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Author Topic: Better Living Through Steampunk; or saving civilisation the civilised way  (Read 6936 times)
Emperor
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« on: March 12, 2007, 03:40:19 am »

Following on from discussion here (and so I don't drive the thread way off topic) I thought I'd throw in a mixed bag of thoughts on how Steampunk might just help save the world.  Shocked

I read this article from George Monbiot a while back and it has kicked around my head since:

Quote
We seem, in other words, to be in trouble. Either we lay hands on every available source of fossil fuel, in which case we fry the planet and civilisation collapses, or we run out, and civilisation collapses.

The only rational response to both the impending end of the oil age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming and our lives. But this cannot happen without massive political pressure, and our problem is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People tend to take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less. Given a choice between a new set of matching tableware and the survival of humanity, I suspect that most people would choose the tableware.


No one would campaign for austerity? Are we sure?

There is often the assumption that when we hit the Olduvai Cliff (in as little as 5 years time) we'd end up in a Medieval state and we might do if things crash. However, by implementing Steampunk ideas and principles to provide a softer landing, rewinding back to an essentially pre-internal combustion engine era but with the decades of advances in between.

It would involve a two-pronged approach:

1. Using modern science (advanced materials science, more efficient engines) to enhance older technologies.

2. To rediscover older technology and make this (and the newer developments from point 1) available to those in the developing world so they can leapfrog some of the messier stages we have blundered through. We did it with CFC-free fridges after all.

On point 1 we have the example I gave on the Airships of the Future thread in that we are at a point where aeroplane travel is going to become unfeasible (no no quick technological fix). In the end we are going to have to rely more on trains and trams but it is airships that offer the chance to keep the global economy on track. Advances in flexible woven solar cells are already making people talk about high altitude solar powered balloons acting like low level satellites that require no refuelling. If they can get us "free" air travel again the possibilities expand again - point-to-point shipping thanks to VTOL, limited cargo transportation, international travel but at a more stately pace. On a smaller scale we have this news report where they have basically built a watermill but with better dynamos and it can provide electricity to 300 houses.

On point 2 we have this article: Museum reveals Victorian Eco-Engine that could save the planet

Quote
A London museum is helping to highlight an eco-friendly way of creating ‘free’ energy that was invented almost 200 years ago.

Stirling engines were commonplace around 1880 to 1920 but fell out of fashion with the advent of the electric motor. Amid concerns over global warming, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum is organising a rally to showcase these engines, which some scientists believe have a role to play in delivering clean energy.

“The thing that makes them so intriguing is because technically it is almost like free energy,” explained Lesley Bossine, who is organising the rally.

“Basically a Stirling engine is unlike a diesel car or steam engine where you have got to put a fuel in. The Stirling engine works on pure heat, so you can power them on solar power, geothermal energy or waste heat.”

Originally invented in 1816 by the Rev Dr Robert Stirling, they are closed circuit combustion engines. They are silent, and work by using heat to warm a cylinder. Within the cylinder, air expands with an increase in pressure that in turn drives the engine.

True Stirling engines also incorporate a heat store called a regenerator, which stores heat energy during one part of the cycle and releases it later, making it even more efficient.

...

The technology is potentially ideal for developing countries, however, and has already been applied to Combined Heat and Power generators and generators and was used by Phillips in the 1950s and 60s to build a Stirling Engine-powered bus and Stirling-powered radio sets.

“Now that natural resources are running out people are coming back to it,” added Lesley. “There are all sorts of rumours that a guy in America is working on a Stirling-powered car.”

“The person that can crack Stirling technology and scale it up into a viable energy source will become a multi-millionaire.”


I first heard about their potential on "What the Victorians did for us" when they ran a small Stirling engine from the waste heat on their cooking fire. So you can run them on a very small-scale from very basic energy sources.

To quote the Grand Duchess

Quote
If Steampunk is to survive as more than a curious cult fad among people who are looking for a more esoteric form of Star Trek convention, some of us are going to have to think about what it means to retool our lives while still having fun- and setting an example for others to follow.


