Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Fun Time

Every so often I like to do something that does not involve reading about peak oil, writing about peak oil, talking about peak oil, worrying about peak oil, or preparing for peak oil.

But gee, what else is there???

Today I bring to you a recent obsession. You may get sucked in. You may never return. You may come out of your trance hours later wondering where all the productive hours of the day went. You may develop very dry eyes.

Will it be worth it? You make the call.

Yahoo Text Twist

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thank you, wind power!


The numbers are in!
For the year 2008, we used 9585 kwh and spent $910 on electricity, (which includes heating, cooking, and hot water). This is only 316 kwh less than 2007, a measly 3% decrease, which could be due to chance or weather. We made most of our home improvements and habit adjustments in 2006/2007, so that accounts for the small improvement this year.
As I was going through our final electric bill for the year, I uncovered a fabulous surprise! OG&E is selling wind power again! When we first moved to Oklahoma City, we were disappointed to find that OG&E did not offer the purchase of wind power, as our utility in Denver had, because they only had a limited wind capacity and it was sold out.

Creative Commons



OG&E recently added a new wind farm and they are now offering 3 options for purchasing wind power: 25, 50, or 100% power, at a very reasonable rates per kwh. I asked the customer care department for our added rate per month, and it was only $5.59. I signed us up for 100%! So easy, it feels like .... cheating? Well, it does cost an extra $60 a year, so I guess it's not cheating after all.


The Riot for Austerity "counts" electricity generated by wind power as only 1/4 of electricity generated by fossil fuels. Therefore the new total for our electricity will be about 2500 kwh. This brings us to within the 90% goal for electricity and heating, as calculated like this:


11,000 kwh per year (avg. American electric use) +

1000 therms = 29,300 kwh (avg. American nat. gas use in therms converted to kwh)

= 40,300 kwh total (total avg. American home energy use)


2500/ 40,300 = 6.2% of the American average.


The great thing is that all of our improvements and habit changes have required very little sacrifice, and have saved us a good amount of money. The Energy Star appliances we chose to buy did not cost any more than regular power hogs. It's no trouble to wash clothes in cold water or to turn off the "heated dry" switch on the dishwasher, or turn off lights when we're not in the room. CFL bulbs save us money, and so does turning off the energy vampires.

The geothermal system was a pain to have installed and was kind of pricey, but the geo system combined with insulation and weatherizing have saved us $400/year - so that was probably a good investment for the long term. Not the short term - it will take almost a decade to pay back our investment with the savings. Might be less if the cost of energy goes up significantly, which I think it will. Of course, there are new federal incentives of $2000 that make the geo systems a little more reasonable to purchase now.

If people knew how easy it was, how little sacrifice was required, and that the savings can be significant, I think the country could easily get our collective residential power usage down by 50%, and more with support and education from the government and the utility companies. Of course, our goal is 90% reduction, but I think the country, if it applied itself, could get residential power down by 50% pretty quickly. Then again, maybe I am being naive.

I read a study yesterday that showed that the main cause of over-consumption by Americans was the rise of single-person households and the construction of McMansions. Single-person households use 52.8% more energy than households of 3 people. And in fact, it's not the age of the home that determines the energy use, but the SIZE of the home. Additionally, as education and income levels rise so does energy consumption. Depressing.



Here's what my husband says when I tell him that we're now on renewable energy:

"So, it doesn't matter if I run the TV all evening?"


For a second I was stumped. I told him that the energy we use is still costing us money (in fact, more money now). Then I said that there was not going to be enough wind power for everyone, and the less we used the more someone else could use instead of using fossil fueled electricity. Does that explanation make sense? What would you say?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Flyer for Peak Oil awareness - comments welcomed!

Here's the rough draft of my text for an introductory flyer to peak oil and Transition Town OKC (currently in incubation stage ;). The flyer/pamphlet will be formatted by my co-chair on the Steering Committee, who will snazz it up and make it lovely and eye-catching and add some graphics and charts.

