More thoughts on how long to rebuild

Hi all,

I tinkered with my previous post and turned it into a more permanent reference page. Specifically, I added ideas around how important the City Size Bonus would be to allowing people to specialise in more professional industries rather than just remaining stuck with almost everyone being farm labourer generalists. The link is blow, and if you have ideas, please comment on this post and if I agree I might add them into my reference page.

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How long to rebuild after the fall of civilisation?

How long for technological civilisation to recover after an all out nuclear war or high mortality pandemic?


After some unspeakably horrible months after the initial crisis, survivors will settle into some sort of new normal and tire of anarchy. But to be honest, I’m not even sure the fall of National governments is as inevitable as it appears in most post-apocalyptic stories. Most national governments have brainstorming groups (like America’s DARPA) and security agencies planning survival of their own government and quick recovery plans for the nation for all manner of horrible crises. 

But assuming the National government fell, eventually local survivors would form villages with local Mayors, and these would look to trade and form regional security pacts, gradually building up to a State – and I imagine this more or less occurring across the country ASAP as a continent wide competition kicked in for supremacy.

We know the rule of law is a fragile thing. We know the benefits of democracy and checks and balances in government. As cynical as the modern world is about our politicians, in a real crisis we know we need law and order and an authority to call on to stop the descent into anarchy and warlords and mob violence.

Without the distractions of Netflix and busy social lives, there is a lot more time for thinking. Collapses are long, boring affairs, with short bursts of extreme terror interspersed with months of boredom and general nagging anxiety. People will want to feel safe. They’ll want a local leader, an authority figure to report infractions to and decide matters. I imagine them quickly appointing a mayor. It’s one of the first steps on the road to recovery.

(Note – even warlords hate total anarchy! Even if some crazy warlord takes over somewhere, not all hope is lost. Even warlords want some sort of order. Think of warlords in Afghanistan, or Mexican drug cartels forming alliances. Even warlords want hot food and cold beer, and a means to achieve their ends. They can organise enormous lines of supply, and have the various functions of either government or corporations, with their own hierarchies, chains of command, even down to administration and accounting divisions. Technical progress would be prioritised – even if the political progress came through painful revolutions later on.)


Given that I am optimistic that *some* form of governance would develop within a year of the disaster – how long to industrialise again? The first step would be locals prioritising fuel for agriculture. Petroleum has a one or two year shelf life at most. This would need to be saved for both security and agricultural sectors. Then work would begin on wood gas engines to cook up fuel for harvesters and tractors. Most transport would go back to cycling and horse drawn carriages – for a while. Cycling and rickshaw culture would make a huge comeback. Bikes with trailers can move modest loads by good old fashioned pedal power, enabling some level of scavenging to begin. Fuel would be the new gold, enabling some agricultural output.


This is where the book World War Z has some interesting insights. (I hate zombies as a concept, but it’s a rich apocalypse genre). The book is quite different to the movie and follows the decade after the initial Zombie outbreak. The survivors fortify the Rocky Mountains, get organised, and simplify the economy so that former CEO’s and Hollywood celebrities have less status than a good plumber. In a similar way I imagine we would see various guilds quickly formed. There would be farming, scavenging, and technical guilds. At first, any decent carpenter or plumber or electrician would be treated like celebrities. They would be sent to retrieve solar panels and batteries, and make local small scale wind turbines and tools and gear for their workshops. Even rural areas would have heaps of useless cars scattered around that could be scrapped for various metals for years to come, let alone the bounty waiting for them in the abandoned cities.

Eventually plans for the future would emerge. Scavenging would look to not just tools and resources, but the manuals that teach future generations how to make stuff work. With limited time for education and a requirement for as much labour as possible, young people would be educated maybe up to middle high school and then apprenticed to guilds to learn on the job. In some ways their next ‘industrial revolution’ would be much faster than the first industrial revolution, as we already know the laws of physics and chemistry and biology that make the modern world possible. The techs from the village would soon form scavenging parties that would collect and centralise the most important power systems to keep the power tools running.