We are at or past Peak Oil and barring anything very odd happening we are all going to have to start leading a simpler lifestyle. Part of the problem with this is our mindset which could see everyone madly consuming until well after the point of no return. Steampunk provides an ethos to hang everything on and an aesthetic appreciation of the kind of simpler, mechanical solutions that we will have to adopt. So rather than having this forced upon us we can start making the changes now and show it can be done, and you can look fabulous at the same time Wink
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« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2007, 05:18:35 am »

Some great thoughts here, and I suspect there are others onboard our great airship who are thinking along similar lines.

I do want to point out, however, that there are those who most definitely are NOT. So can we agree from the outset of this conversation, that saving the planet is not the end-all, be-all of Steampunk?
It just might end up being a byproduct, people networking here and other places, trading and refining old skills and technologies and synthesizing them with new ones... Fan-freaking-tastic!

BUT... I'd hate for anyone who just likes to read gaslight romance and listen to the occasional Vernian Process or Abney Park cd to feel excluded because they have no interest in building a steampowered car.

With that disclaimer, I think this is a great idea for a thread... I'd just hate to see it get derailed by debate over whether or not such ideas are "steampunk" or not.

I can't wait to see what others have to say on this subject.
Good Show.
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The Grand Duchess
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« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2007, 05:26:21 am »

I happen to agree.  While I would like to save the planet (especially single-handedly, so I can wear medals and such), I'm here primarily to relax, have fun, and share ideas on everything from music to comics to how to make a toy ray-gun.  But do I think that a by-product of sites like this might be saving the planet? Quite possibly.

Let's not forget that the Dadaists weren't just thinking of themselves as a new art movement- they were also drinking buddies with a sense of humour.
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« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2007, 05:42:54 am »

I do want to point out, however, that there are those who most definitely are NOT. So can we agree from the outset of this conversation, that saving the planet is not the end-all, be-all of Steampunk?
It just might end up being a byproduct, people networking here and other places, trading and refining old skills and technologies and synthesizing them with new ones... Fan-freaking-tastic!

BUT... I'd hate for anyone who just likes to read gaslight romance and listen to the occasional Vernian Process or Abney Park cd to feel excluded because they have no interest in building a steampowered car.

To be frank I am sufficiently clumsy that in a Brave New Steampunk World I'd be dead in 5 minutes dragged into the mechanisms of that steam-powered car (my family tree is full of incidents of people meeting their end in large items of industrial machinery)

I am largely here for the books and moving picture shows but I am concerned about the environment and if I see some other interesting angles to Steampunk that are worth exploring then I'm not going to turn my back on saving the world Wink

I am working on some slogans:

Quote
Rather SP than a teepee

I'm planning on living to a ripe old age and don't want to spend most of it living in a tent (fending off Mad Max-style marauders) Wink

Quote
Give me slippers or give me death
« Last Edit: March 12, 2007, 05:44:52 am by Emperor » Logged
CapnHarlock
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« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2007, 06:30:09 am »

For it's location ( the American Plains) the tipi is probably THE most energy-efficient dwelling ever devised
The same hold true (locally) for the Mongol yurt, the Bedouin tent and the Iroquois longhouse.

If Infernal Combustion engines could compete in efficiency with steam power, we would see "Double-A Fuel F/X" submarines, not nuclear-powered  ones.

The "solution" seems to be making the optimal answer - combining old and new - just too f***ing cool to bypass.

Make the answer cool. we blew it in the 60's, we blew it in the 80's - third time's the charm?

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« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2007, 07:41:34 am »

For it's location ( the American Plains) the tipi is probably THE most energy-efficient dwelling ever devised
The same hold true (locally) for the Mongol yurt, the Bedouin tent and the Iroquois longhouse.

If Infernal Combustion engines could compete in efficiency with steam power, we would see "Double-A Fuel F/X" submarines, not nuclear-powered  ones.

The "solution" seems to be making the optimal answer - combining old and new - just too f***ing cool to bypass.

Make the answer cool. we blew it in the 60's, we blew it in the 80's - third time's the charm?




Not sure how it compares to the nomadic structures you mention, but traditional Tudor construction is a lot more energy efficient than modern construction. In a similar vein this hobbit like house is pretty cool, (and warm... depending.) Neither of these types of architecture is exactly what I'd call steampunk, but I think they could be adapted pretty easily.