MY job is to write text that will persuade people that peak oil is a threat/opportunity and to visit our (upcoming) website. So it needs to be short, clear, to-the-point, and factual, without scaring the pants off people, but still motivating them enough to make the next step - looking at our website.

Keep in mind that we are in Oklahoma City, the original land of oil production, and the home of the F-150 ;). Wording is important, but I also don't want to pussy-foot around any of the issues. Let me know if you have any thoughts on how to improve this....

PAGE 1
What is Peak Oil?
And what does it mean for YOU?

What is Peak Oil?

Every oil field has a finite amount of oil. When the oil field is first tapped, oil production increases, then it peaks, and finally it decreases. Some fields fall fast, some fall slow - but none produce forever. When the oil field reaches maximum production - that’s called peak oil.

Oil-producing countries also reach peak oil and then their oil production declines. The United States reached peak oil in 1970. Even though we continued discovering and producing oil, production continued falling. We now have to import over 66% of our oil.

Over two-thirds of the largest oil-producing countries have reached peak oil. Only a few countries can still grow production - Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. We're not sure how much oil they have, because they don’t allow independent analysts to look at their data.

When is Peak Oil?

Energy experts agree that the world will reach peak oil at some point, and then oil production will begin to decline. Even though we will no doubt continue finding and exploiting oil resources, there will be less and less oil available every year. Conservative estimates for the timing of peak oil are 2 - 5 years in the future. The most optimistic estimates are for the year 2020.

Before oil is produced, it must be discovered. We know that world oil discovery peaked about 40 years ago and has been falling ever since - even with record high oil prices last year. Since oil must be discovered before it can be produced, this is a good indicator that oil production will peak soon as well.

Why does Peak Oil matter?

Our entire economy and lifestyle is based on easy access to cheap oil.
Our cars, trucks, trains and planes run on oil.
Coal for our power plants is mined and shipped using oil.
Our food is planted, harvested and shipped using oil.
Plastics and roads are made of oil.
10% of US homes are heated by oil.

Sources: International Energy Agency
US Federal Government Hirsch Report
Association for the Study of Peak Oil
Central Intelligence Agency

Footer: www.goinglocalokc.com

PAGE 2
What is Transition Town OKC?
and why do you care?

Oil: A Blessing, and a Curse?

Although oil has been a blessing in many ways, it has also been a curse. Global warming, pollution, traffic jams, sprawl, strip malls, the destruction of small towns and native ways of life, and globalization are just a few of the problems caused by fossil fuels. With fewer fossil fuels available, Transition Town OKC believes we have an opportunity to move forward into a future based on local economies, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

Oil Shocks

We depend on oil for so many things - transportation, agriculture, heating oil, and shipping coal for our electricity, just to name a few. Because oil is so vital to our economy, terrorists frequently target oil pipelines, refineries, and tankers. Oil shocks caused by terrorism, peak oil, labor strikes, international unrest, or even accidents have the potential to cause serious havoc and hardship. Oklahoma City should have a plan to deal with the consequences of a severe oil shock.

Yes, we can - but only with a lot of work

Here in the U.S., we have a fleet of 250 million cars and trucks, and we use over 20 million barrels of oil per day. Oil production after peak oil is predicted to decline 6 - 9% per year. That amount of energy is not going to be replaced by any combination of wind farms, solar panels, and ethanol. The plain fact is that we will have to use less energy - a challenging task, but one which can be accomplished.

Without a plan, peak oil could cause scarcity and hardship. If we work together to create a plan, Oklahoma City can transition to a better, more local, way of life. It won’t be easy, but we can come out of the transition stronger, healthier, happier, and closer to our communities.

The future will have less fossil fuel energy. What will it have more of? More gardens and bikes? More local stores, local food, and neighborhood schools? More insulation and clotheslines? More solar panels and wind farms? Transition Town OKC invites you to help us create a vision of this future.

