a time 82 years ago. Even this similarity has not been of significant help to us today in determining our new direction, as our experts have tried several courses from our current reference point, and we still seem totally lost. The energy reference point is by far the more problematic since the world has never been at this reference point in recorded history. Dead reckoning will serve no purpose here, because we really don’t know where we are going, or even a general direction in which to proceed.

The old saying “If you don’t know what to do, do nothing” will drive many to do just that. But that could be a very poor choice for this journey. Some known things will hinder us on this journey, such as debt, and we should try to rid ourselves of as much of that as possible before venturing further. We know some things that we will need on the journey, such as water, food, shelter, working with our hand skills, and clothing to name a few. We should be using this time before a direction to “Security” becomes clear, to develop alternative ways to meet all of those needs.

If you think that drinkable water comes from the faucet, electricity from the outlet, food and clothing from the store, and money from the bank, then you must consider what alternatives you will use if one or more of those necessities become unavailable while we are plotting what we perceive as our personal course to “Security”. Now is the time to acquire the alternative means to supply the daily necessities, while we wait to discern a reference location from which to launch towards our vision of “Security”.

Gridlock does not work in government or in business. To set a Dead Reckoning course today from our present unknown reference points may expend valuable resources and time, and deliver us to a destination that is less than desirable. Our destination of “Security” will look different to each one of us, and we must use our time and resources wisely before embarking on our journey.

Today, we find ourselves struggling to navigate through uncharted waters, sailing as yet upon uncharted seas.

Only you can determine your perceived location of our present reference point, and only you can set your Dead Reckoning course to your own future and proceed.


The Limits of Technology

Last week we watched an unusual early spring outbreak of tornados from Kansas through Virginia. Some 39 people lost their lives in these violent storms. Having viewed the destruction on nightly TV news programs, it is amazing the fatalities weren’t even higher. During that outbreak, one community, Harveyville, Kansas, was hit without warning, with the loss of a resident. What made this particular incident so unnerving was the fact that the community was close to a powerful weather radar facility and experienced weather bureau staff. The storm had produced a tornado in an adjacent county prompting a warning for that county. But the radar seemed to show the storm falling apart quickly, and the weather bureau staff chose not to extend the warning to the next county, and the sirens didn’t sound.

It was not the fault of the radar or the radar operator in the interpretation of all those green, red and yellow displays. It was simply the fact that technology can do only so much in the detection and analysis of impending natural weather events. After many decades as a trained storm spotter, I have come to accept the limitations of technology in “Tornado Alley”, where there is no substitute for eyes on the ground. It may come as a shock to some that radar does not see a large percentage of tornados on the ground or funnel clouds aloft. We have become complacent in expecting that the colorful displays we see on TV are the final word on the threats before us. We have trusted that technology has reached a point where we no longer have to worry about a surprise attack from Mother Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What surprised the weather bureau after the 2011 tornado outbreaks in Alabama and the Joplin tornado was the loss of life, some 500 plus individuals, the greatest loss since 1936, long before radar had been invented. Clearly, from the devastation observed, early warnings kept that loss from being many times greater. It demonstrated that technology was a significant contributor to preserving lives, but it was not a total solution to their living safely with Mother Nature on the rampage.

So what does all this rambling have to do with Peak Oil Blues? Over the past several days I have received several e-mails from friends about “new” technology in the oil and gas fields making us energy independent in a few short years. First of all, the “new” technology is some 60+ years old; it is only since oil and gas have reached higher prices allowing newer technologies to be employed.

Secondly, we have collectively come to expect that technology will triumph over any obstacle, even if it is the total lack of an available resource. As a nation we have allowed ourselves to become lulled into complacency, assuming that the wizards of technology will somehow allow us to extract the proverbial blood from a turnip, and therefore, we as a population have to do nothing but sit back, and continue our customary driving and consuming, while waiting. We much prefer to accept hype over facts, which can be uncomfortable.

But what happens when the population runs directly into the limits of technology? I think that like the storms of weather, we will face the storms of economics and energy. There will be many consequences where people and these storms collide. The consequences will be physical, economic, emotional, mental, and intellectual. Many will ask “Why didn’t the sirens sound?” so that we could take precautions and make preparations. The result will be very troubling times. There are no guidelines to follow. As a population we will have to write the “book” on how to deal with the decline of the energy age from Chapter 1 forward, since this has not occurred before. Many authors and websites have written the Preface; we will have to build upon their work.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but we must understand its limits in supplying solutions for our daily needs. Some of that supply will have to come from the work of our own hands and those immediately around us (community).

From all appearances, the economics and energy storm in reality is not diminishing, but the technology is not really detecting that, either from an omission or commission in reading its displays. Our technology is nearing its limits, but public awareness is almost “nil” that a storm indeed is approaching.

The sirens should be wailing now for you to take precautions, but they remain silent.

This is the time for you to have eyes to the sky.