And speaking of nomadics, how about houseboats? A lot of liveaboards, especially those who do any significant cruising, are way more on the cutting edge of self-sufficiency than most landlubbers. A lot can be learned from those folks... and a lot could be applied to airships... Now THERE's a concept I can sink the teeth of my imagination into... Live-aboard airships, sized for efficiency living for 3 to 6 adults... A Nomad of the Slipstream...

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« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2007, 09:19:24 am »

LOL - Great Minds Think Alike - can I be the Evil Twin?

If you have drawings, we were probably separated at birth Smiley
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OHebel Wring
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« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2007, 02:04:31 pm »

1.)  Steam engines, although are capable of running off of a variety of fuels, were (most of the time?) run off of coal because it was most efficient.

2.)  Nobody ever said Victorian London was an ecologically safe place to live.  I have heard reports that the smog and soot were so bad that the worst LA summer day couldn't compare.

3.)  Stirling engines are awesome.

4.)  I was at the museum where they will be holding the festival in London on the weekend of the 25th.  If anyone is anywhere near that area, check it out.  It will be amazing, I think.

5.) unfortunately, stirling engines work really really well on a small scale, but they haven't been able to produce them to a large enough scale to make them economical yet.

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« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2007, 02:21:19 pm »

So fundimantally we're talking about incorporating the principles of thrift and self reliance? Everything earns it's keep, flowers are pretty but flowers with vegetables in between are pretty and practical?

Yes we have designed our cities to be big glass energy vacuums and cars will run on oil products until it runs out. Only then will the energy companies roll out more efficient technologies. Why? Because it's not profitable to do otherwise.

The fundimental thing that people still don't appear to get, is that Capitalism doesn't care about the humans that run it. If the rules of marketing are strictly followed then anything and everything is only worth that which someone is prepared to pay for it. We have made a society where we are slaves to the next sell. One mans loan is another mans investment on which they expect a return.

We have become so wrapped up in the mechanisms of financial success that we've forgotten how to do the most basic things (because we don't need to anymore). Truely to our ansestors we would be seen to be but children playing. There is a great push in western society that newer is better, and yes, newer usually means less effort that said, knowing how something was done 2 steps back in the past makes anyone much more resourceful.

There should be more practical skills taught in schools and more emphasis should be put on accessing  knowledge and applying it. Copy and paste exams have done our education system a huge disservice. People need to be taught how to be wily and resourceful again. To see what you have and how it can be used.

It is the law of nature that biological organisms will grow to inhabit any enviroment that they can survive in. Socially, survival wise the same thing would appear to apply. We have something of a broad survivable social enviroment at the moment. Should that socially created survival enviroment ever shrink (god forbid) then wouldn't you rather try and be a jack of all trades kind of social organism? Rather than a highly specialised one that doesn't know how to tie their own shoe laces because you've always used velcro?

I can see what your saying Hebel yes going total Victorian is not the solution. But maybe taking the good parts (the work ethic, the resourcefulness, the sence of a job well done and pride in practicality) would not be such a bad thing after all. Is that not the point of history? It is there to be learned from not only to avoid the mistakes, but to improve the future throught the reapplication of forgotten principles?
 
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« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2007, 02:58:45 pm »

It is obvious that turning to straight up Victorian values, or even tech, would be a massive step backwards in many respects - however I'd add that Victorian tech had some very good ideas, and to re-evaluate those ideas (i.e. tech) and give them the improvements that our modern world would demand with new materials and processes, could well turn out to be even more useful.

I'm not going to go in to exact methods right now (what a cop out, eh?) but my lunch break is limited.  Waterwheels, charcoal, solar power (I adore the idea of solairships - sign me up now!) and all that sound good.  I think that if Steampunk does become part of the general public's psyche, then people will just generally become more open to (bio?) gas lighting, giant machines with gears, and start to feel more uneasy about burning vast quanities of oil - purely because the alternative is just cooler.  I fear that counting on the morals or selflessness of 'the public' may be difficult - but wrap it in trendiness and 'coolest new thing!' and it has a lot more chance of working.  Sadly.