Join the Momentum

Transition Towns are spreading across the country as citizens begin to realize that we can’t wait for government to save us. We need to act, and we need to act now. Visit the Transition Town OKC website at www.goinglocalokc.com for further information, events you can attend, and ways that you can help us create a positive vision of the future - AND help turn that future into a reality.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

OKC Transition Town 1st Steering Committee Meeting

The OKC Transition Town Steering Committee - possibly to be renamed - met for the first time today, Thursday the 22nd, at my house. Four of the eight interested people were able to attend. If you saw the original agenda - well, let's just say we didn't get through it all. However, it was great meeting the other interested people and starting to brainstorm a path forward.




Here's what we discussed:

- Fundamentals of peak oil (There was one woman who was unaware of our impending doom ;), so I was happy to fill her in).

- The 6 Principles of Transition Towns - Visioning, Inclusion, Awareness Raising, Psychological Insights, Resilience, Credible and Appropriate Solutions

- The first 6 steps of the Transition Town Process

- Transition Towns vs. Post-Carbon Cities. TT are more grass-roots, and focused on the importance of a positive vision, PCC are more government focused, and more centrally controlled

- Roadmap for the website - including a Peak Oil Primer, a Local Resources list, a Join the Momentum! page of events, an Adapting in Place list of information and links, a link to an "Oklahoma City 2020" visioning blog, and of course a "Who are we" page that explains our project

- Upcoming dates for events to participate / table - piggybacking on existing events until we get more organized

- Other people who should be involved

- Being "incubated" by Sustainability OKC as our temporary sponsor

- Funding for the website

- Setting the next date

We scheduled participation in the OKC Sustainability Valentine's Day Party, an already-planned "End of Suburbia" screening, a Sustainability conference, and Earth Day. More to come, no doubt!

We decided that the Steering Committee should have a lifespan of about one year, until the various sub-groups that sponsor different local initiatives get started. Generally, sub-groups that come out of the Raising Awareness and Laying the Foundations step of the TT process might include things like food security, gardening, solar energy, transport, education, land use, energy efficiency, etc. etc.


The plan of our demise helps us to commit to the team whole-heartedly, knowing there will be a definite end to the committee, but also knowing that there will be a fairly intensive time requirement during the first year. Although I work part-time, and full-time as a SAHM ;), I will be able to fit a lot of planning, web work, and writing as Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the project.



When the eight people interested in serving on this project are all able to meet, we will have a great amount of diversity, experience, networking, and passion on our team. The members are veteran activists, seasoned government employees, sustainability and social justice advocates, and a LEED certified architect, just to name some of their capacities. Together, I believe our team members might know everyone in town.

We are scheduled to meet again Feb 3rd or 10th. By then I hope to have finished two major projects: a basic "Who are we" flyer content written and passed on to another Steering Committee member for the design work, and posted the beginnings of our website online. So: blogging may be light over the next few weeks. But I will keep in touch!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tips for living lightly

Welcome! This list of ideas for living lightly was originally created for new members of the Riot 4 Austerity, a project where the participants are reducing their own carbon emissions by 90% in 7 categories: gasoline, electricity, heating fuel, water, consumer goods, waste, and food. This tip sheet is organized by these Riot categories, although I am not including the "food" section in this tip sheet.

Anyone can use the tip sheet, but be warned: some suggestions may be more extreme than you are used to. Members of Riot 4 Austerity are pushing themselves to create healthy, happy, fulfilling lives - with 90% less carbon emissions.

Depending on your situation and living arrangements, you may find different categories easier than others. Some people have more time, others more skills, and others have money. Some people live in frigid climates, some in wet places, others in drought-prone areas.

These tips will also often SAVE YOU MONEY. Some ideas will only save you a little, but some can save you a lot. With the current financial climate, many people are starting to pay attention to the "little" things that can save you from $50 - 100 dollars a year - and when you add them together, $100 here and there can really start to add up.

