June 14th, 2010
The writer who talked about the supply of gasoline during a crisis wasn’t thinking of what I believe is the most likely catastrophe, namely a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
Such an attack ranks as ‘most likely’ (among true catastrophes) because it requires only one each miniaturized nuclear bomb (low yield would be adequate); short or medium range ballistic missile; and rusty old freighter with suicide crew. How many countries can you think of that already have these things but don’t hate us enough right now? How many who hate us enough have all but the miniaturized bomb and are working hard on that?
People worry about a surface nuclear detonation in a major city but that’s nearly the same amount of work, the payoff is a small fraction, and our nation — especially our ability to hit back — would survive. We would reduce the sponsoring country to a pool of molten radioactive glass before close of business the following day.
With an EMP attack, however, our country would cease to function as a nation within seconds. Nearly all computers and solid state technology would be dead immediately, as would the three national power grids. As the emergency generators ran out of fuel any remaining services depending on electricity would stop. We’d be a bunch of isolated and dying settlements within a couple of weeks.
Just one big white flash in the sky over Kansas, and the lights go out…everywhere. Quite possibly forever, because by the time the necessary parts, communications, and security for the electric grid repair people had been assembled, they’d mostly be dead of starvation, as would be the rest of us.
Refineries depend on electricity, pipelines require it, there is no assurance that tanker trucks will run after an EMP attack and with public safety agencies lacking communications, how would they be protected? Even gas stations have electric pumps and use the telephone, Internet, and banking systems to process charges. In my opinion people who live near tank farms will have plenty of gas (at high prices) but since these aren’t big farming areas, they might well starve before they can use it up.
EMP is the scenario to plan for when thinking off grid: Prepare for that one and you can handle the others. It’s also the one about which we should try to wake up our fellow citizens and our government. Five years and a few billion dollars — peanuts by the standards of the current administration — could so reduce the payoff from such an attack that it would be very unlikely to happen. But on the evidence so far, we aren’t going to wake up unless it actually happens.
Editor replies: Walt, you are exactly right about the threat posed from an EMP, and we have put together a team that is working on EMP shielding options. We appreciate your letter!
While we’re on the topic of gasoline, I’ve been studying some websites on both electric cars (electricity4gas & convert-2-ev) and hydrogen cars (hybridwaterpower, gas4free, runautowithwater, & simplewaterfuel). With celebrities like Tom Hanks and Danny DeVito doing promos on electric cars, it’s hard not to pay attention. However, stars can afford these higher-end technologies. I’m leaning more towards the lower cost of hydrogen cars and hope to convert my ’88 pickup (guinea pig) first before trying things on my ’06 pickup. Still studying the sites, and will make a choice soon, so looking forward to saving some gas.
Just wondering if any other “off-griders” know about these sites/technologies and have already tried any of them. Otherwise, try some of these out in the meantime and let the rest of us know how it goes. I’ll let you all know once I get there. BTW–I live in Hawaii, so please don’t complain about gas prices to me.
Can you say “Water”?
Editor replies: Kaeo, this is something we’ve followed rather closely. It’s very attractive to think about personal transportation “off grid”, but there aren’t very many practical alternatives. For example, many people have researched (or even attempted) conversions to alternative fuels such as electricity, natural gas, propane and hybrid diesel fuels (even used vegetable oil). Unfortunately, each of these alternatives is more appealing on the surface than they are after some research. For one, conversions are often expensive and complicated. The alternative fuels are not always widely available, and I suspect would be particularly scarce during/after a crisis. Where are you going to find used vegetable oil (or natural gas, propane or diesel), in any real quantities if society has collapsed?
Electricity offers great potential if you can capture it from the sun or the wind, but even with billions of dollars of subsidies and tax breaks, the largest auto manufacturers in the world have struggled to produce economical, durable and practical vehicles, all of which I might add, are designed to plug into the grid.
I don’t want to discourage creative innovation, but I’m confident that most people can do a lot of other things to better prepare themselves for life “off grid”. A better idea might be a motorcycle (they get great gas mileage and can operate in even the most difficult terrain), or even a mountain bike. You can cover a lot of ground on a mountain bike and it relies on completely renewable energy!
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