Just a little warning though - this thread is very interesting, but remember to keep it away from anything too political.  Discussions of how one government has done wrong/right or one political party is good/bad, should be avoided - but focusing on the solutions are heartily encouraged!  (The blame game is never fun anyway.)
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OHebel Wring
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« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2007, 03:03:11 pm »

That one government did wrong/right!


that political party was right/wrong!


and all you who don't believe me are wrong/right!
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« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2007, 03:06:33 pm »

Oooh Mr Wring!  You bounder you!  Tongue
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The Grand Duchess
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« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2007, 05:04:34 pm »

I think that Mr Wring and others here have gotten it right- we're talking about educating children and adults on how to be self-supporting and sufficient on a wide variety of levels.  We're saying that altruism is not enough- capitalism is not altruistic, and we live in a primarily capitalist world (which can be a good thing, but not always). We're also saying that we need technology that fits the time and place- tipis and yurts are very efficient if they are in the right places, but they don't work everywhere.  The same goes for apartment buildings, which can actually be very efficient compared to single-family homes. And I think we all want to increase the beauty, peace and wonder in our lives, without destroying the lives of others.

How can we help all the good things along, especially in a steampunk fashion?  I think some of us are doing it as teachers.  Working as volunteers at historical reenactment venues helps, too. Going into schools as speakers- that works.  Inviting friends to events that promote gentle forward-thinking is good- it doesn't have to be a political event. Living our own lives mindfully, regardless of how we dress or whether we invent or tinker- that's helpful.  And teaching children HOW to live mindfully is important- people don't just magically learn how to do basic things.

We also need to teach better math and science- most children do not get a sufficient grounding in either.  They also aren't introduced to fun things like programmatic music (things like Peter and the Wolf) that stir the imagination.  This is especially true in the inner cities, where children are often culturally bereft.

Notice how none of this involves specific party or political or religious or national affiliations.  And notice how adaptable it is.  If every person here introduced a group of adults or kids to the taste of food made by hand, or showed a kid how to plant a garden, or spoke to a group of senior citizens about what good things from the old days should be passed on, the world would improve just a tiny bit, and over time, who knows where we could end up?
« Last Edit: March 12, 2007, 05:18:17 pm by The Grand Duchess » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2007, 05:46:37 pm »

Some random thoughts:

1. Politics. I agree but in some ways that aspect is moot as we are in a post-politics situation as a lot of people on both sides of the spectrum have dropped the ball and let us down. The changes in California and other states show that this is beyond simple divisions of politics and when you can get things working on a local scale the will of the people can make changes.

2. Hobbit houses. Great ideas. I do think they need more exposed fancy piping. This kind of thing is an example of the taking the best of the new with an eye back on older PIC (pre-internal combustion) technology.

3. Stirling engines. They are already working well on a smaller scale the key will be to get much larger versions working. Perhaps some young Neo-Victorian will head off to engineering college with this in mind and the spirit of the pioneers of an earlier age (Brunel angst many) and solve the problem Wink

4. The Magnus Effect to make more efficient ships - the rotorsail and turbosail:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flettner_ship
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbosail

5. Its a mix of old and new in a fancy wrapping.
a) Use modern science to produce simpler, cleaner and more efficient technology. This could be more obvious things like solairships (just thought it up but consider it copyrighted) but also how about transgenic goats producing insulin? The beauty of aiming for a simpler, sustainable and local solutions is that they are easy to roll out in the developing world and allow them to leapfrog some of the problems we've had (including pollution). I watched something recently about charities making more efficient stoves available in China resulting in a great reduction in the use of wood, helping with global warming and more importantly deforestation (a really big issue across the Himalayas). Another good example is the work of Trevor Baylis, his clockwork radio is brilliant and simple and has led to other ideas like windup torches and laptops. Organisations like VSO can help with implementation.
b) Help change the mindset. I think the main stumbling block will be the acceptance that it may take a bit longer to get where you want to go so why not make a feature of it. I'm flying off to Istanbul soonish and feeling a little guilty, perhaps next time I might consider the Orient Express. Going to Beijing? Why not make the journey part of the adventure (rather than just a necessary evil) and take the Trans-Siberian Railway? I have the TSE timetables within easy reach somewhere here.