Of course, if you are preparing for higher prices, financial turbulence and potential shortages of gasoline, heating energy and electricity that will likely result from peak oil, then reducing your consumption makes a whole lot of sense. Many of the other tips - such as reducing disposable items and buying used instead of new, will also help you adjust your lifestyle into a peak oil world.

There are a wealth of resources available on the web and from books that can help you reduce the carbon emissions, waste, and pollution that you emit in your day to day life. This tip sheet is a good place to start - thanks to everyone who offered tips to make it possible! And please, feel free to comment with more ideas!

Water

Water is a necessity for life, and is becoming more scarce in many countries and regions. Americans use, on average, 100 gallons per day for indoor use and watering the landscape/lawn/garden . 30% of that is used in the landscape - and 50% of that is completely wasted. Indoor use of water is dominated by the toilet (27%), clothes washer (22%), and shower (17%).




Source: EPA

Water Conservation

1. Habits
-Take shorter and less frequent showers. Use an egg timer to help you keep it to 3-4 minutes.

- Let the "yellow mellow" - flush less frequently. Toilets use more than 25% of your indoor water use!

-Fix leaks in toilets, showers, and faucets promptly.

-Only wash clothes, sheets, and towels when they are really dirty.

2. Technology

-Install low-flow showerheads.

-Install newer water-efficient toilets or toilet dams.

-Use a high-efficiency washing machine.

-Install a composting toilet if you want to be super-efficient.

3. Conservation in the landscape


-Transform your thirsty lawn into a productive garden or beautiful, water-efficient xeriscape.

-Use drip irrigation or hand watering instead of inefficient spray watering.

- If you live in a dry area and must have a lawn, use drought tolerant species of grass for your lawn.

- If you must water your lawn, water in the early morning or late evening, and not on windy days.

-Install "ollas" or 5-gallon buckets with drilled holes in your garden and fill them up for easy infrequent watering right to the root system.

-Use deep mulching in the garden and landscape.

-Add organic matter to the garden and landscape plantings to better store water in the soil.

Water Harvesting

-Save the "warm up" shower water in a bucket and use to flush toilets or water your garden.

-Re-use greywater (water from showers or washing machines) to water your landscape. If you plan to do this, be sure to only use non-toxic, non-salty soaps and detergents. Check Art Ludwig's book "Creating an Oasis with Greywater".

-Save water from your roof with rain barrels or rain tanks and use to water your landscape or garden. (This is also good backup water for emergencies, but must be purified before drinking).

Waste

Americans are notoriously wasteful. We throw away 4.5 pounds in the garbage per person, per day. Over 60 million plastic water bottles, alone, are thrown away every day. Packaging and products are made of materials that had to be produced and processed and shipped to you, using energy in the process. Additionally, most people don't realize that every pound of trash emits the equivalent of a pound of carbon dioxide (in the form of methane) as it decomposes in the landfill.

Waste reduction

1. Stop junk mail and mail from sources you no longer want (catalogs, newspapers, magazines, etc.) According to Ecocycle, each year the junk mail industry destroys over 100 million trees!

2. Buy in bulk and try to buy items which have less packaging
3. Buy used instead of new goods - they have less packaging

4. Replace disposables with reusables

-Cloth bags instead of plastic or paper. If you always forget your bags, get the nifty fold-up kind for your purse or glove compartment.

-Re-usable drink containers for coffee (mug, thermos) and water (cup, Klean Kanteen)

-Create a Zero-Waste Kit.

-Make your own cloth hankies instead of using tissue paper

-Take your own To-Go boxes to restaurants

-Use a Diva / Keeper cup or cloth pads instead of tampons and throw-away pads

Re-use and Recycling
1. Reuse organic material

-Leave lawn clippings on the lawn, or use them for mulch

-Use leaves in your compost or mulch (they shred down great with a lawn mower)

-Compost kitchen scraps or put them in a worm bin


2. Recycling

-Take advantage of your municipal recycling program

-Use newspaper for mulch or in compost to add carbon, or as a "drop cloth" for projects

-Use cardboard boxes to suppress weeds in garden paths or in landscaping

-Donate useful goods to charities

-Sell useful goods on Ebay or Craigslist

-Donate random items on Freecycle. You never know what people might want!

