Utopia 12: The Field Trip

We have a society that is moving very rapidly to the super-, super-, super-consumptive, and I’m proposing that might not be the final answer. So I’m saying, why don’t we try a leaner alternative?


The disheartening slowness of any progress toward freedom from need is mainly fruit  of a greed out of proportion to any justifiable fear of insecurity.


[…]  land conservation will succeed only if and when man creates beautiful cities  wherein he will feel it a privilege to be, live, and work.  

Science rejects the non-rational as unreal.  In doing so, she puts herself in a position  of non-competence in all those fields or things that through existing, inasmuch as  they modify the real, do not avail themselves of any computation or any methodological  inquiry.  


Life is a study of the improbable, not the statistically average.


Nothing is purer than sterility and simpler than death.                        

Utopia 12: The Field Trip

Jack took roll on the train platform as the children began to arrive with their sleeping bags and their backpacks. The school had chartered a train car for the trip, and Jack was herding the children with their belongings into the car as they arrived at the platform from the shuttle system.

“Walk, don’t run Renae.” he called without looking up from the clip board.  “Stop teasing Marion, Will.”

They complied briefly, and then went back to the errant behavior as soon as they thought Jack was occupied with something else.

The train conductor appeared and stood at Jack’s elbow.  He waited politely for Jack to finish finding a name on the roll.  “Wow, they sure are tightly wound.  You got your hands full today, Jack.”

“You remember how exciting field trips were. They will settle down in a few hours. Half of them will fall asleep by the time we hit Reno.  How have you been, Mel?”  Jack extended his hand and smiled.

“Vaguely. I remember vaguely.” Mel chuckled as he took Jack’s hand. “I just wanted to make sure you had everything you need. We put you in the last car and put the dining car next to you.  That should keep the thru traffic out of your car.  I thought that would be better for you. If that doesn’t work for you there is still time to change it.”

The fact that the Pacifica Train Cooperative was the only transportation cooperative running trains to Corona, had never hampered Mel from taking the comfort of each of his passengers personally.  Jack felt a sudden stab of nostalgia toward this man. “That’s fine Mel. Thanks for all the hard work you’ve given us over the years.”  

Mel frowned at Jack’s tone, “This isn’t goodbye is it?  You are gett’in a new class next year, right?”

Jack smiled, “Yes, of course. We’ll be seeing you next year I am sure. But not on such an ambitious trip. Maybe the museums in Sacramento.”

Mel looked reassured. He chatted with Jack a few more minutes and then ambled off to talk to some of his other customers.

When his roll was complete, Jack walked to the front of the train to tell Mel all of the children were accounted for. Then he returned to the car and recounted the children.  When he felt the train start to move he counted them yet again.

Concepción Cortez, Geraldo’s mother, and Rhonda Laucowski, Marion’s mother,  were serving as Jack’s two chaperons.  They were seated next to each other at the back of the car and chatting over the din. Three of the children were bouncing in their seats and Jack walked down the isle to subdue each of them. The kids were used to train travel and knew all of the tricks. They had separated themselves into their usual cliches and some had swiveling their seats around to face each other. Renae’s group had even drawn the sound barriers which were folded at the walls to provide a small private space. Jack made those turned backwards face forward and made Renae withdraw the barrier prior to taking his position at the front of the car.  He began to give his students instructions for the trip. There were some murmured conversations but overall they paid him polite patience if not their full attention. The kids had been on field trips with him so many times they knew the rules by heart.

After he was done the children separated into groups again and began to select movies from the train library to watch on the train windows that doubled as a movie screen. Jack walked up and down the isle of the car for several minutes making sure that all the entertainment was appropriate, despite the fact that he had already made sure that the whole car would not allow objectionable or adult themed entertainment. Most of the kids were not even paying attention to the videos. They were chatting excitedly or playing games also provided by the cooperative train system.  Finally satisfied, he took his seat at the head of the car and took out his wallet.  He picked the folded computer out of the wallet before replacing it in his back pocket.  Then he unfolded the computer long enough to select a book he was reading and refolded the computer to a comfortable size.  A history of the 21 st century with an interesting argument that the turbulence of the time was a necessary evil in order for man to overcome the systems of the day and move forward into their current more stable system.