6. Education. Kids are very interested in green issues and you can build on that with practical skills. Also a lot of people here have a passion for engineering and engines, both in the practical and aesthetic sense. Spreading the love for simple, yet practical technology could just lead to further useful inventions (see points 3 and 5a for examples) and would certainly help with acceptance. As the Grand Duchess says there is also a decline in the sciences, maths and engineering and a love of Steampunk can give some back their appreciation for such things.
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« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2007, 07:24:52 pm »

Well.. couple thoughts from an Albertan (we have in the tar sands the second largest oil reserve in the world, only slighty behind Saudi)
Feel free to argue, lambaste or otehr wise disagree, this is just my $.02

 - the problem isn't a lack of oil - its a growing lack of CHEAP oil, from politically stable sources. Oil as a political weapon is a reality.
 - Lack of a stewardship mentality - until Joe Average stops wanting to drive gas-guzzling SUVs foisted on him by profit driven oil and auto companies. Unitl the average person is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, no change will happen. Why do hybrids sell so poorly? No-one wants one. Look at car ads - they are all about speed, and fun, tearing up some greenspace in your SUV. Our incredible appetite for fossil fuels will not decrease unitl we start thinking as stewards of our resources.
 - Lack of foresight in industry. Sure you can make money easily now, but you probably could make a ton more investing in research to lower the environmental footprint of your products.
- Lack of useful education. Can kids nowadays do simple math in their heads, or do they need a calculator to figure out basics? Are they taught to THINK?
Its getting very hard up here to find folks who want to enter the skilled trades, Everyone it seems wnats a dgree and an office (read management) job. No one wnats to be a welder, a plumber, or be part of what is seen to be menial work.
As far as Victorian values and tech..
 - Life in Victorian citiies was short, dirty and brutal - read Dickens.  Pollution was beyond anything you;d ever see today. London fogs could be fatal.
 - Stirling engines are neat, but they have a few major disadvantages for general use. However as large scale (think power generation or ship propulsion) they could offer some benefits (Disadvantages include no instant start, must be quite large to produce usable power at low temperature differentials, power output is pretty much a steady state, ok for generators, but bad for motive power or anywhere a variable output is needed)
- Victorian society had an outer veneer of civility, but it could be very repressive and ugly underneath.

On steam power..
   Steam power, as an external combustion power source, does pollute far less, but it costa a lot more to run and maintain. The reason diesels killed steam locos wasn't that they were better or more fuel efficient, but that they cost far less to operate (crew costs), and maintain (shop costs) could spend far lomnger in service between shop visits, and that they did less damage to the rails and trackbed (steam loco driving wheels and theri large reciprocating weight ccauses an effect called "dynamic augment".
This can be extremely damaging to the track, and in extreme cases can actually cause the driving wheels to leave the track entirely.
 That leaves us with stationary engines. Easier and cheaper to use a steam turbine to generate electricity for power.

In general..
  Thinking green is good, but until it pervades all levels of society, its not going to make a big difference.  The Average Citizen just doesn't get it.
Everyone wants an SUV, cheap gas, TV and the rest of it. We have confused (and traded ) "Simplicity" and "Convenience". As a society weneed to face up to the damage we have caused, look at what resources we have remaining, and find ways to minimise our impact on them.

So?
Cheers
Harold
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« Reply #15 on: March 12, 2007, 08:20:34 pm »

Harold, I am so glad you joined this forum.

pretty much every time you post, I learn something.  Thanks.
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The Grand Duchess
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« Reply #16 on: March 12, 2007, 08:25:48 pm »

Well.. couple thoughts from an Albertan (we have in the tar sands the second largest oil reserve in the world, only slighty behind Saudi)
Feel free to argue, lambaste or otehr wise disagree, this is just my $.02

 - the problem isn't a lack of oil - its a growing lack of CHEAP oil, from politically stable sources. Oil as a political weapon is a reality.
 - Lack of a stewardship mentality - until Joe Average stops wanting to drive gas-guzzling SUVs foisted on him by profit driven oil and auto companies. Unitl the average person is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, no change will happen. Why do hybrids sell so poorly? No-one wants one. Look at car ads - they are all about speed, and fun, tearing up some greenspace in your SUV. Our incredible appetite for fossil fuels will not decrease unitl we start thinking as stewards of our resources.
 - Lack of foresight in industry. Sure you can make money easily now, but you probably could make a ton more investing in research to lower the environmental footprint of your products.
- Lack of useful education. Can kids nowadays do simple math in their heads, or do they need a calculator to figure out basics? Are they taught to THINK?
Its getting very hard up here to find folks who want to enter the skilled trades, Everyone it seems wnats a dgree and an office (read management) job. No one wnats to be a welder, a plumber, or be part of what is seen to be menial work.
As far as Victorian values and tech..
 - Life in Victorian citiies was short, dirty and brutal - read Dickens.  Pollution was beyond anything you;d ever see today. London fogs could be fatal.
 - Stirling engines are neat, but they have a few major disadvantages for general use. However as large scale (think power generation or ship propulsion) they could offer some benefits (Disadvantages include no instant start, must be quite large to produce usable power at low temperature differentials, power output is pretty much a steady state, ok for generators, but bad for motive power or anywhere a variable output is needed)
- Victorian society had an outer veneer of civility, but it could be very repressive and ugly underneath.