Consumer Goods

New things such as televisions, clothes, toys, home furnishings, and cars require an enormous amount of energy (See The Story of Stuff) to extract the materials, create the item, and ship it to your local store or direct to your house. Every dollar spent on a new item puts half a pound of carbon into the atmosphere - and American households spend approximately $10,000 per year on consumer goods.

Don't Buy It!

-Avoid temptation by not watching television and not going shopping.

-Shop with a list.

-Instead of buying, borrow or rent what you need.

- Check out books, movies, books on tape, and CD's from your local library.

-Before buying something, look around - do you have one hidden in the garage, attic or back closet?

Buy Used

-Ask for hand-me-downs for kid's clothes, toys, and furniture from relatives.

-Buy used items online from Craigslist, Freecycle, and Amazon.com.

-Buy used locally from thrift stores, used book stores, and consignment sales.

- Buy items made of recycled goods.

Make it last

-Take care of your home and the things you have - clean them, repair them, and keep them in good condition.

-Buy things that are quality and don't have plastic parts - these will usually last much longer than poor-quality items.

- Use smaller portions of items like shampoo, makeup, etc. Some people go through $25 worth of shampoo and conditioner a month - others use $10 a year.

Gasoline

Many places in America were built for cars, not people. This may be why we use 500 gallons of gas per person per year. Reducing your gasoline use will pay you back enormously after peak oil!

Alternatives to traditional cars

-Use public transport, such as buses, trains, and light rail. (This does not include planes, which use an outrageous amount of energy. Avoid planes!)

-Consider moving close to work, family, amenities, or a handy public transport stop that can take you to all of these.

- Biking. Bikes are extremely efficient, and there are many options, including e-bikes. Biking is also good exercise, and you can get some fresh air, enjoy the scenery, avoid road rage, and soak up some Vitamin D from the sun. You can even use a little carrier if you want to haul kids or groceries.

-Walking. Need I say more?

- Scooters. These handy critters can get up to 90 miles per gallon!!! But remember, safety first.

- A hybrid or other high-mpg car might be a good choice for your next vehicle. Get it used, if possible.

- Ditching your car entirely can be a great strategy for saving money, but may not be possible for people who live in places without good public transport.

Use your car more wisely


-Carpool (Check out eRideShare.com.).

-Plan to combine errands into one trip. Make lists, do research online, and call ahead before you go to save gas.

-Keep your car tuned up and tires properly inflated, and replace spark plugs and air filters when needed.

-Track your personal miles per gallon.

- Drive conservatively - don't accelerate or brake too fast, stay at or below the speed limit and don't idle your car more than 20 seconds.

- Work from home or telecommute.

In the yard
- Ditch your gas-powered lawn toys like the lawn mower, leafblower and trimmer. (According to the EPA, a lawn mower emits 80 pounds of CO2 per year!)

- Use a reel mower and broom instead! (Note: I have a reel mower - it works GREAT on some types of grass but takes a bit more pushing power on Bermuda grass).

- Replace "recreation" vehicles like ATV's, snowmobiles, and waverunners with snow-shoeing, hiking, and swimming.

Electricity

The vast majority of our electricity still comes from coal and natural gas. The average American uses 11,000 kWh per household per year. Most residential electricity is used for fridges (14%), air conditioning (16%), space heating (10%), water heating (9%), lighting (9%), cooking (6%)and clothes dryers (6%).

Use Efficient Technology

-Use a Kill-A-Watt meter to check the energy usage of your appliances. You can pass it on to friends, family, or your blogging friends when you are done with it.....

- Convert your chest freezer to a chest fridge or use the smallest Energy Star fridge that will meet your needs. And don't turn on the icemaker!