Jack preferred to keep his window clear so he could watch the scenery as the train progressed.  Just outside of Corona there was a nature corridor that ran the length of the West and up into Canada.  Millions of people had been relocated in order to create this wild preserve that spared as much wildlife as possible from the mass extinction that had started in the beginning of the 21st century.  Only train rail went through this area.  Jack had taken his class camping in the preserve last year.  It had been one of their best trips.  He never missed an opportunity to see the reserve and perhaps glimpse some of its wild inhabitants.  Every few minutes he would stop reading and glimpse out the window hopefully.

The first leg of the trip went without incident. The children were allowed to go to the dining car in groups of 4-5 to get lunch and bring it back to their seats.

Jack had scheduled a documentary film for after lunch.  There was some moaning after the film started but it was half-hearted. The history of the Catastrophe and the development of the Great Desert out of what had formally been called the Bread Basket of America was discussed. The increase in tornadoes and storms. The huge dust storms that engulfed the land as far as Chicago were also shown. Then the realization that this was a permanent change and the collapse of the American government followed by the Renaissance. Finally the Renewal Projects started and some success was noted. The children paid attention through most of the film although they already knew most of the history of the Great Desert.  Jack only had to get out of his seat once to stop a game that was being playedoccultly between Tanner and Farid.

There was one stop in Salt Lake City as some cars were disconnected and reconnected to other routes. Mel hustled up and down the isles, busy making sure that all of his customers made it to their correct car and thus the right destination.   Once they were under way again dinner was arranged the same as lunch.

Around 8pm Jack started a second film which was more entertainment than documentary.  It depicted a family at the turn of the 21 century forced to leave their desiccated farm and join the Long Walk West to escape the ever increasing size of the desert. The film followed their hardships and how they contributed to the unrest of the era.  It finally showed them starting one of the first neighborhood farm cooperatives as the tide of American politics started to turn.  Jack had chosen the film prior to his conversation with Jerry and, although he had thought the film excellent at the time he had first screened it, now he felt it did not come nearly close enough to the horror of that time.

At Salt Lake City a new car had been added in back of Jack’s car. The sleeping car had taken its design from Japanese sleeping cells found in airports at the turn of the century. Each box had a mattress a light and a very small monitor.  They were stacked in the train to a height of three cells.  The boys good heartedly competed for the top cells. Some of the fast friends squeezed themselves into one cubicle.  Jack allowed two same sex kids per cell but cautioned them that if they did not sleep soon after lights out he would separate them. He already had the children’s cells programmed to turn off the monitor and the lights at 11 pm. Jack crawled into bed exhausted.  He had intended to stay awake reading and listening to make sure that his charges were indeed sleeping but even before the lights went out the gentle rocking motion of the train lulled him to sleep.

To Jack’s chagrin, the children were up shortly past dawn. They filtered through the food car and into the observation car in small groups as they awoke. Jack woke at the first rustle and the sound of young voices, his subconscious unable to allow sleep when his charges were on the move.

The scene outside the windows had changed immensely. No longer were the lush apartments and parks of the city.  The thick forests and wildness of the natural corridor was also long gone.  Even the semi arid forest of the Rocky Mountains had passed them in the night. Now there were large barren sandy areas sparsely dotted by brush. Soon after breakfast the train came to a stop at the NewAcrosanti Station. Jack stepped out of the train first and was struck by the intense heat. Like opening an oven door. It sucked the breath out of his body and made him feel tired immediately. He began to reconsider his schedule. Heat like this was likely to make the children irritable early in the day. They would need more rest than on previous trips.

Jack had scheduled 3 large shuttles to bring the entire class to the hotel. The 2 chaperone’s were to take one shuttle with half the children and Jack would take the other. The third would have all of their bags and supplies. Jack counted everyone once again as they got into the cars still preserving their small cliches.