On steam power..
   Steam power, as an external combustion power source, does pollute far less, but it costa a lot more to run and maintain. The reason diesels killed steam locos wasn't that they were better or more fuel efficient, but that they cost far less to operate (crew costs), and maintain (shop costs) could spend far lomnger in service between shop visits, and that they did less damage to the rails and trackbed (steam loco driving wheels and theri large reciprocating weight ccauses an effect called "dynamic augment".
This can be extremely damaging to the track, and in extreme cases can actually cause the driving wheels to leave the track entirely.
 That leaves us with stationary engines. Easier and cheaper to use a steam turbine to generate electricity for power.

In general..
  Thinking green is good, but until it pervades all levels of society, its not going to make a big difference.  The Average Citizen just doesn't get it.
Everyone wants an SUV, cheap gas, TV and the rest of it. We have confused (and traded ) "Simplicity" and "Convenience". As a society weneed to face up to the damage we have caused, look at what resources we have remaining, and find ways to minimise our impact on them.

So?
Cheers
Harold


Hear, hear!

The truth is, no oil is cheap. It costs a great deal in human and animal life, and destroys the planet. But as long as Joe Average thinks oil is or should be cheap, we will all suffer.

I've had students get angry because I've said that the world needs more plumbers.  Yet most of my students are not head-workers- they should be doing hand-work, not head-work.  That doesn't mean that plumbers don't use their heads or that some plumbers aren't visionaries.  But the truth is, I'm more proud of my ability to cook, crochet, sing, and work with my hands than I am of having a degree, because a degree won't feed me when the chips are down.

The 'Victorian' values to which I ascribe are these- that a worker should receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, no more, no less.  That 'women's work' matters, and that working in the home is not a job for stupid people- household management is important, and often makes it possible for others to work outside the home.  Therefore people who do housework should be given a decent living wage or equivalent, and lots of respect. That schooling in the basics of math, science, the arts, and vocations should be freely available to all people, regardless of sex or national origin.  That all people deserve health care, a safe place to live, the right to worship as they please without harming others,suitable and comfortable clothing and decent, nutritious food and drink.  They also deserve a certain amount of leisure time and free or low-cost access to higher learning facilities.  That unions can be a blessing.  That no people should have to live under the yoke of colonialism, and Third world countries should receive proper payment for their exports.  that the wealthy should not gouge the poor or enslave them.  In other words, I'm a radical and a feminist and a trade-unionist- and it's amazing that these ideas still horrify and astound people today.

The 'green' movement is good- but it needs to move away from classism and elitism.  Fresh food grown locally should not only be for the upper classes.  Remember the concept of victory and cottage gardens?  When people are forced to buy everything from supermarkets or over-priced organic marts, there's no impetus to eat in a healthy fashion. Most poor people have few choices about being green.  'Green' clothing and food are often out of their price reach.  Ditto 'green' vacations, appliances and other items. And even when those things are available, they are treated by the tastemakers as valueless or declasse.  To take a long or short vacation in one's own home town by using public facilities (golf courses, health clubs, parks, museums, beaches) is seen as bizarre and a sign of poverty. In New York, we are about to lose the treasure of Coney Island, one of the last workingman's resorts in the country, because most people don't go there anymore; they prefer to go somewhere 'exotic'. We have a fabulous Greenmarket, but most poor people are totally unaware that many of the vendors take EBT, or what used to be called 'food stamps'.  The markets are also often held in areas not frequented by ordinary workers, and rarely on weekends.
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« Reply #17 on: March 12, 2007, 08:27:19 pm »

As far as Victorian values and tech..
 - Life in Victorian citiies was short, dirty and brutal - read Dickens.  Pollution was beyond anything you;d ever see today. London fogs could be fatal.
 - Stirling engines are neat, but they have a few major disadvantages for general use. However as large scale (think power generation or ship propulsion) they could offer some benefits (Disadvantages include no instant start, must be quite large to produce usable power at low temperature differentials, power output is pretty much a steady state, ok for generators, but bad for motive power or anywhere a variable output is needed)
- Victorian society had an outer veneer of civility, but it could be very repressive and ugly underneath.

