Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Can I Do?

Here are some ideas of areas you can review within your own life that have a positive impact on our energy and resource challenges:

Recycle - everything we reuse requires less new material which costs a lot to produce

Transportation - public transit, driving less and pooling your travel all work to reduce the amount of fuel used to move you here and there

Vehicles - maintaining the vehicle you have to its best potential is better than replacing it with a new hybrid. New cars cost a lot in resources and can't pay for themselves and the old vehicles fate at the same time. ROI is the key

Heating/Cooling - programmable thermostats, insulation, fixing window/door leaks and using shades instead of the A/C on high are all good ways to reduce demand

Eating - less packaging, eating in, using everything you buy, buying local and cooking with base ingredients rather than lots of processed food are all ways to save the costs of materials, processing and transportation of our food

You have heard all of these before but they work, they do reduce your footprint and they can be part of something bigger that makes a difference.


Energy Is The Problem Stupid!

The following facts, statistics and considerations were drawn from a very enjoyable reading of Carbon Shift edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon and published in 2009.

Energy Return on Investment (EROI). Anybody who has invested any money or financed a hobby or household understands ROI. EROI is net energy rather than net dollars or net some other resource than can be considered currency in the simple case. Net energy is the real problem behind any talk of oil running out or shortages of fossil fuels. Running out is relative to the cost of discovery, extraction and processing of what we haven't already done so with. The problem is that our sources are decreasing in EROI as we go forward which is going to have cost and rationalization implications. When we hear the equation solely as supply versus demand in the public arena we don't get the whole story. Deeper sea drilling, oil sands, hard to reach pockets of gas and large oil wells with decreasing pressure due to extraction are all example of sources with decreasing EROI. This problem alone points to renewable and alternate sources being cost effective hedges on a future we can't avoid.

Oil is the number one source of energy on the planet at 34% of the total
Coal comes in next at 27%
Natural gas comes in at 23%

Those 3 sources alone comprise 84% of the total sources of energy for our planet. With decreasing EROI, increasing competition, non-industrial difficulties in sourcing these fuels from certain geographies and the negative climate impacts of all three it sure seems to me that spending some of the future money now to switch will save money. The benefits include increased stability and security, creation of domestic jobs and positive changes with climate issues. Don't you agree?

We should refocus our effort on a broader mission of independence from these energy sources that can no longer balance their costs and non-renewable nature with the increasing role they will need to play for our growing society.


I Live in a Free Country, Don't Tell Me How Much Energy I Can Consume!!!

The following 40 year old quote opens the chapter entitled "The Perfect Moment" from the book "Carbon Shift" edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon and published in 2009.

"It is always a little hard to find a convincing answer to the man who says, "What has posterity ever done for me?" and the conservationist has always had to fall back on rather vague ethical principles postulating identity of the individual with some human community or society which extends not only back into the past but forward into the future. Unless the individual identifies with some community of this kind, conservation is obviously "irrational." Why should we not maximize the welfare of this generation at the cost of posterity?"

--Kenneth Boulding
"The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth" - March 8, 1966

Americans do live in a free country. Freedom as we all know isn't free, just ask our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan how much it costs to defend our country against terror. The legitimacy of those conflicts is not being discussed here, but is debatable.

Free choice has consequences, which we are all free and obligated to deal with. But with energy consumption, we don't. We don't because we are ignorant to the costs.

Americans represent 4.5% of the Earth's population yet we consume 25% of its petroleum resources. Our choices to consume this way have consequences on us and countless others who are often far less insulated by energy driven society against them. Yet we complain about high gas prices and we won't conserve in the car or at home. We don't recycle enough and we aren't forcing industry to create less waste in the first place. We don't want to pay more for cleaner and renewable energy and we fight about whether our actions really impact the climate. It is our manifest destiny to live in our free society with unlimited economic potential. Bullshit!

We are part of a large community dependant on limited non-renewable resources whose use is hugely damaging to the environment, food sources and lead to the suffering and deaths of millions of living beings (plants, animals and humans) every year, but since most of don't see it we don't care.

Each of us must come to understand the true price of our choices. That understanding must translate into changes in all parts of society so we can hope to leave a legacy from our existance.

To think that humans could easily be credited with wiping out a billion years of natural development of petroleum resources in the span of 200 years, and leaving a far less habitable planet in its wake is very scary.


The Climate Change Delimma

Climate Change, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, Carbon Trading, Peak Oil, Energy Scarcity, etc. What does it all mean? What is really going on?

Climate change is a real function of living on this planet. There are built in cycles of change, feedback loops that can be triggered by yet to be understood causes, and then there are changes that come as a result of the activities of the living organisms that reside on Earth.

There are other problems within the class of things that can be called climate change. Many of these issues have what appears to be a regional or local scope, but can and will turn out to be bigger than that in time.

Environmental damage due to deforestation, fresh water diversion, agriculture, hunting/fishing, industry and population growth necessitated development all impact the people that depend on the land and resources where they occur. These problems are not new, and their history from all around our planet can teach us a lot about how we can think and act. Billions of our fellow earthlings will continue to be impacted by these problems for generations.

The public face of climate change, in America to be sure, equates it with global warming. A strict reading of the news would make you think that a magical ceasing in carbon dioxide emissions would take climate change out of the headlines. This is completely false and a very damaging idea.

The carbon cycle of our planet is long and slow such that the emissions of gasses like CO2. methane, and others will be felt for decades to come. The change processes are underway and stopping them abruptly is not possible. Our actions, and we need to act, to reduce emissions will work to reduce the magnitude and duration of these effects, but will not stop them.

As I pointed out above there are other problems that are not solely related to global warming and will not be solved by changing CO2 emissions. The public debate is not complex enough to include this, but without tackling these issues as well we aren't going to be entirely better off.

The first step is to look around your own community, think about changes you have personally witnessed and dig deeper to find out what is really going on. Only then will we all be able to agree on the issues and how we can work together to solve them.


Lively Up Yourself

Bob Marley recorded a song with the name "Lively Up Yourself". Ever since I heard that song and came to understand the struggle and message behind his music I have thought this phrase was a good euphemism to describe the act of rising to a challenge or getting your head in the game.

Most recently I have been feeding my curiosity about the potential future impacts of climate change, environmental damage, population growth, energy scarcity and conspicuous/ignorant consumption with some healthy reading. I feel more informed for sure.

That said, I am much more unsure of the security of the American lifestyle when it is so obvious that business as usual is the mode for the 300+ million of us. We aren't well informed, we don't know what actions we can take to help and we believe somebody else is going to do it all for us. We are so wrong, but time has not run out.

Just this week a CNN article highlighted one of the key problems, the declining popularity of math and science education. Check out the article here

Without math and science we can't understand our key challenges, how to solve them, where to apply our resources and measure our progress. And trust me our competition (China, India, etc) aren't going to do it for us for free.

"We are in an age when asking whether we should be doing the things we are, and taking responsible action is going to be the difference in our future." -- Jason Phelps, 2009

We should all take some time to lively up ourselves and figure out how we can be part of a future we all want but won't have if we don't act.