Category Archives: peak oil

My Evil Pellet Stove

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Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

Small Town on a Waterway

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Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

Day 40: Some “Catch-Up” With Those Fries

Dinner at the Austin Grill

Dear Reader:

With about three weeks left to go on our great Outside the Box in D.C. adventure, I’m beginning to wind down from my hyper-touristing. With the ‘Rents in town this past week, I got a little behind on my blog posts, so today is all about the Catch-Up.

July 23–Sustainability Symposium at NMAI

Sustainability Festival Pamphlet With Corn & Squash

Back on July 23, Hubby, the Teen, and I attended the Living Earth Festival at the Museum of the American Indian. I was determined to get to the “Creating a Climate of Change” symposium, where Jeremy Rifkin, a business consultant to multinational corporations, heads of state in the E.U., and other global entities, spoke on issues near and dear to my heart: global warming, peak oil, sustainability, localization, renewable energy resources and technology. Although he painted a grim picture, he also outlined a pathway to move forward. For me, it was almost a relief to hear someone “in the know” about world and business affairs affirming what I’ve been reading and learning about for the past three or four years. Peak oil is not a myth . . . it’s a reality we have already crested. Sustainable, renewable energy is not just for “greenies” and environmentalist hippie throwbacks to the 60’s and 70’s . . . it’s the wave of the future, if we are to have a future.

Symposium Poster

Heads of state are listening. From Rifkin’s website:

Mr. Rifkin is the principle architect of the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the 27 member-states.

Granted, this is his own website, and self-promotion should be looked at with a skeptical eye. However, if you are interested in learning about what Rifkin thinks we need to do in order to survive in a low-carbon energy world, check out the NMAI blog post.

Beautiful, Living Earth

The two speakers following Rifkin were also knowledgeable and insightful. Gregory Cajete spoke passionately about the indigenous perspective on global climate change, comparing the indigenous communities to canaries in a coal mine–they feel the effects first. Melissa K. Nelson then spoke about the importance of re-indigenizing our food supply, talking about such issues as food sovereignty, the negative health impacts of our modern diet, and urging a return to slow, local foods.

After the symposium, we strolled outside to listen to some music by Native performers. The concert opened with a blessing performance by the Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team. This may have been the most powerful student performance I’ve ever seen in my life. The emotion rolling off these young people through their strong voices was palpable in the air. When they finished, the group went to the side, and, crying, threw their arms around each other forming a tight ball of support and celebration. I strongly encourage you to click on the link above and see what I mean.

Plateros T-shirt

Later we heard the Plateros, a young blues rock band whose lead guitarist, Levi Platero, along with his brother/drummer Douglas and bass guitarist, Bronson Begay, seriously rocks with the sound of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I went home from the festival thoroughly inspired. Thanks MOAI for putting on this important event!

July 24–Dance DC Festival Downtown Battleground

Graffiti Artists

Hubby and I visited the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery on July 24 and luckily ran into the Downtown Battleground event outside between 7th and 9th Streets. It was hotter than Hades out there on the wide sidewalk, but we were thrilled to join a large crowd listening to drumming and watching some very talented African-style dancers. I don’t know how those young ladies kept going in that sweltering heat!

Dancers at Dowtown Battleground

The graffiti artists were hard at work with their spray cans on large pink “wall” set up for the event. These artists were up high on metal ladders, scooching down to the bottom of the “canvas”, and all over the spaces in between creating some very jazzy, bright, cool art.

Orange Image

Detail from Painting

American History Museum

These Boots Were Made For Leading

I already wrote about the visit with the ‘Rents to the American History Museum in my previous post, but time and theme did not permit me to add these boots to my Great D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Take a look at George Washington’s boots in the The Price of Freedom: Americans At War exhibit.

Chinese Lady's Shoe

I also found this bound-foot shoe tucked away in the Transportation exhibit. I won’t tell you exactly where. When you visit D.C. you’ll have to scavenge this one out on your own!

Metro

Waiting for the Train

Of course, we wouldn’t get anywhere without the Metro, man’s finest invention, IMO.

Typical Metro Station

All of the underground Metro stations look almost exactly alike, which I find reassuring. You find a Metro post, take an escalator down to the platform, and you know exactly what to expect . . . except for the passengers, of course. People always add the spice of variety.

From Holocaust Museum to Harry Potter Deathly Hallows

Holocaust Museum

On Saturday, the ‘Rents, Hubby, the Teen and I visited the Holocaust Museum off 15th Street. We were unable to get passes to the permanent exhibit (will have to do so before the end of my stay), but we had an excellent tour guide that ushered us through the Propaganda exhibit with all the old Nazi political posters, pamphlets, recordings, and timelines showing Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual horror of the Holocaust.

