Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Need

I have not been honest.

A major reason reason for pushing the  bounds of hand textile production technology was to provide a "Plan B" as sea level rise from Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) destroys industrial textile production. Thus, I want hand textile production to be fast enough to produce ordinary and functional fiber and textile products at a reasonable economic price.  This includes linen, cotton, nettle, wool, and other fibers.

In 1991, as I realized that the IPCC climate models dramatically understated the potential of sea level rise, I thought the loss of industrial fiber and textile production could be taken up by skills (widely) held by amateurs.  Then, my wife bought me a hand knit fisherman's sweater in Nova Scotia, and I about froze wearing it salmon fishing off the coast of  California. This was a warning that modern hand made textiles are not practical in the functional world.

Above is a swatch of British Breeds gansey yarn knit at a modern gauge.  That is OK, if the Coast Guard has helicopters standing by, and  there is a Weather Service to warn of storms.

Same grist of yarn, same stitch pattern, but constructed on the assumption that there is no Coast Guard or Weather Service.   This is the fabric that was knit from  handspun 5-ply on "knitting pins".  It is just enough tighter to close the little tiny holes in the modern gauge swatch that let the heat leak out.   

Before mill spun, the fishermen on the North Atlantic survived by wearing sweaters hand knit from hand spun that were warmer than anything modern hand knitters and hand spinners typically produce. On the second trip to Nova Scotia, it became clear to me that these traditional textile production skills used to produce warm clothing  had been lost. And worse, the hand spinners and hand knitters did not recognize what had been lost. They were still bragging about how warm their hand-spun and hand knit objects were. I watched historical enactors drop from hypothermia and get hauled away to hospital by ambulance. (The drivers wore store bought.) The site was closed due to cold weather. Battlements that had been guarded day and night, summer and winter, for 300 years were cleared on a fine spring day - due to cold. I was wearing a hand knit gansey as I stood on those battlements watching the whole thing until we were told to leave. (The guards wore store bought.)  I was not cold.  Modern spinners and knitters brag about how warm their handspun/ handknit is because they do not regularly compare the warmth of the objects that they make with the degree of warmth required for humans to stay functional in cold weather.  The truth is that cold people fall down.

I remember when a rock climbing buddy's mother gave him a very fine, hand knit Fair Isle sweater for Christmas.  Then, he had to move at New Year's and he used that new sweater as packing material and discarded it afterwards because, it was "too heavy for the warmth!"  He laughed at me for starting to knit. He kept laughing at me until one year, I gave him a pair of gansey knit ski socks for Christmas.  Six weeks later, he offered me $200 to knit hims a pair of hiking socks.  By then, my handknitting was different from any hand knitting he had ever seen.

We would go snow camping, and take with us a bag full of the best gear from Patagonia and Marmot.
(http://www.patagonia.com/us/home)  and (http://marmot.com/ )
We would compare the performance of my knit wear with the gear from Patagonia and Marmot.  Pretty soon, I stopped bothering with much of the store bought stuff. (Marmot parkas and guide pants are still useful.)

You may not like the way my stuff looks, but if I am going to be in the cold, it is what I want to wear. It is very functional.  However, it is functional because I bother with things like multi-ply yarns, and knitting tightly. I can spin multi-ply yarns and still finish the object because I work fast.  And, spinning is not my life. I need to finish my spinning and do other things.  If I worked slowly, I would not have the objects to wear. Then, I would either have to wear store bought, or freeze.

So, what happens to industrial textile production as sea level rises?  Most of our textile production is near sea level and a small amount of sea level rise ends most textile production. (No more store bought!!)

How fast is sea level likely to rise?  The IPCC models say slowly, but they do not consider ice dynamics.  The IPCC models assume the ice will melt in situ.  Watch Chasing Ice, the sequence starting at minute 64. (or see clip at http://www.businessinsider.com/chasing-ice-glacier-calving-climate-change-2014-10) to see how it is likely to go.  As ice warms, it loses tensile strength, and then under goes a progressive structural collapse.  For example, defrost your freezer - first it drips, then chunks of ice start falling off the racks.  Watch the ice melt off of the roof of a ski lodge - first it drips, then big chunks of ice fall.  A glacier calving into the ocean, drips, then big pieces fall. All of these are examples of ice losing tensile strength as it warms.

Now we know that all of our big ice has the potential for sea water to come in under it.  Antarctica sits on the top of sea mounts.  Greenland has many deep fjords that run under the ice.  Both of these conditions allow the rapid breakup of  ice as seen in the Chasing Ice clip.  Both Antarctica and  Greenland have the potential for the kind of progressive structural collapse on a large scale that is seen in a very small scale in minute 64 of Chasing Ice.

In the last interglacial, we know that sea level rose 40 feet in 500 years, and we cannot be certain that it was a gradual rise.  It may have been a period of punctuated equilibrium where most of the sea level rise occurred in a few brief events. In the last few climate changes, there were several period when hominid populations dropped from 95% to 99% of normal population. This However current climate forcing is 10 times greater than it was then. Thus, a reasonable planning case for sea level rise is meters in decades, and we can expect larger drops in hominid populations.  Such planning is like house insurance.  You many not really expect a house fire (odds are 1 in 100,000), but you have insurance. With AGW, if we have planned for meters/decade, and sea level rise is only meters per century, then we will be OK.  However, if we plan for millimeters per century and sea level comes as meters per decade, then we will not be OK.

A sea level rise of meters in decades is fast enough to incapacitate industrial fiber production (synthetics and cotton) faster than the facilities (and their infrastructure) can be moved.  And, modern hand spinners have lost the skills that spinners used for generations and generations to economically produce the fibers needed to conquer the world.  What are we going to do for clothing?

The needs are food, water, shelter, and clothing. Sure there is a lot of clothing around that can be reused by a smaller population. (I expect a 99.99%  reduction in population.) However, most of that clothing is not well made and will fall apart in a few years.  In the face of the known, and unknown challenges, I do not expect the current generation of hand spinners to have much effect on the future of textiles. Current spinners tend to look to the Victorians, rather than to the older professional spinning traditions.  Current spinners do not tend to make new tools and develop new techniques to ensure a vibrant future in the craft of spinning.  I will tell you this; somebody will need a faster spinning wheel, because more twist makes hand made objects warmer and more durable, and we are going to need warm and durable.

It is called global warming, because of what happens at sea level.  However, the top of the atmosphere actually cools, and cold air tends to sink - so there will be blasts of ice cold air driving big storms.  Global warming does not mean that we will not need very warm woolies.

If you do not have acute symptoms of stress, such as high blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, panic, and depression, then you do not understand the acute nature of the AGW situation. It is too late to avoid catastrophic AGW. The best we can do at this stage is plan to adapt to catastrophic AGW.

My cheerful observation is that anyone that can spin wool well, can very quickly learn to spin other fibers well.

If you want cites, Google is your friend.  And, look at the proceedings of the AGU, particularly the posters on GIS.  Stuff about the summer 2012 melt on GIS is just coming out, and folks are just starting to realize how important structure is to ice sheet behavior.  Water increases the load on an ice structure without providing any extra strength.   When one adds load to a structure, without adding strength, eventually the structure collapses.  The days of treating ice sheets as a black box on a film of water are over.

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