Category Archives: Energy Crisis

Living without an air conditioner and the end of the world

I wrote the other day about not using a refrigerator as a part of my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint. I’d mentioned that if we in the U.S. are going to lower our our carbon footprint to a level which is equitable and closer to sustainable that we would need to lower our emissions by about 90%. Ninety. Percent. That is a drastic reduction. Ponder it for a moment. Hell, ponder it for the rest of the day if you’d like.

I came across that particular percentage will reading through this post by DJ at the excellent blog, Asymptotic Life:

Listening to Radio West yesterday, I heard a guest make an interesting point: if we tell poor people around the globe that they can’t live the way we do, we’re trying to prevent global warming by forcing people to continue to live in poverty. That is, for most of us, morally unacceptable.

Our current attitude seems to be that we can afford to buy all that energy and emit that CO2, and “they” can’t. Too bad, but bully for us…

What would it look like to create an equitable and sustainable per-capita CO2 emissions policy? Assuming everyone emitted the same amount of CO2, how much could we all emit without frying the planet (and all of us with it)?

Let’s assume that, to keep CO2 concentrations low enough to avoid catastrophe, we limit CO2 concentration to 350 ppm— down from today’s 385 ppm. That means cutting CO2 emissions by 50% of their current levels. At 2004 levels, the world generated 27 billion metric tons of CO2— more than 20% of that by the U.S. alone. That means we’d need to reduce to about 13.5 million metric tons worldwide.

The world population is currently 6.8 billion people. That means each person would be allowed to emit 2 tons of CO2 per year. For 88 countries in the world, that’s a step up— more than they currently produce per capita. But for we priviledged few in the U.S., that means cutting our per capita emissions (currently over 20 tons per person per year) by 90%.

One of the largest energy hogs in any household is the air conditioner. Others at the top of the list are whole house forced air heating systems, hot water heaters, refrigerators, freezers, and plasma tvs. In addition to not having a refrigerator I’ve decided I will not use an A/C. I do have a small window A/C but only run it at the request of visiting guests. When it is just me and Talula we get hot, damn hot. We cool off with lots of water, we slow down and sit in the shade. We’ll survive just like many of other billions of humans who survive everyday in hot climates with no A/C. It’s not easy, not fun (well, actually swimming is fun), not comfortable but it is possible.

Before I move on let me quote another of DJ’s excellent posts, What Two Tons Means to Me:

Last week, I calculated that a sustainable and equitable rate of CO2 emissions would be about 2 tons per person per year.  Currently, the U.S. emits just over 20 tons of CO2 per person annually.  Of this, according to EPA, 20% (4 tons) is caused by household energy use and about 27% (5.5 tons) is caused by four-wheeled passenger vehicles.  The remainder, about 11 tons, is generated by the economy on our behalf, including manufacturing, agriculture, cement and steel production, and transportation of goods both for us and for export.

Let’s assume that DJ’s figures are correct. Even with my limited use of electricity I am averaging 25 Kwh a week, about 100 a month. That’s for one person in a small cabin of 192 square feet. On a typical day I use: 1 compact fluorescent light, a ceiling fan, a window fan, and a laptop computer. Other appliances that draw power on occasion: water well pump, battery charger, external hard drive, computer speakers, and phone charger. That’s it and it still adds up to 100 Kwh a month. The average U.S. household uses just under 900 Kwh a month, just in electricity. Imagine the difficulty of cutting that by 60-80%!

Want to try something interesting? Take a weekend and power down everything in your house. Go through room by room and unplug everything on Friday evening. Over dinner discuss the adventure and what it means. Experience Friday night and Saturday without power. Use the time to discuss and evaluate your needs. Define the difference between needs and wants, needs and comforts. Make an effort to understand your needs and usage as they relate to the needs and usage of the vast majority of families around the planet that use far less. Sunday morning or afternoon begin the process of slowly and thoughtfully plugging things back in based Saturday’s discussion.

Remember, we’re not even considering the carbon that is emitted by personal transportation, emissions that would need to be cut by 80% or more. Then there are carbon emissions related to consumption of food and consumer goods.

This is why the governmental “solutions” put forth by congress and presidents (or the current crop of presidential candidates) are a sad joke. These folks are not even CLOSE to realistic. The same goes for the myriad “100 things you can do to save the planet lists” that we see put forth by media and mainstream environmental groups. Sure, we should all do the easy things that are on those lists but the reality is that if we are serious about slowing climate change we are going to have to make drastic changes to the way we live. I’m all for it, I think we absolutely should go all out. I think we should sacrifice, should do whatever it takes. But my guess is that most folks would laugh at the idea. Frankly, I don’t think that today’s Americans have the strength of character the task requires. We’ve been far too spoiled for far too long.