From National Holocaust Museum Website

Please go to see this important exhibit if you are able to get to D.C. Otherwise, click on the link and visit the museum online.

I was reminded how we have to be vigilant when watching one-sided news stations, when looking at legislation that blocks freedom of speech, press, and assembly in the name of safety (anybody thinking about the Patriot Act anymore?), and when reading blogs and other pieces of “journalism” . . . even this one! Check things out for yourself. Read. Think for yourself. It is so important–crucial–in a democracy.

3-D for Harry Potter

It might seem a bit of a jump to go from the Holocaust to Harry Potter, but when you think about it, there are some similar themes in the Hogwarts Saga. The “Dark Lord” wants to rid the magical community of “mud-bloods” and eventually takes over education and the press, uses torture and kidnapping to terrorize regular magical citizens into allowing his evil takeover of the government, and creates an “us against them” mentality in order to accomplish his ultimate desire for ultimate power.

We caught the movie on the Imax screen at the Museum of Natural History. The first floor of the museum was a madhouse before the show. A hot Saturday afternoon in the Dinosaur Exhibit? Don’t recommend it unless you are also one of the two thousand other families with small children under the age of eight trying to find something for the kiddos to do on a blistering hot pre-dinnertime afternoon. {{Shudder}}

(As an alternative, I’d suggest the hotel swimming pool. Take the kids out of school in the fall for a day at the museum instead. You’ll thank me.)

Like Neanderthals hiding from a predatory beast, we hid out in the Fossil Cafe for a half an hour and then gratefully entered the dim calm of the theater.

Dinner at Austin Grill

Outside Dining at Austin Grill

After the show, Hubby and I wanted to share our favorite D.C. restaurant (so far) with the ‘Rents and the Teen, so we trotted up 7th St. to E St. and the Austin Grill. This is a franchise, but so really good. The service is attentive, the Tex-Mex is delicious, and the prices are reasonable.

Austin-tini

The Austin-tini wasn’t bad, either. Think Cosmopolitan, in pink.

Chalupa Salad

Everyone ordered burgers except for me. I had the Chalupa Taco Salad with Grilled Chicken. It comes in a deep-fried tortilla bowl with sour cream, tangy vinaigrette dressing, and guacamole–yummy!

And that is the “catch-up.” Yesterday, we browsed around in Alexandra again, and I’ll post some pics of new, fabulous finds–just wait until you hear about the Torpedo Factory!–over there in quaint Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I absolutely love the place!

If I ever had to move . . . well, no need to think about that now since we are already here, Outside the Box In D.C.

Growing In The Shade

Red sky in the morning . . .

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

Dear Reader:

The above quote is an old adage I learned as a child. Basically, it means that if there’s a red sunset you can expect clear, sunny skies the next day, but if you have a red sunrise, watch out for a gloomy day ahead. (click HERE for a scientific explanation.)

I say, with all the news we’ve had lately about oil prices, revolutions in the Middle East, mega earthquakes, nuclear power plant problems, our national debt ceiling about to be reached come May, and a stalemate over our Washington budget, we are seeing a red sky in the morning here on planet Earth. Will we heed the warning signs?

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard about Peak Oil yet? If you haven’t, I encourage you to find out about it as quickly as possible. The Post Carbon Institute has published a Peak Oil Primer (click HERE to read it)that will give you an overview of the issue. Basically, Peak Oil is the point in time when we have used up half of the original oil reserves in the world. If graphed on a bell curve, the extraction and production of oil would form a “peak” at this point, and from that point on extraction and production will become more difficult and less efficient over time. Another term for this is “energy resource depletion.” Or, as I like to call it, “running out of gas.”

You can also watch a few documentaries:
COLLAPSE with Michael Rupert (click HERE)
THE END OF SUBURBIA (click HERE)
ENERGY CROSSROADS (click HERE to view the trailer)

These are just a few. I encourage you to explore and share what you find.

In essence, what these films (and the myriad books that are available–more on those in another post) tell us is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in our current way of life depends on oil. Our food is grown with oil-based fertilizers applied by oil-run tractors that are manufactured using oil. Irrigation pumps to water the fields run on oil. All plastics are made with oil. Obviously, our transportation is mostly oil-fueled. We heat our homes and hot water with oil. Our clothing (and just about everything else in the stores) is shipped to us via a fleet of trucks that run on gasoline. Suburbia depends on the automobile to get its residents to and from work, school, stores, and hospitals. We have fewer and fewer walkable, liveable communities.

