The Coming Decline - Story Tech

David Trammel's picture

I wanted to make a thread for things we might see in the next 20-30 years as we face the first phase of the Long Descent, particularly things writers could add to their stories and seemed to made sense would happen.

The more the stories we write that can be shared with a doubting public that make sense and seem to be possible, I believe, will help those few who might change their lifestyle and therefore help civilization change and adapt the better.

This thread is prompted by Sophie Gale's recent post to this thread

about solar kiosk in Rwanda. That is a businesswoman who set up a solar powered booth where either in a blackout or just because you are a visitor, you could charge your pc or cell phone.

I'm reminded of stories about hurricanes last year and how East Coasters, without power sought out any live outlet they could find to charge their personal devices.

I could picture a wanderer, riding into a city in the Long Descent of 40 years hence on his horse, then stopping at such a booth in the local market to charge his cell phone.

A mix of the primitive and the tech.

What else have you come across that might still be viable in the next few decades?

Personally I think camels are going to be so the "must have" to animal in the southwest in a decade, lol. Think American Indians riding camel...

I'm not sure where else to put this.

Developing nations to study ways to dim sunshine, slow warming

Alister Doyle
"OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists in developing nations plan to step up research into dimming sunshine to curb climate change, hoping to judge if a man-made chemical sunshade would be less risky than a harmful rise in global temperatures.

"Research into 'solar geo-engineering', which would mimic big volcanic eruptions that can cool the Earth by masking the sun with a veil of ash, is now dominated by rich nations and universities such as Harvard and Oxford."

IDK, seems like a really bad idea to me...

Scomber said "I'm not a bad road navigator, and I cringe at those who would be lost without a GPS. "

Thank you for saying this - it is so true. And those who live in cities can't handle navigation without a man made grid of streets.

Feeling like I don't have to worry as much about people pouring out of the cities all at once on foot in the event of a disaster and getting anywhere. All that has to happen is main roads are blocked off and people will be lost.

Got a mini lecture the other day from a 20-something who lives in the city and how sustainable his lifestyle is compared to mine in the country. Ok, let's have the power go out for a weeks and see who sustains longer. Lol

Funny this thread/question should come up again now. Just yesterday I ran across that 'Machine that converts plastic to oil" video and posted a thread about it here at GW; as I was thinking along the same lines.

I think we will first, (in our lifetimes, or at least in the several decades post collapse) descend into a more complete salvage economy. I could see plastic becoming a very important salvage material.

Before we are back to using only organic natural materials, plastics will still be around and their properties will still be desirable.

IMHO, Because of over-use, waste, pollution of plastic refuse clogging up our oceans and well, everywhere, we have come to view plastic as the enemy. Plastic=bad, natural materials=good, but I think this is a mistake. It's still a very useful, durable, air-tight and waterproof material. It's only 'bad' becaue we've abused it, overused it.

As affordable petroleum and petro-products become more expensive and scarce, recycling, repurposing and even this conversion back to oil, gas or kerosene will be a worthwhile 'thing'. Not in any large scale industry. I kind of doubt that will ever be commercially viable; but then, I think a lot of our large scale industries will fall by the wayside as unviable when energy for transportation is no longer cheap. But on small scales, like a town or neighborhood conversion depot or even individual home-stills like this guy, (hopefully a bit better thought out and refined):

Or Just easy-melt and re-form #2- to #6 plastics like this guy:

Loads of other diy videos like this out there. The possibilities for re-fusing, re-molding are endless. A patchwork re-fused plasti tarp/tent for garden beds would be great. As Climate change makes gardening and farming more unpredictable. Flash flood? Break out your tarp! 1 week of triple-digit temperatures? Break out your solid coloured tarp!, (I'm envisioning a tarp made of those blue doritos cool ranch bags patchwork-fused together for sun-shade). Sudden frost? Break out your clear plastic tarp for insta-green-house! Might be worth experimenting with.

If you're looking for fiction/story ideas; I've always thought a great story 'pitch' would be a pirate/horror story of salvagers racing each other out to mine the great Pacific Garbage Patch. The wealthier 'pirates' steer slow but well kitted out solar powered ships that can go forever. The scruffier, scrappier pirates had to relearn actual sailing techniques in smaller but more mobile craft. The patch itself would have grown dense enough to be almost a workable 'landmass', a floating island, but like patchy ice, it's not stable in places and those places are not readily apparent. The mutated sea creatures beneath could be weird leviathans or microbial parasites. I'm not a writer, so I can't figure it out any further than that.