When it comes down to it most folks in western “civilized” nations will only change when it is forced on them when resources are no longer available at prices they can afford. We’re already seeing that people are driving less in the U.S. now that gas is averaging $4/gallon, imagine gas at $6, $7, or $8 a gallon. Imagine utility rates doubling or tripling. Those things are coming sooner than later and I for one welcome them. Yes, they will bring hardship and suffering and around the world billions are already suffering as they are already effected by price increases. Regardless of what reality is about to force upon us, it is probably too late in terms of the climate. What we have set in motion will not be easily undone, most likely we will hardly slow the process at all.

Michael Stipe said it best: It’s the end of the world as we know it.

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The great eggsperiment

I’ve mentioned before that a part of our plan here is to have chickens which are, of course, an essential ingredient in almost any permaculture design. Not only do they provide eggs and meat (not for me!), but also manure, warmth for plants in an attached greenhouse, feathers, and they help weed/till the garden as they eat insects and food wastes. In short, chickens rock. I cannot wait to get our coop built and the chickens moved in. For now I’ll content myself with eggs which are raised by someone else in their backyard. What’s great about home raised eggs is that I can request that they not be washed. You may not know this but eggs have a protective layer which keeps them perfectly edible for up to three weeks without being refrigerated. Neat, eh? This is especially important for me because I do not have, or plan to get, a refrigerator. Let me explain.

One of the primary principles of permaculture is earth care which means, in part, reducing our carbon footprint. For those of us in the U.S. this means a drastic reduction of about 90% (I’ll discuss that figure in another entry to be posted soon) if we are to have an equal share with the rest of our fellow humans. In addition to earth care there is of course the added reality of peak oil/coal/energy (peak everything really but that’s also another post for another day!).

What this means for me in my day-to-day life is that I have made a choice to not have the typical electrical appliances that most people in the U.S. take for granted as necessary for life. This brings me back to the refrigerator. Because I don’t a refrigerator I have to adapt, I have to think differently about how I use and store food. I have to make sure that the eggs I get have not been washed so that I can keep them at everyday temperatures. I no longer drink soy milk which I only really used as a creamer for coffee. Also, no cheese which I don’t miss much since I rarely ate it. It means that I have to be careful when I cook so that I’m not cooking too much. If I do have left overs I can usually keep them in a small cooler with a bit of very cold well water and eat them the next day with no ill effects.

I’ve been living without a refrigerator for nearly two months and I’m still very healthy. It has required a few modifications to my diet but nothing drastic. It’s just one step towards a smaller carbon footprint and a way of life that will likely be a fact for most of us in a future with fewer fossil fuel resources.

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A Busy Week!!

Forest garden and orchardIt’s been a very busy week since my last post! In anticipation that I might be adding to the orchard over the weekend I spent last Friday creating paths through the brush and grass. My sister and brother-in-law visited with their kids for the weekend and she stayed with the kids for another couple of days. On Saturday Greg got the electrical work in the cabin finished and on Sunday the two of us put in the ceiling (insulation, tongue and groove pine boards, and a ceiling fan). They also brought down another 10 fruit trees for the orchard which makes a total of 17 trees! On Monday I put in three Golden Delicious apple trees and since Mondays are my set day to water the fruit trees I also hauled up four buckets of lake water for those that are already planted. I got three buckets from the rain barrel which is nice since it is so much closer. On Tuesday I put in the last Golden Delicious and cleared more paths as well as put up insulation on one of the walls in the cabin. On Wednesday I put up more insulation and planted a peach tree. Today I put in another two peach trees, so, seven planted and three more to go. I should have the remaining trees put in this evening or tomorrow.

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Inch by inch…

At least that’s what it feels like around here! I’m making progress but it never seems like enough. I’ve recently come to realize that since I’ve been down here I’m not really taking any time to just BE. Most of my waking hours are spent working in the garden, non-garden chores, reading (mostly at night), or thinking/observing/visualizing the future development of the site.