There are primitive solutions for batteries and even refrigeration, so that life in a post-apocalyptic village with some food and technicians could soon start to have some of the comforts of the modern world. Bit by bit society would build up again, but with less oil, in a more walkable, human based city plan. Energy would be more valuable and prioritised for the most important survival and salvaging efforts. Finally, some regions might rebuild the local hydro dams or get the nuclear power plants running again. Once they get breeder reactors up and running, any nuclear waste in that country becomes an incredible asset that could power the reformed nation for centuries to come. The bottom line? I think we’d be more or less back to close to today’s technological capability, if not population and industrial output, within a generation or two. 

For more detail, see Isaac Arthur:

What do you think?

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Drones to reforest logged areas fast and cheap?

I love this. One drone can plant as many seeds as 10 people, and one pilot can control 10 drones. This means one person doing the work of 100 seed planters – and the drones are firing a diverse selection of tree seed pods into the ground to replant not just trees – but a future biodiverse ecosystem.

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Zubrin says NASA should just buy tickets with SpaceX for moon

Mars Society’s Robert Zubrin says SpaceX should do the run at something like 1/20th the cost of NASA’s SLS. I’ll hand you over without any further ado.

By Robert Zubrin & Homer Hickam, Washington Post, 06.22.20

The success last month of the SpaceX Dragon’s flight to the International Space Station was the first time in nearly a decade that Americans traveled into space aboard an American vehicle launched from U.S. soil. That is important, but we think the flight actually means even more. This commercially developed spacecraft has given our nation the means to carry crews to the moon — and perhaps beyond — much faster and cheaper than has ever been envisioned. Shouldn’t we take advantage of it?

In March 2019, Vice President Pence challenged NASA to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 “by any means necessary.” This was a potential breakthrough, because after nearly 50 years of drift, the White House was finally giving NASA’s human spaceflight program a concrete goal with a clear timeline and forceful support — a necessity for any progress and the restoration of the agency’s can-do spirit. The purpose for the mission itself is a blend of economic, scientific and world leadership goals designed to make the investment worthwhile to all Americans.

NASA’s response to Pence’s challenge was to proceed with what it already had in the pipeline: the Orion crewed spacecraft and the massive shuttle-derived Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift expendable booster rocket. SLS has been in slow-walk development since 2006, with more than $18 billion spent, but it is still years away from launch. Considering this track record, we unhappily doubt the SLS/Orion combination will meet the vice president’s challenge.

But now we have an alternative. The contract that resulted in the Dragon crewed spacecraft was issued by NASA in 2014. Six years and $3 billion later, it has flown astronauts into orbit. What SpaceX did was show that a well-led entrepreneurial team can achieve results that were previously thought to require the efforts of superpowers, and in a small fraction of the time and cost, and even — as demonstrated by its reusable Falcon launch vehicles — do things deemed impossible altogether. This is a revolution.

We recognize the hard work that NASA and its contractors have put forth on Orion/SLS, but they have simply been left behind by more nimble commercial companies. Dragon is not just cheaper than Orion; it is much better, because it is much lighter. The Dragon has a mass of 9.5 tons, compared to Orion’s 26.5 tons. Orion could have been designed lighter, but NASA has received so many conflicting directives from successive administrations — Orion was once required to fly to the asteroid belt! — it ended up with an elephant, not the racehorse it needed.

Moreover, SLS cannot deliver Orion to low lunar orbit like Apollo with enough propellant to fly it home. To fix this, NASA wants to build a new space station in high lunar orbit, which it calls the Gateway, to provide Orion with a destination that it can reach. But to travel down to the moon and back up to the high Gateway orbit requires a lander with double the propellant needed from low orbit. This Rube Goldbergian plan will cost billions and add years to the schedule of what has become known as the Artemis program.