The city of New Acrosanti was established for the Desert Reclamation Project after it was apparent that the desert could be reclaimed, if very slowly. The concepts of the visionary desert architect Paolo Solari had been used to create the city.  Behemoth half spheres, like giant bowls half buried on their sides in the desert floor, rose many stories above the ground.  Each bowl had walls three feet thick made of caste silt, earth packed together so tightly is was like cement. The effect created by the design was that the second you entered any of the bowls you could feel the air cool around you. Slots in the bowls allowed wind to pass through the larger structures-more like kitchen sieves than bowls really. This sped the breeze up, enhancing the cooling effect.

The hotel was a medium sized bowl on the edge of the town. The area under the bowl contained a large garden with a pond and a water fall feature to further cool the air. The front rim of the bowl was black with solar panels and the air flow slits between the floors each contained wind turbines.  The rooms were further cooled with long tubes of water that reached deep into the Earth where the Earth’s temperature was a constant 57 degrees. (Two degrees warmer than at the turn of the century and rising slowly due to the effects of the Catastrophe.)  To Jack’s infinite relief the rooms were cool and comfortable despite the heat outside.

The children wandered by these wonders chattering happily and looking around eyes wide, and for some, mouths agape. The hotel had individual rooms as well as groups of rooms that were interconnected by a balconies on the cool side of the bowl. Jack had arranged several of these interconnected rooms for his class.

The children immediately started to run from room to room with great energy and excitement. Choosing rooms and deciding who would sleep where. Jack took one end room and the 2 chaperones took the other end room. Once the sleeping arrangements were decided (more or less) and the bags were in the appropriate rooms it was time for lunch.

The hotel was mainly made for education and research so there was no fancy hotel restaurant. The cafeteria suited the purpose of the hotel and suited Jack’s purposes as well. The children were herded to the lobby and past a small bar. In the bar voices, mostly male, were cheering and groaning in unison to what sounded like a sporting event. Jack did not look inside. He knew he would find a number of men and possibly some women glued to a large TV while the Congress debated the current issue of the day. Money would no doubt illegally be changing hands when the House voted on the issue.  Some of the children glanced into the bar with curiosity but knew that they were not old enough to attend.

As the class enjoyed their lunch Jack slipped away to the front desk to scheduled the next shuttle to the Desert One Energy Cooperative.

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1. Tell Obama to Get with the Program

You might have noticed that Utopia is not that utopian.  They have issues.  I based the story on Six Degrees:  Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas.  But I used about 2-3 degrees for Utopia and 6 degrees for Dystopia.  I did that because James Hansen had commented in the beginning of the global warming debates that even if we stopped producing all green house gasses tomorrow, the momentum already built into the system would carry the warming effect to at least 2 degrees Celsius, the brink of societal disaster.

I see no evidence that man is ready to limit green house gases to the rate science says is necessary to limit the warming to 2-3 degrees Celsius (3-5 degrees Fahrenheit).  An 80% decrease in emissions by 2050 is necessary.  As I write this the G8 is meeting again and the US is dead last among the mostindustrialized nations in taking this issue seriously.  We have allowed our emissions to creep up 16% over 1990 levels in the last 15 years instead of decreasing them the 7% as we said we would.

Seventh Place- United States of America

   * Where we win: NOWHERE

* Where we lose: We have failed to improve our emissions since 1990, and we have high emissions in every sector of our society and industry, and we have ineffective future policies (with the exception of leadership and renewables)

* Notes: Obama administration seen as “very positive and encouraging” for climate change action. However, the US remains the “country with the highest absolute emissions in the G8” with a “strong dependence on coal and oil”.  ENN

Sadly, the records of the other G8 nations that did ratify Kyoto is not much better.  Canada has gone up an appalling 35% instead of the 5% decrease they had promised.  Still no binding contracts with consequences for increased emissions exist.  Apparently that is what we need.  Not empty promises.