It has been raining today so I’m taking time to read and write a bit. Thoughts on the garden thus far is that I’m glad it is started and at the same time frustrated with the late start. Things are growing and some seem to be doing very well. But the carrots and beets are SLOW. I’d always thought of them as a spring and cool weather crop but had recently seen others say that they can be sown in mid-summer. It’s obvious they don’t like the heat. The chard is coming along at a slightly quicker pace. The Black-seeded Simpson Lettuce that I put in just 2 weeks ago is doing the best of them all and is coming along very nicely. The squash, cukes, and zucchini are doing great. The potatoes I planted last week are starting to sprout up some green. The peppers and tomatoes are coming along very slowly and may be the biggest disappointment. A couple of the tomatoes have really filled in well and will produce well I think but many of the first to get blooms are just looking very leggy with sparse growth. I think I may have overwatered a bit and certainly the soil here is not the best. I’ve added a little compost dressing around all the plants but I did not have much and spread it thin. So, not much compost and no manure yet and those are likely the key missing ingredients.

I try to remind myself that this is a rushed first year garden and that next year’s will, no doubt, be greatly improved. We’ll have a little greenhouse which will allow me to get the tomatoes, peppers, and others started much earlier and of course the compost pile I have going now will be perfect by then and at least one or two other piles will be underway. We do have seven fruit trees planted with two more coming down tomorrow so nine fruit trees is a good start and I’m happy about that. I suppose that I’m just impatient which is probably related to what I see going on in the world. We’re much, much closer to the collapse than I realized and our little project is just getting started. So much to do, so little time.

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Walking, gardening, and eating catfish

A slow day today. Started off with the usual green tea with chocolate mint from the garden and a breakfast of peanut butter and strawberry preserves. I don’t have (and don’t want to use) a refrigerator so I’ve been eating a streak of these sandwiches so that I can finish off the preserves before they start to mold. I keep the jar in a small cooler with a bit of well water which keeps it fairly cool on hot days and I’ll probably dig a small, improvised root cellar which is a 4 foot hole dug in a shady area with a well sealed container placed inside it. When I start canning my own I’ll make a point of using the smallest possible jar for that reason. Eventually we’ll put in a proper root cellar too.

After breakfast I took a walk with the excellent medicinal plant book, Peterson Field Guide: Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs. We’re surrounded by food and medicine, we just have to know which plants are good for what as well as what parts of the plant and how to prepare. I’ve started learning and will also start harvesting for winter and out of season use. I think I’ll be starting with Mullein and Wild Rose hips. The Mullein leaves and flowers can be harvested for use in tea as an expectorant, demulcent, anti-spasmodic, and diuretic which can be useful in treating chest colds, bronchitis, asthma, coughs, and kidney infections. A word of caution though, the leaves contain rotenone and coumarin and should be used with caution. The rose hips are the little red fruits after flowering and can be made into a tea very high in vitamin C, I’ll probably mix that with mint from the garden. I’m no longer drinking orange juice so that will make a nice supplement to my diet.

The half-way point of my walk was a visit to the grandparents. As is almost always the case granny offered food: grilled cheese and potato salad. A very tasty treat! I also retrieved a bag of frozen catfish* for dinner. Freezing fish is likely the only thing I’ll be needing a freezer for so I’ll just borrow a bit of space since it won’t be much. I’ve got three relatives all within walking distance so I can spread it out if I end up having a lot. I’m thinking I also need to learn how to smoke fish for longer term storage though I’m not sure how long it can be stored even when smoked. The best thing would be to eat it fresh but when it is cold and the lake is frozen that will not likely be an option.

After the walk and before eating the catfish I worked a bit on preparing a couple of new keyhole beds in the zone 1** garden of annual veggies just outside my cabin door. Back in 60s-90s this land was used as a hunting and fishing club so there were little weekend trailers scattered about and my cabin sits on one of those sites which means it sits on a bed of gravel and rock. Fun, fun. I’ll be raking and digging that rock out into a thin path from the door to the road. The site has been unused for at least a decade which means there’s a nice layer of composted leaves built up which I’m separating out from the rock. The resulting beds will initially be planted with lettuce, spinach, carrots, and radishes for a late summer and fall crop.

*Folks that know me personally probably know that I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and may be wondering why I’m eating catfish. A big part of my decision to become a vegetarian was based on the energy aspects of diet. It generally takes less energy to eat a plant only diet. Another aspect of the energy equation is transport and there are other concerns such as whether the food is being exported from a country where people do not have enough food due to the production of cash crops for export. When I decided to move here to create a life based on permaculture principles I knew that it also meant that I would begin harvesting the mature fish from the lake. It is an excellent protein source which is available in great abundance within 100 yards of my front door.

