Friday, November 2, 2007

NaBloPoMo, Day 2

Thought about NaNoWriMo, decided I'd be insane to try it. So instead, I'm doing NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month. Post every day for the month of November. I think I can do that.

A lot of people are choosing a theme for their postings -- gratitude seems popular. I thought about that, but decided to go elsewhere for mine, to a concern that's dear to me recently, though I really haven't mentioned it here yet.

I'm talking about Peak Oil. I'm talking about global warming. I'm talking about the credit crisis, and the state of mind that led to it. I'm talking about the fact that the American way of life, powered by cheap and abundant energy and by the labor of a lot of other people in other parts of the world, which, it's rapidly becoming clear, isn't sustainable at all.

And by 'sustainable' I don't mean something to maybe think about doing something about eventually, when you've got the time and a bit of money to spare. I don't mean a remote ideal, a technicolour image of lions and lambs. I mean that the way we in the First World live is simply not going to work for very much longer.

Peak Oil is shorthand for the concept that we are, eventually, going to run out of petroleum products to power our electrical grid, to run our cars, to make our plastic ziplock bags and our prescription medications (did you know that? Many of them not only use oil to power the processing, they're made from oil as well). Most petroleum geologists agree that more than half of the oil in the ground is already gone, that we've used more than half of what's available. In other words, it's all downhill from here.

Think ethanol will save us? I did, too. Until I realized two things: If we put every acre of corn production in the US into enthanol, all of it, all of those huge rolling fields in the Midwest and the smaller ones elsewhere -- and do note that they produce, one way or another, most of what you eat -- they would produce enough ethanol to run seven persent of the nation's cars. Seven. That's all. And what are we eating again? (from this article originally published in the Buffalo News.)

The other thing I realized? There are people starving because farmers can get more money selling their corn to make ethanol than they can selling it for food. People are starving, right now, so that we can drive our cars. Here are a few links talking about that one:

Of course, you can make ethanol from things other than corn. But that has its problems as well -- if we're growing millions of acres of switchgrass, to pick a commonly-cited example, where are we going to grow the corn? And here's an article citing a lot more problems with switchgrass: You might be interested in reading some of the other stuff Greenpa has to say in his blog, too.

There's a lot more to the problem than that, and I have to get to work, so I can't go on about it at quite the length I could wish to (or the length I'd need to present my case sufficiently, either). But I will say that I don't intend to dedicate the month of November to doomsaying only. What I wish to do, every day of this month, is share what I'm doing about it. One tidbit a day.

So here's today's tidbit: I haven't turned on the heat in my apartment yet. And it's gotten pretty cold, but it's not bothering me, because I know how to deal with it.

Some of it's the simple stuff like 'wear a sweater' and 'eat something warm'. I'm also opening the curtains and blinds every morning when the sun's coming in, to catch that heat, and closing things up once the sun goes down (or I get home from work). I have nice thick quilts to hang over every window in the place, and a pillow to lean against the bottom of the balcony door where it leaks cold air, and a chunk of carpeting to block off the drafts from the front door. When I get home from work I make dinner, which helps heat both the apartment and myself. I do wear a sweater, and long underwear, too, if it's chilly enough -- but I've only had to do that once so far, because the other thing I've noticed is that I'm getting used to it.

Decent indoor heating is a very new thing in the history of humanity. For gazillions of years we put on a bit more clothing and maybe lit a fire. We don't need it. It's awfully nice, I agree. But we don't need it.

I'll have to turn the heat on eventually, if only to keep the pipes from freezing. But instead of 65 degrees like last winter (or 70, as often as not, with the ex) I'm going to turn it on as low as it'll go in this apartment, which is, I believe, somewhere around 55 degrees. And I bet I'll be perfectly comfortable. I'll be saving money, and more importantly to me, using less gas, eking things out a little longer.

More tomorrow.


RevDrKate said...

Awesome post...I'm looking forward to getting educated as well as being grateful in the next month!

Conrad said...

The biggest problem i have with the "ethanol solution" is that it seems you need more energy to produce the ethanol than you gain from it. Think about farming the corn... you have to plant it, tend to it, harvest it. Next there's the fermentation, essentially energy-free (although you'll need a significant quantity of water). Ok, now you have a very dilute ethanol solution (you've just made beer). To refine it you will have to distill it, which requires a heat source. So you're burning energy throughout the process of producing ethanol, all the time contributing to CO2 emissions, and quite likely using up more energy than you'll gain. It makes you wonder who thought of this and what their motivations really were.

Kate said...

*grins at Other Kate* Glad to have you onboard!

And, yes, Conrad, that's another good point and one that I think a lot of people either miss or think will magically go away soon. There are just a lot of issues with all of the things that people think will save us.

Kass McGann said...

Heh. Funny that I read this today. Bob is by nature a cold-footed person. Last night I read him the riot act about always turning up the heat when we don't need it to be tropical in the house. This morning, he ordered some fleece-lined slippers. =)

I lived in Japan for nine months without central heat. You spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I got so that I rathered not use the kerosine heater in my bedroom because I didn't like the smell.

We have a fireplace... and a lot of "three dog nights". =)