Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trying to survive ---- after a nuclear war

Most of the world's biggest, best known and best regarded writers and pundits live in big cities like New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Moscow and they consider it pure nonsense that anyone would survive the direct effects of an all-out nuclear war.

For residents of such global cities, such as themselves, this is undoubtedly so.

But for the rest of us, the peons living outside these cities' various Beltways, we are more likely to die slow lingering painful deaths.

Not from radiation fallout, at least not in the medium short term.

And maybe not from nuclear winter.

But certainly from the massive disruption that an all-out nuclear war would cause to a world grown so dependent upon interconnected networks of huge, highly complicated, machines and the factories that make them.

The energy equipment inside electrical power plants and oil refineries in particular.

Those machines are only made in a few huge factories worldwide, mostly in the metropolitan areas of global cities, of the sort most likely to be bombed in an all-out nuclear war.

So many of these huge machines and many of the huge factories that make them will be destroyed in the nuclear war and the network grids of interconnectedness that sustains our modern global civilization will be totally disrupted until their damage is repaired.

And therein lies the rub.

(And let us not forget that the manufacture and transport to their site of use of these huge machines is also dependent on inputs from other huge machines/huge factories that are also likely to be largely destroyed or left without any fuel.)

Because the manufacture and transport and assemble of all these various machines depends upon electricity and petroleum products made by the very machines we are trying to re-build !

Such is the deadly Catch 22 situation arising from an unquestioning belief in the mantra that "bigger is ever better" bleated out daily by such as The Economist magazine.

Meanwhile, blast and radiation injuries and disruptions in food, heat and sanitation systems would be giving us a huge new burden of seriously infected patients.

But the production of antibiotics is even more centralized than the manufacture of power plant turbines and oil refinery cat converters.

A few big plants in India and China make all the basic (and natural) penicillin G from which most of the other beta-lactam antibiotics are semi-synthesized.

During almost all of WWII, the world's penicillin was basically made home-made or artisan style in extremely low tech ad hoc factories using molds in small flat bottles, growing on the surface of shallow pools of water infused with fungus food.

Only Pfizer (from mid 1944) and a few other drug companies in America (1945 onwards) began making it with yeast penicillium fungus inside the "deep tank" machines much like those seen today - a process close to how we make beer.

But research efforts on improving the natural output of penicillin from the mold style penicillium fungus used in the low tech set-ups had already been dropped by 1944 and instead was turned exclusively to increasing the yield from the yeast style penicillium fungus.

We could easily return to low tech "good enough for a global crisis" artisan penicillin today if we had to, even after a nuclear war and winter - it is basically kitchen table top technology.

However, the best of the surface-growing penicillium types available today (from museums of fungus collections !) would only yield penicillin at about 200 times less than what the deep tank process would yield, from the same amount of now scarce fungus food inputs.

Pandemic diseases, I believe, would kill most in the world, after even an all-out nuclear exchange.

We humans must move beyond simply expanding the diversity of our biological portfolio.

It is very important that we also begin making resilient, more flexible, smaller forms of low tech "good enough" technology.

And then redundantly storing the knowledge gained and new basic tools needed to do so.

All to protect us in the event that we fall into a catch 22 situation from having only a few big city based factories making all the complicated energy equipment that in turn bootstraps all the rest of our economy above it.

Amazingly fast, the world's electric utilities - private and public - accepted evidence that a single extraordinary bolt of strong electricity from the Sun might knock out most of the huge transformers that regulate the global electrical grid, leaving us no power production to make new transformers and hence no way to get electricity flowing again.

They are moving to increase resilience and redundancy.

But it is only half a solution - we need to find small simple natural artisan ways to increase the diversity of technologies needed for continued life on an unpredictable planet....

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