I am aware that this all sounds alarmist. It is. I am alarmed. The more I learn, the more I read the news, the more I think, the more alarmed I become. All my little projects here Outside the Box have been attempted because I believe the only way to make a difference in this alarming scenario is to go local. Even then, deep down, all this square-foot gardening/buying local milk/knitting socks feels more like child's play than a real answer to the disaster-waiting-to-happen. Unless everyone else begins to localize, too.

A couple years ago I tried to bring Peak Oil and its implications to the attention of my homeowner's association–asking that we begin to think about some changes to our bylaws that would allow us to become more sustainable and less dependent on oil and outside resources. Opening up the canopy to let in much-needed sunlight was my biggest plea. I said we needed to be able to learn to grow our own food in our own backyards, and and that takes eight hours of sunlight, minimum. I also said we could become more energy independent if we used solar technology to heat our homes and hot water, possibly even selling excess energy back to "the grid" and easing some of our home economies and off-setting increases in our association dues.

As you can imagine, nobody took this seriously. Maybe it was because I also mentioned raising goats.

I understand that some people moved here to "get back to nature." Our development was created as a vacation community, after all. I understand that people "up to camp" like the old, Maine pine trees swaying above the cottage while the sunlight sparkles on the lake. It is beautiful. I like it, too. I wish our way of life could continue on just the way it is now, driving outside the community to go to work and coming home to our nice houses and power boats and microwave ovens and the wind sighing through the pines while we sip our pre-dinner Merlot on the deck while the steak sizzles on the gas grill. It's a wonderful life.

I just don't happen to believe it's gonna last. Hopefully I'm wrong.

While we wait and see what the future holds, I'll keep on playing around with my projects. I can't do much about what other people chose or chose not to learn. To give up entirely would mean giving in to fear.

In the spirit of doing something even if it is a drop in the bucket, I am plunging ahead this year with more garden boxes. I am going to focus on vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the shade and hope to trade for some tomatoes and peppers and squashes from someone with a sunny garden spot. I’m also going to experiment with those Topsy Turvy planters . . . growing tomatoes upside down on iron hooks stuck into my septic field–the sunniest spot in my yard. I’m also contemplating growing a few tomatoes in large pots . . . on top of my septic tank, the area of my yard that remained mostly snow-free all winter despite record snowfalls due to the heat underneath the dirt.

If you have a shady area of your yard, if your entire yard is shady, and if you want to give gardening a try, HERE is a list of plants that will grow in 3-6 hours of sunlight. Compost heavily. Water regularly. Read the article about Peak Oil and share it with others. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

Short Post: Listen to Program #2–Small Towns and Cities

I’m not a big one for podcasts, but stumbled onto James Howard Kunstler’s online radio program the other day and recommend it for anyone who is interested in the future of our cities, town, and rural areas. (Click on the green link and the page should come up. Scroll down and you’ll see a black podcast player with a list of episodes.)

James Kunstler is a journalist/novelist who has spent the past few decades observing and commenting on what he calls the “Happy Motoring” Suburban American life. Kunstler is funny, articulate, and I believe dead on when it comes to the future of our society. To get you started, I recommend scrolling down to the #2 program on the site–“Small Towns and Cities.”

Quick note: Good essay on life after Peak Oil

Dear Reader:

This essay by John Michael Greer succinctly explains the Peak Oil theory, examines the ways people tend to view the situation, and offers suggestions on how we might best move forward as a society as our oil supplies are depleted and life becomes less magical and easy. Greer argues that the best societal response will be community based rather than individual. If you are at all interested in learning about what we might do as a society as the Oil Age draws to a close, this one’s for you. The Coming of Deindustrial Society: A Practical Response.

Movie Night

Dear Reader

Friday night is movie night at our house, and I have to make a confession: we subscribe to Netflix. I can hear you gasping right now. I know. I feel awful about it. Our town has a little video store/ice-cream parlor, and for the first four years here I rented a movie or two every Friday night. I love this store–Main Street Video. The owner, Jim, offers six or seven flavors of Green Mountain Coffee, a breakfast menu that includes hugemongous homemade muffins, and an excellent selection of Shain’s of Maine ice-cream flavors. There are cute little tables and chairs in the seating area, a collection of board games for those who want to linger awhile, and a nice, cozy, neighborhood ambiance.