Or simply a side character, like the Tinkers of old, traveling in wagons selling salvaged and re-worked tin and metal untensils to farmer's wives; plastic tinkers, if you will.

Any writers out there, Take or discard as you like!

He doesn't say in the video which types of plastic he's using. Just yogurt container... I think you would have to sort like numbers. Here's a well-organized still for making kerosene:

We had a lot of bikers in town this weekend for the Grand National TT Motorcycle Races, so I have motorcycles on the brain. If you can recycle plastics into fuel, you can probably keep a fleet of motorcycles running for some time. How about salvager bike gangs?

Salvager Bikies? Sounds Very Mad Max! LOL,

The numbers that are meltable are 2 to 6. I think that was in another video.

That's an amazing video (first one) - I guess if things are desperate that would be an option. My first thought is about toxins, though - I know that melting plastic is very toxic to breathe - and the odor is nasty (I know because I have a nasty, cheap neighbor who illegally burns her garbage)... so, the tradeoff is that we would be polluting the neighborhood, getting toxic chemicals on the soil around us... a lot like plastic plants do today... that's a scary thought... and all for oil? I'd rather use solar.

Thanks for sharing it though - I see lots of videos on the right side of the page that I'd like to look at...

The backyard burner is the worst in that regard. It would definitely be only a good idea for isolated or sparse use. The Japanese manufactured burner seems to be sealed so that the fumes would not get out, but I still don't see it being viable on a mass scale. Even when there are no more fossil fuel options - it's too expensive in time and effort to be used en-masse. I just don't think anything is going to be viable on a mass scale.

The amount of oil you get back is not enough to try and meet anywhere near complete energy useage or need, so I can't imagine it will try to replace solar, wind or traditional fossil fuel use. Still for some things, a liter of oil (for example as a lubricant) would be irreplaceable and very helpful.

The biggest problem with solar, (or wind), I think, is that it takes a lot of energy, currently fossil fuels to make the solar panels, (or wind turbines, etc.) Is there going to be a time when solar panels will be made with energy coming from only other solar panels? I don't know.

RE: These plastics: I am much more interested in the lower heat semi-melting / re-molding /fusing options and re-purposing. I've done a few projects melting harder plastics for craft projects and yes, there are some nasty fumes, about as much as with mixing the lye for soap-making. Repurposing doesn't require melting the plastics so obviously no fumes. One of my favourites is this greenhouse made of 2-liter soda bottles:

((Or just google image search, "Greenhouse made from plastic soda bottles. Lots of varieties and designs!))

As for the environment: I can't see this taking off in any large enough capacity do much impact. I just don't think very many people would bother. Maybe I'm wrong, but at the point that reusing plastics would be attractive to people, our fossil fuel emissions will have had to go way down by default. Again: I may be predicting the trending of the future incorrectly. I just see people use what's around them and well, plastics are all around us!

I can't think of any other ideas on what to do with all of the plastics we are currently swimming in. Any suggestions?

I just rediscovered this thread so I might as well use it.

Expanding internet access to rural Kenya though unused TV spectrum. It can be beamed up to 10km.

That story will take you to a link to another story here

Dig the internet cafe in a shipping container...

chickadee's picture

If transportation by road becomes more difficult due to lack of maintenance and scarcity of fuel, I think there will be a revival of transportation along waterways, using small watercraft such as canoes, rowboats, small sailboats, and rafts. (For an interesting description of a sustainable ferry-raft, see Cathy McGuire's novel.) Towns located along rivers and coastlines will be more prosperous than those with only road access.

Basketry could replace plastic totes, wooden barrels instead of plastic ones. Rope and fishing line will need to be made from natural fibres again, instead of synthetics.

Longhand writing will make a comeback at the point when email is no longer sustainable; printing by hand is much too slow. I find it ironic that many schools are no longer teaching children to write in longhand. They consider this skill to be obsolete! But if a person cannot write longhand, they also cannot easily read what others have written to them. If paper letters make a comeback, who is obsolete then?

Small mechanical tasks could be powered by a power-takeoff run by a stationary bicycle. Apparently, generating electricity this way is somewhat limited, as explained in the following article, but direct mechanical energy is quite feasible.

David Trammel's picture

Here is research and a interesting map of how the United States breaks down by attitude and common shared social beliefs. Might be a useful start for how the various regions will come together after and if the US fragments.

