Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Simple ways to reduce dependence on oil

I've been reading and listening to the Peak Oil Crowd for a very long time, but it's not just that I've been mislead by a group of doomsayers. I've also read reports by organizations, like, the Energy Commission and other reputable sources who talk about things like, the fact that worldwide oil reserves are decreasing.

One doesn't have to read those reports, however, to understand that our days of having an over abundance of this amazing stored energy are limited. Look at the great state of Texas and witness the vast numbers of dry oil wells. Witness the fact that our geologists found the Bakken Tar Sands in the Dakotas decades ago, but the cost of extracting oil from tar sands is too high to be profitable when oil is just gushing out of the ground and can be collected in mason jars.

There's no more oil gushing out of the ground and easily collected in anything that will hold a liquid. All of those vast reserves that made millionaires out of share-croppers and spawned such television classics as The Beverly Hillbillies and gave rise to the wish, "when I hit oil in my back yard", which was the yesteryear way of saying, "when I win the lottery", are used up now, burned up in our cars and consumed like candy on Halloween.


We can't get it back, and while the tar sands are providing a usable product, the extraction process is both more environmentally degrading and much more costly. In fact, in order for it to be profitable for the tar sands developers, the price of oil per barrel needs to stay around $60. The days of sub $1 per gallon for gasoline are very much long over, and in fact, if the tar sands developers have their way - which they will - the price for gasoline will go right back up to $3/gallon, $4/gallon or higher. As long as we are dependent on oil - either foreign or domestic sources - we will be at the mercy of those people who bring it to our door.

And the Keystone XL Pipeline will do nothing to reduce our cost for gasoline at the pump. The only ones who will benefit from the pipeline are the 50 people who will have full-time, permanent employment and the developers/owners of the tar sands operations - probably the same people. There will be, an estimated, 47,000 jobs available during the construction phase, after which, those 41,950 who aren't part of the group that gets to keep their jobs, will be out of work. Worse, communities through which the pipeline runs will have to provide support for the workers in the form of housing, retail outlets, education facilities, utilities, and other infrastructure. During the build-out, communities will grow exponentially, nearly overnight, as workers relocate to their new jobs, and almost as quickly all of the *new* put into place to support the increased population will be left to rot as the people move on.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've lived in communities where finite resources were mined as if they would last forever, and where employment was always feast or famine - one has a job making $40,000 a year for three months, and then, the rest of the year, that person is on unemployment or other welfare benefits. The private companies do not cover the cost of those benefits. The community does. YOU do. Can we really afford to foist that Yo-Yo economy on those communities through which the pipeline will run?

Regardless of that, however, everyone knows that the oil supply is limited. We all know, and if we don't, we're being willfully ignorant of the facts of what oil is. There is a limited quantity, and when it's gone, it's gone ... kind of like my bank account balance. I can't spend what isn't there.

I am completely against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and not just because of the guaranteed environmental degradation. I'm against it, because it is simply one more Band-aid solution to a much greater problem. In proposing this pipeline, the proponents hope to continue this masquerade that our oil-centric lifestyle can simply continue indefinitely.

Or, they just don't care about the future, as long as their present is warm and cozy and they can keep driving wherever, whenever, they wish.

The Iroquois Nation followed the philosophy that what they did today would have a direct impact on seven generations into the future. Their actions were guided by this principle, and when they discussed building projects, they would keep that in mind.

How will this Keystone XL pipeline affect seven generations into the future? If we start with my generation, it might benefit us, the forty-somethings, by giving us a few more years of what James Kunstler calls "Happy Motoring." My children will see a very rapid decline in available resources (because we're already seeing it, now, if we're paying attention - and it's not just oil, but also water and arable land ... and even air, in some parts of the world). My grandchildren (and I already have four of them) might need to ride bicycles most places.

That's three generations, and while we will all, probably, more or less still be living much as we are, there will be less of everything, and there might be a lot more conflict over the fair division of what's there than we are seeing now. There are already resource wars being waged on the African continent, and while not (yet) violent, we are even having wars - of a sort - over water resources in the United States - and not just in the arid southwest.

Five generations from me, my grandchildren's grandchildren, will live in a very different world than we live in, and what we do today can make it much better, or much worse. It's up to us.

The first step is to reduce our dependence on finite resources, and perhaps funnel the use of those resources into something that will benefit the whole, rather than the few. Unfortunately, most of us average folks have very little control over what happens to those resources. We can't all change the world, but we can change our tiny piece of it, and one very simple start is to remodel our lives so that we use less.

Following are 5 steps for reducing our personal dependence on oil.

1. Grow more food. The agricultural industry uses an incredible amount of oil from use of petroleum-based fertilizers to needing to operate machinery to irrigating huge fields of monocrops. By having a garden, even a very small, container garden and composting kitchen wastes to build organic soil, we could eliminate half the fuel needed to operate these farms. Grow anything. It's easy, it's healthier, it's a lot of fun, and it's incredibly empowering.

Oh, and it increases one's food security, which is very comforting.

2. Drive less. The transportation industry here in the US (which also includes transportation of food and other goods from one corner of the continent to the other) accounts for more than 80% of the fuel we use in this country. Right now, Deus Ex Machina and I are sharing our one car between two drivers and five people. In the past, having two cars, meant that, if we just wanted to run to here or there, it was really easy and thoughtless. Having one car means our trips out need to be a lot more careful. We were able to cut back classes/events for our daughters to three days a week, which means that we have to take Deus Ex Machina to work on those days, but on the other days of the week, he takes our one car, and if we have to go somewhere, we have to walk or bike. We're still transitioning, but it's actually kind of exciting to figure out how to juggle our schedules to make it all work.

3. Buy Local . This goes with #2 above (and probably #1, too). By purchasing local goods - and I don't mean goods shipped to local vendors, but goods that are actually produced locally, we eliminate some portion of cost of transporting stuff. It may mean that we don't have as many choices, especially of food items (because certain things don't grow well in certain environments - folks down south will have fewer apples, and folks in the north won't have oranges - we'll all adjust), but really, not having oranges all year long, on a whim, is a very small sacrifice to make for my grandchildren's grandchildren.

4. Buy Less. Most of us have everything we will ever need for the rest of our lives with very few exceptions. Things do wear out and need to be replaced - even in the most sustainable traditions - but none of us need as much as we have. Especially this time of year, there is a huge temptation to purchase. more. stuff, but none of us need it. Instead of buying stuff, maybe we could make an effort to give memories in the form of experiences. Our local theater offers Flex Passes, which would make a wonderful gift. There are so many things people can do, instead of the things they can get, and I guarantee a ticket for some event the recipient loves is going to be a lot more cherished than another silk tie.

5. Reuse. We all have as much stuff as we will ever need, but too often we don't see the potential in an item we no longer feel has a use. The other day, I was preparing for a literature class I'm teaching. The pattern has been to discuss the book and do a project based on the book we read. In a recent book, the character's mother operated a small store where she sold handcrafted items made from repurposed or reused materials. For the project, I had the girls make friendship bracelets from an old pair of pajama pants I cut into strips. Just because they couldn't be pajama pants anymore doesn't mean they no longer had value.

Anything we can do to reduce our personal consumption is a step in the right direction, and the five actions above are really low-hanging fruit. There are dozens of other things one could do, that might take a bit more effort, to use less.

What's your favorite way to plan for the 7th Generation?

1 comment:

  1. Don't drive a car. Stay at home for months at a time, in pitch blackness, surrounded by computers, exist only on the internet, totally magical.