As my daughter grew into more sophisticated movie tastes, however, it became increasingly difficult to find something to watch. The selection of PG movies is excellent–all the animated films you could ever want. The selection of thrillers and romantic comedies and horror flicks for adults is more than adequate. What we had trouble finding were those rare movies appropriate for ‘tweens–especially a ‘tween who thinks she’s already a teen! Nothing animated will do. Uh-uh. There is no way, however, that we will allow her to watch anything with an R rating, and the PG-13’s must be carefully screened, as well. We soon ran out of choices, and every Friday afternoon at the video store became something of a horror show between me and the ‘tween.

Someone told us about Netflix, we checked it out, and we succumbed to the endless selection and really good deal. Sigh. At some point, I may have to give it up out of good conscience. And the ‘tween won’t stay ‘tweeny forever. For now, though, we can watch re-runs of the Walton’s (which are REALLY just as good now as they were when I watched them every Thursday night at 8 o’clock thirty years ago!) and enjoy our family movie night.

Netflix also gives me a seemingly endless selection of documentaries from which to choose, and I know which one I’ll be ordering next. I saw this link automatically generated by wordpress.com and followed up on it. Take a look! I’m going to find this movie and watch it. Escape From Suburbia link.

I don’t happen to agree that the suburbs are destined to become ghettos, as some predict. With a little planning and a will to change, I believe suburbs could become workable, viable communities in their own right–not just satellites held in orbit of the city by the gravitational pull of jobs and cultural activities. But I’m no expert. Perhaps after view this movie, I’ll know a little more. I’ll keep you posted.

As for my defection from Jim’s place, well, I try to make up for the video dollars by stopping in for the ice-cream more often. In fact, we stopped in for the first cone of the season last Sunday, and I’ve been craving another ever since!

In the meantime, I’m working on a handmade project for Easter . . . my idea is to create my own “ten-dollar” Easter basket ala the new Wal-Mart advertisement. (I looked for a link, but couldn’t find one. Just watch t.v. for a couple of days. You’ll see the ad I mean. The lowest-priced one at http://www.walmart.com was around fifteen dollars!) Only a few more days, though. I better run . . .

Why local?

Dear Reader:

A few contemporary writer-philosophers have influenced my current obsession with local living, peak oil, sustainability, and the future of civilization (such lofty topics reduced down to homey essentials like eggs, raw milk, yarn, and wild pickerel!) One of these is writers is James Howard Kunstler who has written non-fiction books such as THE LONG EMERGENCY, a contemplation of what will happen as our oil-based economy begins to run out of juice, and a novel entitled WORLD MADE BY HAND–a futuristic fiction about an upstate New York town after civilization has come to a screeching halt.

Granted, Kunstler is on the fringe when it comes to predicting where our society is headed. He’s an alarmist of the first order. It’s my deepest wish that what he thinks will happen, and soon, will not. However, sometimes I find it instructive to take a long look at a “worst case scenario.” People like Kunstler predicted the recent economic collapse (though I think they saw the collapse coming from an energy-supply issue rather than a real estate debacle), and for that alone, they deserve a hearing. If you are interested, take a peek at Kunstler’s blog

Perhaps civilization won’t crash and burn to the extent Kunstler postulates, but we do need to consider how deeply dependent we are on that black liquid that bubbles up from ancient, underground beds. 

Oil. We live on it. Our food is grown with it. Commercial fertilizers are derived from oil products. Farm machinery is run on it. Our food and other necessities like clothing and shoes and blankets and housing materials are shipped to our communities on fleets of boats and eighteen-wheelers run on diesel fuel. Oil heats our homes. Everything from cookware to clothing to car parts are made of plastic which is an oil-derived product. We travel by plane, train, and automobile–all run on oil.

Up until this moment, we’ve managed to get more and more of the stuff out of the ground, which worked superbly for an economy based on the concept of continual growth. Though there is some debate about whether or not we have reached peak oil production, there is much evidence to suggest we are now on the downward slope. The following artlicle by Colin Campbell for ASPO International explains the theory quite concisely. “Understanding Peak Oil.”

As oil becomes harder and harder to harvest and refine, the cost will go up, the economy will react, and things will change . . . how much they will change is the big question. Perhaps we will find alternative sources of energy and will transition before too much chaos descends. Perhaps not.

I ask, why wait? We can begin to transition ourselves and our local communities now by producing more of our own necessities right in our backyards. Let’s build an infrastructure that will be local and flexible enough to withstand whatever happens in the larger world. Maybe there will be some new oil-field discoveries that will last us for the next hundred years. Great! Maybe we will figure out cold-fusion technology and never need to worry about energy again. Fabulous! Strenthening our communities is a valuable endeavor even in a BEST-case scenario. In a worst-case scenario, it could mean the difference between life and death.