Which is why I'm not advocating a return to Victorian times. I'm necessarily advocating much, just talking outloud and seeing how things work (or not). Wink

However, it was the Steampunk aspect I was looking at - taking some of the ideas and principles of a PIC age and reworking them from our current standpoint. Part of the problem is the mindset, some of which you outline here:

In general..
  Thinking green is good, but until it pervades all levels of society, its not going to make a big difference.  The Average Citizen just doesn't get it.
Everyone wants an SUV, cheap gas, TV and the rest of it. We have confused (and traded ) "Simplicity" and "Convenience". As a society weneed to face up to the damage we have caused, look at what resources we have remaining, and find ways to minimise our impact on them.

We in the West  seem to be stuck in a consumerist rut where they want everything the world has to offer and they want it now. That kind of approach will lead to us driving right over the cliff. I often hear people suggesting that some kind of high tech miracle cure was just around the corner but we are going to be cutting things awfully tight if we are waiting on something like fusion reactors.

It struck me that Steampunk had an appreciation for simpler technology and a slower mode of life. Equally it often invovles the combination of older technology with more modern science to interesting effect (solairships, Baylis' clockwork radio, etc. not strictly steam but good examples f PIC technology with a modern twist that we can appreciate). Both approaches are exactly what would be needed to soften the impact of a crash as well as providing the means for developing countries to leapfrog
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« Reply #18 on: March 12, 2007, 08:30:04 pm »

Green can be bad. Very bad.

Ok, that caught your eye. I was referring to a recent article in the Independent about the world turning to bio-Ethanol for fuel. Whilst this is a potentially good idea, and it may certainly allow our comsuming society to continue to do so; it may not be the wisest of moves to suggest the Brazilian rainforests/savannahs as a good planting ground for eco-fuel cash crops. Of course, there are opinions too.

Article:
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/climate_change/article2328821.ece
Letters response:
http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article2332005.ece

I was also reminded of these articles on the 22nd January:

http://comment.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/article2174974.ece
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article2174984.ece
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article2175016.ece

and in March:
http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article2177993.ece

At the time I did indeed wonder why we couldn't go back to the times of cheese paper, glass bottles etc, and not mix it up with modern packaging ideas such as refills, and bulk buying?
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« Reply #19 on: March 12, 2007, 09:08:53 pm »

That is a good point. It wouldn't take much. It wasn't that long ago that you'd take your fizzy pop bottles back to the shop to get the deposit back. We get given free plastic bags in supermarkets but add a penny or two for each bag (as I think they have done in Ireland) and people will soon start bringing their own sturdy reusable bags to take their shopping home in.

After all the 3Rs are: reduce, then reuse and only then when you have to recycle.

Green can be bad. Very bad.

Ok, that caught your eye. I was referring to a recent article in the Independent about the world turning to bio-Ethanol for fuel. Whilst this is a potentially good idea, and it may certainly allow our comsuming society to continue to do so; it may not be the wisest of moves to suggest the Brazilian rainforests/savannahs as a good planting ground for eco-fuel cash crops. Of course, there are opinions too.


Exactly a lot of the "green" solutions are fundamentally flawed.

Biofuel:
http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2005/12/06/worse-than-fossil-fuel/

Electric cars? Where does the electricity come from in the first place? What gets me is that places like California (which is going all out for electric cars) has such massive power problems while being ideally placed to exploit solar power. Even here in Blighty if you covered your roof with PV cells you could end up selling electricity back to the power companies. I saw a news report on low rent housing in California was made much greener - the outer wall is covered in solar panels and thick walls (like the old adobe walls) keep the rooms cool in summer and warm in winter reducing the need for air conditioning. Their energy requirements were minimal, thanks partly to new technology and partly to updated forms of older tried and tested techniques.