If this article intrigues you, read Albion's seed : four British folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (mentioned in the article). It's an encyclopedic (949 pages) examination of the traditional Yankee, Midlands, Tidewater, and Appalachian settlements. It's a fascinating book! Took me forever to read it

David Trammel's picture

In ageing Japanese village, dolls take place of dwindling population

I could so do a Twilight Zone story with that one, lol.

David Trammel's picture

Also from this week's ADR, M posted:

"As the manager of a retail store, I will tell you the latest cash registers are poster children for the external/complexity phenomena. The programming for the simplest task is insane, and they are temperamental, and can be thrown by the slightest of power surges! Another store owner I know said he barely uses 10 percent of the features--he would need to hire a full time staffer to decode, program, train people, etc to access the rest. I've been collecting scythes to restore. I think I may start to buy a few old registers--I think registers could be needed sooner..."

To which JMG replied:

" In your place I'd definitely start picking up old mechanical cash registers and learning how to repair and recondition them; you may be about to found one of the successful businesses of the deindustrial era..."


What other older devices might see a resurgence? Rotary phones? Cameras with actual film?

Amusing: after almost thirteen years in business, our shop just got a cash register that does more that open and close. Genuine, end of the twentieth century technology! It's not connected to the internet, but it does contain the stock numbers and prices for everything in inventory, adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides, and makes change. Which is more than many of our volunteers can do. Automatically calculates food tax and merchandise tax. Love it!

If you are in business, it's critical to have a backup plan/a recovery plan, but it's got to be the right tool at the right time for the business you are running right now.

As far a resurgence in old tech, I've linked a couple of times to a local man: "[Shawn]Borri, 35, uses hand-cranked cylinder phonograph technology more than 100 years old. He records musical performances, demonstrates the technology at universities, and has supplied equipment for a big-budget independent motion picture production. Additionally, using today’s versions of ingredients specified by chemists a century ago, Borri manufactures cylinders on which to record. It’s an anachronistic obsession: just a handful of people in the world manufacture cylinders in this way."

These things were used as dictaphones up until the 1950's, early '60s. They are a curiosity now, but I can see them making a comeback.

Rotary phones and film cameras are both part of complicated systems. The rest of the network has to talk to the phone. The film processing industry has to be available. A cash register is much more of a stand alone system. Many of them want paper tape to record on and produce a receipt, but that's a simpler thing. A locking cash drawer, a clipboard, paper, and pencil are simpler yet.

One thing I want to move back toward is cook stoves that have no electric power needs. My current stove oven won't work in a power outage because it needs electricity to work the igniters. I've got an older (1980's?) propane stove in the barn, which may go into one of my project buildings.

A while back I saw, at a garage sale, a machine to sew embroidered patches. The modern version is completely computerized. This old thing would need a skilled operator to sew the pattern right, but could produce basically anything the computerized ones could, technically. You could sew your own merit badges an other uniform type patches.

For that matter, old fashioned, paper-based bookkeeping and accounting skills seem to be in this line. Quickbooks is a bit of a nightmare.

I'm not a bad road navigator, and I cringe at those who would be lost without a GPS. For sea navigation, I wish I was better with my sextant. But then I don't want to go to sea. Still, it's a skill.

There are sure to be many other examples, whenever skill has been replaced by a machine or information is being gathered with a microprocessor.

David Trammel's picture

Yet photography was well established even in the late 1800s. I don't know what tools or technology it would take to make photography of similar quality.

Sometimes we look at technology and want to discuss what would be there in 3-400 years but for at least as long as anyone reading this, even the younger generation, there will still be an industrial base in society.

It will no doubt devolve and shrink, lose expertise and cetainly the high tech bells and whistle gizmos like microchips. A rotary phone has alot of parts that now are mass produced, but mass produced with early to mid 20th century tech.

And if you slide a bit further you could probably rig a local party line system of communications, using an old switchboard and manual operator in most smaller rural towns.

As for manual entry bookkeeping, I agree.

Its funny with the push to get everything connected and into the "Cloud", I image the day something seriously hits the Internet and takes some of it down. Won't there be alot of lost people then.

David Trammel's picture

From this week's ADR and comments by WW:

"This week you're reminding me a lot of William Gibson. In an interview last October he said "If could have any information from our future, I would want to know not what they're doing but what they think about us. Because what we think about Victorians is nothing like what the Victorians thought about themselves. It would be a nightmare for them. Everything they thought they were, we think is a joke. And everything that we think was cool about them, they weren't even aware of. I'm sure that the future will view us in exactly that way."


That is a good point, how we think future people will view us, might not be how they do...