**For folks new to permaculture, when a site is designed it is viewed as zones. The house or living structure is Zone 0 and the area immediately outside the doorways is Zone 1. This is the area most often and conveniently accessed so this is where we try to plant the annual vegetables that need the most attention and which are likely to get harvested often.

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Five gallons of water

That’s what I’m using a day. Actually, most days I’m using between 3-4 gallons. If I wash a bit of laundry it bumps up to 6 to 7 gallons. I’m talking about personal use here not water used for growing food. For growing food I’m using a combination of hauled lake water, well water and collected rain water. Right now I’ve got 55 gallons of rain water collection but before too long that should be 440 gallons and within a year I hope to have 1100 gallons of rain water collection dedicated to food production.

In terms of personal use, while we do have the well hooked up and running I’m not using it yet because after 3 years of not being used it does not seem to be clearing up. I’ll continue using it for the next week for gardening and see if it clears up. If not I’ll have the well guy come out and have a look at the pressure tank which may have gone bad. Until then I’ll continue to haul water from a relative’s house for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

IMG_1701I’ve got several 5 gallon containers and 2 solar showers, 4 gallons each. For the moment I’ve got an improvised outside sink set-up for washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc. and I’ve gotten to be VERY frugal with each drop. As an example, when I do dishes I start with my cup and bowl and after it is washed the water is poured into the next water holding item such as a pot or another cup or bowl thus the soap water is used again. Last it is poured onto any plate and re-used. Rinse water is also reused as I go along.

Hand-washed laundry is also carefully orchestrated between one or two small 3 gallon wash tubs. I start with a half gallon and very small amount of soap and will wash 4-8 items starting with the least dirty items first. Rinsing is also done is this order and in increments of 1/2 gallons until the rinse water is fairly clear.

I’ve set-up a small under-sink gray water filter which consists of a clay pot filled with approximately 50% sand, 30% gravel, and 20% small rock in that order starting from the bottom of the pot and going up. I used an old and worn sock at the very bottom between the sand and the hole in the pot. This drains into a 5 gallon bucket which fills to 3 gallons every 3-4 days. This is a temporary set-up. The next version will likely consist of a 5 gallon bucket filter with an attached faucet for easy access to water. When I get a sink put into the cabin I’ll likely have it drain to a similar bucket filter just outside the cabin and the water will be used in the wild garden of native habitat plants in the partial shade area around the cabin. All soap on site is bio-degradable and phosphate free. In the very near future I’ll only be using Dr. Bronners bar or liquid soap on site.

The last bit of water usage is for showering. I’m able to get 2-3 showers out of each 4 gallon solar shower which works out to 1.5 gallons or less for each shower.

Of course I use far, far more than five gallons a day. My breakfast consisted of peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and bread. All the ingredients were grown with water, processed with water and packaged in glass or plastic that required water to manufacture. Those goods were transported to a store via trucks made of materials that required water in their manufacture on roads that required water in construction via gasoline or diesel fuel. I’m living in a cabin that is made of lumber and siding and roofing all of which required water for processing. The list goes on. The point is that the things we eat, live in and use on a daily basis have resource costs that we often don’t think about. Water is just one of them and one of the most important to consider right along side of oil.

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Days of little chores

After working at a frenzied pace from early May through mid June, first with the cabin and then with the garden, I’m finding now that I have more days with free time for little projects. On Monday I watered the seven fruit trees each with a full 5 gallon bucket hauled from the lake, moved a wood pile to clear a space for 3 new keyhole garden beds near the cabin, finished the gate on my garden fence by adding chicken wire to the bottom 24 inches. Tuesday I finally finished the last bit of painting on the exterior of the cabin, put up a bit of trim to prepare for the gutter, and stained the front door. Wednesday I planted four potatoes, thinned/transplanted chard, and installed the gutter. Thursday I emptied the outhouse collection bucket into the long-term humanure compost, hand washed a small load of laundry, made a grass collection attachment for my gas-less reel mower, and cut a bit of grass.

I fully expect that life after the oil crash will consist primarily of such work as this. At least I hope so because it is a peaceful and healthy life. I have no illusions that for most of us it will also include much difficulty and struggle especially in the first years of adaption. For some it will likely include a much higher level of violence as panic and desperation set in. No one can know the exact details but we can contemplate and we can do our best to prepare.