Other wilder technological solutions are... well pretty wild:
www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/01/30/another-species-of-denial/

All seem focused on the idea that we can keep consuming as much as we are (with plenty of room for expansion in the future).
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« Reply #20 on: March 12, 2007, 09:17:59 pm »

This is a great disscussion, however it seems to talk more about environmentalism in the 21st century rather than 19th century flavored speculative fiction.  I'll give it some time to develop, but we may be moving this to "off topic".
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Lasairfion
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« Reply #21 on: March 12, 2007, 09:28:32 pm »

My apologies. But it's hard to talk about rescuing now with the ideas of then without referring to the problems that plague now. Perhaps we need to focus more on the actual ideas from then which will save now?

But if we are to save the now using the then, then we need to use the best of then with the best of now to come up with a solution. After all, the industrial revolution wasn't clean either, but that doesn't mean we should write off the ideas of the past as unprofitable.

Solar powered steam engines? (Did someone mention Stirling engines earlier? could they be solar powered?)



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« Reply #22 on: March 12, 2007, 09:34:44 pm »

Just picking on on this as it goes to my broader point about improving and reworking older ideas with modern science and sensibilities:

I saw a news report on low rent housing in California was made much greener - the outer wall is covered in solar panels and thick walls (like the old adobe walls) keep the rooms cool in summer and warm in winter reducing the need for air conditioning.


Quote
An adobe wall can serve as a significant heat reservoir. A south-facing (in the Northern Hemisphere) adobe wall may be left uninsulated to moderate heating and cooling. Ideally, it should be thick enough to remain cool on the inside during the heat of the day but thin enough to transfer heat through the wall during the evening. The exterior of such a wall can be covered with glass to increase heat collection. In a passive solar home, such a wall is called a Trombe wall.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe#Thermal_properties

Trombe walls:

Quote
A Trombe wall is a sun-facing wall built from material that can act as a thermal mass (such as stone, concrete, adobe or water tanks), combined with an air space, insulated glazing and vents to form a large solar thermal collector.

Edward Morse patented the design in 1881 (US Patent 246626), but it was ignored until 1964.


This is now used as part of passive solar building design:

Quote
The development of the passive solar house

Passive solar building design dates back into antiquity and has remained a traditional part of vernacular architecture in many countries. However in the developed world, if these techniques were continued by some rural populations and enthusiasts, they were largely ignored by the construction industry until towards the end of the 20th century.

Despite this lack of general enthusiasm, passive solar technologies were refined and developed during the 20th century, boosted a little by the 1973 oil crisis, and their application has been aided by the development of computer modelling techniques and a number of pioneering passive solar buildings.

At the start of the 21st century the subject has been receiving greater interest due to concerns over global warming.


Principles being used in moder low cost housing:

Quote
But this is more than just a window-dressing exercise, insists Moreno. "It's also about the heart of the building, the way it works with its surroundings. Sustainability and energy efficiency have been very important in these projects."

Perhaps the best exponent of this is the most recently completed building, a collaboration between big British practice Sheppard Robson and ACP, a small local firm. Situated in Carabanchel, to the south west, it consists of six-storey blocks arranged around three courtyards, all wrapped in white-louvred cladding. "Solar chimneys" use the sun's heat to draw in cool air when it is hot, while solar panels pre-warm the water supply before it enters the boilers. The white aluminium louvres were a pragmatic way of protecting the apartments from sun and wind, as well as giving it a sense of identity.

It's easy to forget this is low-cost housing.


http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/architecture/story/0,,2016286,00.html

Also:
http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2022802,00.html
www.guardian.co.uk/family/story/0,,1680656,00.html
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« Reply #23 on: March 12, 2007, 09:38:57 pm »

No appology needed, and now, some much needed humor:

I still argue coal is good for the environment because the sulfer makes the rain droplets on the tops of clouds very small, which makes them refract the hamful rays of the sun away before they even get into our atmosphere! YAY!
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« Reply #24 on: March 12, 2007, 09:40:33 pm »

This is a great disscussion, however it seems to talk more about environmentalism in the 21st century rather than 19th century flavored speculative fiction.  I'll give it some time to develop, but we may be moving this to "off topic".

Partly the more... "off topic" material is showing that the high tech solutions are largely impractical (as are others like carbon offsetting) which is the whole reason we are looking at a more Steampunk solution.
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