2.  Tell Chevy to Get with the Program



By the end of the film, you actually come to mourn the passing of the EV1, a well-intentioned soul that was in the right place at the right time, but was surrounded by the wrong people.



– The Economist



I published the first chapter of this story in Jan 2009.  I started researching it about 7 months prior to that.  In the discussion of the first chapter I buried an idea about the automotive industry.  Now that industry has failed and we are propping up that industry as well as the banking industry.

So I wish to reiterate the basics of my idea here.  More detail is contained in the first chapter discussion.

For every car that is made enough green house gas goes into the manufacture to off set even the highest mileage vehicles.  Yes, if you buy aPrius you actually contribute to green house gases over what you would have by continuing to drive your current gas guzzler.  Additionally there is all that asphalt also contributing to global warming.  Just imagine the Walmart parking lot in your town.

The only way around that is to decrease the number of vehicles on the road.  That means mass transit.  But no one likes mass transit.  Itsinconvenient.  But what if you could have a mass transit system that was actually more convenient and easier than driving your own car?

When the car companies came to Obama with their hands out, we should not have given them loans so they could continue their current ineffective business practices like killing the electric car. Obama should have told them that they would have to do what they did in WWII.  In WWII FDR told the automotive companies that they were done making cars for a while and that they were to make airplanes instead.

Obama should tell the auto industry that in exchange for saving their butts they need to accept government contracts to revamp thetransportation system in the US.  To develop a system for electric mass transit that is so good and so convenient that people would actually abandon their cars for the convenience.  That we will make the engineering departments of every university available to them for this enterprise and we will not loan them money but instead provide long term government contracts while this is happening.  If their work is not to oursatisfaction at the 5 year mark, then the contracts will be provided to other more willing companies, and the current automotive companies can be damned at that point.  Obama should tell them that’s the deal, the only deal, take it or leave it.

The advantage to this is that it looks to our future.  Soon gas and oil will reach peak oil and getting our people to their jobs will be an issue.  If we started with this plan now, we would have a fair jump on other countries when that happened.  We would be able to export the technology in the same way we exported the car in previous decades.

The current plan leaves us behind the technology curve yet again and leaves the tax payer holding the bag.

Revenge of the Electric Car

Peak Oil Community Solutions

Innovative Transportation Technologies

3.  Bring Back “the City of New Orleans

Being an American means accepting the fact that you have the worst health care system of the industrialized world.  It also means accepting that you have the very worst mass transit system in the industrialized world, and is many cases in the third world.

How many of you have ridden on a train?  It can be a great experience.  Relaxing.  Newer trains almost float.  And now they go faster than ever before.  Given the chaos at most airports, for short to medium travel they are becoming competitive, time wise, with planes.  Although the biggest planes can cruise at 550-570 mph, it takes them considerable time to get to that speed.  Trains on the other hand can get to their cruising speed of 322-357 mph almost immediately.  As far as comfort is concerned there is no comparison.  You can walk around, watch a movie, go to the observation car, sleep laying down.  The cars can serve different functions.  Check out the day car care for kids.>

Here are some of the accommodations provided on a train in Europe.  (From the Eurail Site):

On Board Services:
Sleepers: Beverages, wake-up service, newspaper, coffee/croissant in the morning
Comfort (first class): 1 attendant for 2 cars, a refrigerator, a coffee machine and microwave oven, coffee/croissant, and newspaper
Couchettes: Attendant service and wake-up service
Dining Car: For an additional cost, passengers can enjoy dinner and breakfast in the dining car. It is not necessary to make a reservation for dinner.
Check-in Procedures:
No check-in procedures before boarding The France-Italy Night trains. Ticket control and passport checks are done aboard the train.

“When we hit 242 mph, it felt like an airplane taking off. The pressure sent pains through my ears as we rocketed past applauding and cheering crowds on bridges and adjacent country roads…

Then the magic number appeared: 547.8 kph, or 357.2 mph – faster than any humans had ever traveled in a train on rails. As fast as an airplane, but on the ground.”