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Rain Barrel Nerd

You know you are a total nerd when the highlight of your day is a brief rainstorm that fills your rain barrel half way. With the new (actually 20+ years old and re-used) gutter all the rain is now directed to the barrel and our five minutes of heavy rain just now filled it to half. Sweet. I can’t wait to get the others and hook them up into a proper series. I’d like to put in 10 but I may only be able to fit 8 or 9 which would still be a nice bit of water to have around. Given that this barrel would have filled in just 10 minutes I’d estimate that 8 barrels will easily fill in less than two hours with a fairly hard rain, much less if the rain were as heavy as what we just had. Maybe I need 20 barrels?

My expectations of a future shaped by climate change and peak energy is that we must become very efficient at harvesting and using/conserving fresh water. It seems to me that we can expect increasingly erratic weather with periods of extreme drought and wet far beyond what we’ve seen in the past. Combine that with the myriad issues related to agriculture and peak energy and you have lots of trouble in regards to a steady food supply.

If I can harvest and store 1650 gallons of water for use during drought then I will… guess I need 30 barrels!

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Our Missouri Permaculture Project

CabinI wrote in early May that we had started a permaculture project with an outhouse for composting humanure. At the time my plan was to start living on site in the fall of 08 but plans changed and after a whirlwind of activity I moved into my cabin on May 24th, just three weeks after completing the outhouse. We (and by we I mean my lunatic brother-in-law Greg who easily does the work of 3 men) fast-tracked the building of my cabin and in two very long weekends of work completed the outer shell and flooring to cover up the treated plywood. By the third weekend of work all the seams and soffits were finished so no more mice or birds visiting at night and in the morning!!

During the second weekend of work on the cabin I also got going on the garden of annual crops (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, chard, lettuce, carrots, and beets) as well as the forest garden. In the following weeks I’ve added to the annual garden (pumpkins) and also planted seven fruit trees in the forest garden as well as ground cover of mint and nasturtiums. Just today I added four potato plants in the forest garden. This fall or the spring of next year we’ll add several fruit bushes such as blueberry. For those unfamiliar with permaculture and forest garden the idea is that a forest garden is designed as a forest ecosystem of seven or so layers of plant life starting with the large trees and moving on down to plants that grow along very low to the ground. When designing the forest garden as an ecosystem we think vertically as well as horizontally and are able to increase the beneficial connections between plants and other elements such as…

Cluck, cluck, cluck!! Chickens! I’m also planning on using the forest garden as a forage area for the chickens which will be gotten as soon as a coop can be built. They’ll keep the grass (not good around fruit trees) to a minimum as the forage for plants, insects, fallen/rotted fruit all the while fertilizing as they go. This should make for happier, healthier chickens as well as a healthier forest garden.

This is really just the beginning and it happened much more quickly than I’d planned. Next spring we’ll be putting in an orchard of 20 or more fruit trees as well as grapes and berry bushes. Before that I still have work to do on my cabin. In the coming weeks we’ll be finishing off the inside walls as well as adding shelving, a sink (draining to gray water outside), and a wood burning stove. Just today I added the gutter to the backside of the house which will collect rainwater off the metal roof into a series of rain barrels which will be raised off the ground for a gravity feed and connected to a single faucet. My hope is to connect 10 barrels, 55 gallons each for a total of 550 gallons of garden water. That’s not much but with the thick mulching of manure/compost, cardboard, and straw used in no-till gardening a little goes a very long way!

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Our planet needs a global recession

Just popping in to offer up a thought about the current thinking regarding climate change and the economy in relation to current political discourse and media. It is generally accepted thinking that economic recession is bad. It is also now generally accepted that climate change is a serious global problem which needs to be addressed in a very serious manner by governments and citizens.

Let me point out the hard truth which will never be uttered by any candidate for U.S. president, not even Barack Obama who seems to have a great deal of support of liberals and progressives in the U.S. No current Democratic or Republican candidate is even close. If we are going to solve the climate crisis we must reduce our carbon emissions immediately and let me be clear by what I mean by reduce and immediately. I mean that we need a reduction of 50% by yesterday and 90% by tomorrow. We need a global economic recession because we need an immediate end to economic growth. We need an end to a global economy that is based on ever increasing consumption and which promotes consumerism as a way of life. It is not what most people want to hear and it is not what a candidate will say if they want to get elected. But it is the truth.

Our level of public and political discussion regarding climate change and natural resources reflects our thinking on the issues and it is purely delusional. The time for making gradual but serious changes to our way of life was 1990. In 2008 we have runaway climate change and a planet of 7 billion people which has reached peak energy production.

Buckle up for a very rough ride.

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