But is Crew Dragon capable of replacing Orion? We think so. Weighing only 20 percent more than the Apollo capsule, it has 50 percent more internal space, making it more than large enough. Not only that, we wouldn’t need to wait or pay for an SLS to get it there. SpaceX’s already operational Falcon Heavy launcher could send it to low lunar orbit with a fully fueled return stage, eliminating the necessity for the Gateway station. To land would still be a two-rocket situation — one to deliver the Dragon to lunar orbit and another to send the lander — but vastly cheaper and faster, requiring two Falcon Heavy rockets instead of two SLS boosters, which each cost 10 times as much. NASA has tapped Blue Origin (whose founder, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Post), Dynetics and SpaceX in a moon-lander competition. We anticipate the same entrepreneurial spirit that produced Crew Dragon to prevail in its development.

It’s time to get on board with the new reality SpaceX and other commercial companies, working closely with NASA, have provided. We propose that a Crew Dragon first be sent in an Apollo 8-type flight around the moon as a demonstration, followed closely by a landing with a commercial lander. The SLS being assembled can be reserved for a future heavy uncrewed payload; Orion can be readied for use in Mars or other crewed interplanetary missions. The question for the administration and Congress is this: Do you really want to reach the moon by 2024?

Robert Zubrin is founder of the Mars Society and president of Pioneer Astronautics. His latest book is “The Case for SpaceHow the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility.” Homer Hickam is the author of “Rocket Boys/October Sky,” a retired NASA astronaut trainer and spacecraft engineer, and a board member of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

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Corona virus – Australian Economy vs Lives?

Wouldn’t it be awesome to kill Corona in Australia and be able to live again – even with harsh international borders and quarantine rules? But again, it only takes one infection in a crowded pub or club or restaurant or church, and we’re back in lockdown. A Corona sneeze at a football match? Forget it, that’s New York!

Professor Tony Blakely says quadrupling our ICU beds to 8000 could see us achieve “herd immunity” in October. This of course depends on the assumption that herd immunity works, and we can justify letting x number of people die!

OK, some Morbid Math!

What have I forgotten here?
Herd immunity requires 60% of 25 million Australians = 15 million for herd.

How many per day? Divide 15 million by 365 = 41,000 infections per day for a year. Ouch!

How many ICU beds is that? Some estimate that figures from other countries show that there are different ICU requirements in different countries. Some have tested more people and found more cases, driving down the ICU rate per person, while others haven’t had the tests on hand and just don’t know how many extra Corona cases are out there – artificially driving up the ICU per case number.

German data shows that the actual ICU rate may be as low as 1%. Let’s go with that, just for illustration purposes.

1% of 41,000 Coronavirus cases per day = 410 patients requiring ICU per day.
Now, how long is an ‘average’ ICU stay before they’re moved back into a more normal Covid isolation ward?
If we say a week, then 410 * 7 = 2870 Corona ICU beds for a year.
If we say a fortnight each it’s 5740 Corona ICU beds for a year.

A fortnight seems a bit long, as Boris was out of ICU in 5 days.

Anyway, so somewhere above Professor Blakely has a few different back-of-the-envelope assumptions, but whether it’s 8000 beds or 10,000 beds to get to herd immunity at double speed – that’s asking more of us Australians to get it, faster. It’s risking the curve getting out of control and turning into a deadly spike, overwhelming hospitals and forcing doctors to triage who lives and who dies.

Now, it’s all fun and games doing the Morbid Math. As long as it is in the abstract, as an idea with numbers. But when I look at my family – some of whom are high risk – I don’t want to subject them to that! I’d rather we kept lock down until we killed off Covid in Australia. A few weeks after we had zero cases reported, we could try opening up our domestic economy a little and seeing what happened. By then the health sector should have a lot more ICU beds and be better prepared. We can keep physical distancing. We can wash our hands, but basically start to get back to work, bit by bit, slowly ramping up our meeting numbers again. If we really have killed it off in Australia, then maybe we could get to the point where our island home was protected by strong quaratine rules for interational travellers, and we’re basically going gangbusters in the domestic economy!

But if it comes back? I don’t mind lockdown again, and trying to kill it off again. I don’t mind the idea of an intermittent “Yoyo” cycle of lockdown and infection, lockdown and infection – until we have a vaccine. What is national debt? Even if it takes a decade or more to pay back the debt – I don’t want to sacrifice any of my family on the altar of “The Australian Economy”. The economy serves us, not the other way around.

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