Consider what this investment adviser has to say about trains:

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding a modern high-speed railroad in Europe, you know why I say that.

Taking the TGV, the electric-powered French long-distance railroad, across the country from Paris to Provence was without a doubt the most enjoyable travel I have ever experienced. I boarded the train shortly before departure time without any security checks, and kept all my bags with me the entire way. I luxuriated in a huge leather reclining seat while being quietly whisked at 200 mph across the picturesque countryside. Regular service walked up and down the aisles, asking if I’d like anything to eat or drink. Or I could get up and stretch my legs and walk down to the café car if I wanted something-like a decent sandwich on a nice baguette, not some nasty air “snack.” Door to door, it was a little cheaper than an air ticket, and took less time because trains go from city center to city center, not to some godforsaken outpost 20 miles outside of town.

Compared to the cattle car experience of discount air travel, it’s bliss.

Comfort aside though, rail is bound to gain market share in the coming decades as the airline industry contracts. This is because rail is by far the cheapest and most fuel-efficient form of transport, requiring about a third less fuel than air for personal travel, and as little as 3% of the energy for freight.

Rail can also run on renewably generated electricity, making it a true transportation alternative for the future.

Now, I realize that the only long-distance passenger carrier in the country, Amtrak, is terminally broken and underfunded and suffering from decades of neglect. But as the rail resurgence in freight travel picks up speed, I have no doubt that passenger rail will follow.

Simon  Fraser University professor Anthony Perl, author of the new book Transport Revolutions, predicts that in 2025, no more than 25 airports will be functional. Electric powered transportation and rail will be the standard transport options.

Very simply, in a post-peak oil world, rail is a no-brainer. It’s probably the longest safe bet one could possibly make.

That would explain why the sector has attracted large investments from some of the wealthiest investors in the country over the last several years.

Bill Gates has become the largest investor in Canadian National Railway (NYSE: CNI). Warren Buffett and George Soros have taken large positions in both Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC). And Carl Icahn has taken a $122 million stake in CSX Corporation (NYSE: CSX).

Their investments have already paid off handsomely. Consider this chart of a few of the top airlines against their rail counterparts over the last year and a half:

5-14-08 Nelder EAC chart

What else need we say?

Until next time,

Chris Nelder


Rail: The Longest Safe Bet You Can Make

Now both Japan and Europe have trains that are levitated by magnets.  This makes the ride almost frictionless and allows the trains to travel at incredible speed using a minimum of energy.  It also makes the ride incredibly smooth.

Swiss Railroad is fed almost entirely by hydro electric.

Floats on air, held by powerful opposing magnets


 Shanghai-airport distance: 30km (18 miles)


 Time of journey: 14 mins return/Taxi trip: one hour


 Speed: more than 430 km/h (260mph)


 Cost: $1.2bn


 Opens to public: in about 12 months


 One-way ticket: $6 (50 yuan)

Association of American Railroads

Yet in the US we are dedicated to having the worst mass transit system we can possibly have.

United States

And in the U.S., installing high-speed trains seems stunted. It’s been considered, and some research has been done at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and at California University, south of Pittsburgh.


Nonetheless, high-speed trains have not caught on in the U.S. as they have in Europe, where TGV travel is generally considered faster transportation than air travel for distances that the TGV can cover in less than three hours.


The lack of interest in high-speed trains in the U.S may be due to the high up-front cost. According to American Maglev Technology (AMT):


High-speed trains and Japanese or German Maglev train systems have been reported to cost $40- to $80-million per mile. Public and private studies show that only Maglev technologies costing under $20 million per mile can be fully self-sufficient.


AMT anticipates it could construct a Maglev system for $19 million per mile or less. Should this occur, there would be no need for government subsidy.


California is studying a high-speed line running from Sacramento to San Diego via San Francisco and Los Angeles. Perhaps the governor could govern in the morning and act in the afternoon after lunching on the train.


Compare that with the $450 million in AIG bonuses or the $14 Trillion in money promised to banks by the government at this point.

4.  Do on to Others…

The Earth is in the process of undergoing its sixth mass extinction event.

The researchers found that populations of 71 percent of the butterfly species have decreased over the last 20 years, compared to 56 percent for birds and 28 percent for plants…

The current extinction is being precipitated by the widespread loss of habitats because of human activity, according to Tefler. The remaining habitats are small and fragmented, and their quality has been degraded because of pollution…

“We found strong evidence that the decline in the species richness of grasslands within the UK was linked to nitrogen pollution,” says Stevens. “In areas of high nitrogen pollution the species richness was much lower than in areas of low pollution, such as the Scottish highlands.”


Atmospheric nitrogen pollution is caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and from intensive agriculture, especially from the volatilisation of animal waste. This nitrogen is deposited on the soil, favouring the growth of some species to the cost of others.

 New Scientist

We are destined to lose 50% of the Earth’s species by the end of the century if we do not change our habits quickly.  That is 30,000 species a year and 3 species an hour.  Worse is that we have already lost 90% of the biomass of fish in the world’s oceans.

So why should you care?  The truth is I can’t tell you.  Not because there is not a good reason to care, but because I do not know what the reason is.  For example, if bees become extinct, we would have massive crop failures.

Here is a story to illustrate just how complex this issue is.  A century ago, the skies over North America were blackened by flocks of passenger pigeons.  These birds were hunted out of existence by European settlers.  The birds ate acorns as their main food.  When the last passenger pigeon died off, mice and deer populations exploded.   That is because these animals had competed with the passenger pigeon for the acorns.  Ticks, who ate the blood of the mice and deer, also exploded.  An organism carried by the tick became more prevalent and eventually mutated to infest man.  That is how the death of the passenger pigeon resulted in the birth of Lyme’s disease, a potentially fatal disease of man.  Again, I can’t help but be struck bydharma, maybe it goes to show that other than killing and trapping pest animals, you should repel them instead back to their own habitat. For instance pigeons roosting on houses could be repelled by using bird netting services in Plymouth for example, therefore no one is disrupting the food chain. It really is crazy how everything that happens has a domino effect on something else.

Links on Mass Extinction

In fact I think it is dharma.  The concept of dharma is universal.  In Christianity this concept is expressed as “Do on to other as you would have them do on to you.”  Actually this is a misquote.  What the text actually says is “As you do onto others, so you do onto yourself.”

The difference is subtle but there.  You are part of mankind.  What you do to others, you do to mankind and thus to yourself.  We are part of nature, no matter how much we work to convince ourselves that we are not.  What we do to the planet, to nature, we do to ourselves.  Things like the extinction of bees and passenger pigeons are evidence of this most basic truth.

What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man.  That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary.   Judaism

Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.   Islam

Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.   Buddhism

Tzu-Kung asked:  “Is there one principle upon which one’s whole life may proceed?”  The Mater replied, “Is not Reciprocity such a principle?–What you do not yourself desire, do not put before others.”  Confucianism

This is the sum of all true righteousness–

Treat others, as thou wouldst thyself be treated.

Do nothing to thy neighbor, which hereafter

Thou wouldst not have they neighbor do to thee.   Hinduism

“All good that a person does to another returns three fold in this life; harm is also returned three fold…

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:

 An’ it harm none,

 Do what ye will.”  Wiccan Rede

Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name for Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.”  The Kybalion by the Initiates of Hermes Trismegistus of Ancient Egypt

5.  Acrosanti

This is a very real place and one of my favorites.  If you are in Northern Arizona, you should visit this place and take the tour.  It is a community of visionary people and artists who are creating a city/laboratory in the desert for the future based on the designs of Frank Loyd Wright’s student PaoloSolari.  The tour is fascinating.  The air inside the structures is cool as I have described in the story, without any form of air conditioning.  It is truly an amazing and beautiful place.


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  1. I am going to go back and read it again.

    Noble diarist, the art of the storyteller certainly flows from your fingers.


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