- Place your fridge far from your oven, heating source, and not in direct sunlight.

- Plug electronics such as TV, DVD, computer onto a power strip and switch it off when you are not using them - this will prevent the silent vampire energy draw.

- Evaluate your appliances to see if you could benefit from buying more efficient new kinds - especially your fridge (newer fridges can use up to 50% less energy), clothes washer, and air conditioner.

- Always remember to evaluate the energy efficiency of an appliance before buying it. Even computers and televisions vary widely in the energy that they consume.

-Install CFL light bulbs. (According to Family Handyman, save up to $35 per bulb replaced).

- Consider heating water and cooking with a microwave oven whenever possible. The microwave uses only 1/3 the energy of conventional cooking.

Air Conditioning

- Use ceiling fans, cool drinks, and lower your activity level instead of using the air conditioner (when possible).

- Avoid using the A/C by keeping shades closed or windows shaded by outdoor shades during the day, and then opening windows at night to let the cool air in.

- Consider a "whole-house fan" instead of using A/C.

- To cool your house at night, set up a cooling stream by putting putting a box fan in one window and opening another window elsewhere in the house.

- Keep the A/C at 78 degrees F or higher. Consider turning it up even higher or off entirely when you will be out of the house for extended periods.

- Perhaps only use a small window unit to help you sleep at night, instead of a full-house A/C unit that runs throughout the day (check the efficiencies of each unit to see if this is worth doing).

- Sleep in your basement in the summer (We lived in Denver, with no A/C for 4 years and used this trick). If you are concerned about radon, have it checked out. Also make sure there is an egress (direct window exit) from any room you plan to sleep in.

- Sleep on a sleeping porch in the summer.

- Make sure your air conditioner is shaded.

- On southern and/or western walls, install outdoor window shades and/ or grow vines on a trellis to prevent the sun from hitting the walls and windows. Over the long term, you can plant deciduous trees to shade your entire Western wall and roof.

- Avoid heating up the house with cooking heat by eating light meals (like bean salads and sandwiches) or by cooking outdoors, with a grill or Sun Oven.

Conservation

- Use a drying line instead of a clothes dryer.

- Wash clothes with cold water, not hot. Washing with cold water is sufficient for just about anything except for the filthiest clothes.

- Insulate your hot water heater.

- If you use your hot water only at certain times of the day, consider installing a switch and only turning on the hot water before you want to use it.

- Turn off anything electric (lights...) when not in use.

- Ditch your halogen lights - as the "Hummer" of lighting, they use 300 watts an hour.

- Air dry your hair. A 1500 watt hairdryer uses 375 watthours of energy every 15 minutes of use!

- Turn off the heated dry feature in your dishwasher and air dry your dishes.

- Use a Sun Oven to cook meals - it will cook chicken, fish, lasagna, banana bread, chili, and more! Not only will this save cooking energy, but will save on A/C costs to cool down the house.

- Get rid of that old "spare" fridge or freezer if you can - it uses a lot more energy than you'd think.

Heating Energy

Most Americans use natural gas, electricity, or heating oil to heat their homes. The average American uses 1000 natural gas therms or 750 gallons of heating oil per household per year. Heating the home uses up to 50% of the energy consumption in a house. Some homes use geothermal heating units (aka ground-source heat pumps), which are also powered by electricity but use far less energy than conventional heaters. Many homeowners can also take advantage of passive solar heat gain to help heat their homes.

There are many ways to save money on your heating bills. Evaluate which ones give you the most gain for the least cost (time, effort, and money), and start there.

Insulation and Weatherizing

- Get a home energy audit.

- Blow in or install extra insulation in your attic.

- Blow in or install extra insulation in your outer walls.

- Place specially sized insulators behind light switches and electric outlets.

- Caulk around windows.

- Fill holes / air leaks in the house's "envelope" with Great Stuff or other insulation.

- Seal your HVAC ducts.

- Install weatherstripping around doors.

- Add storm windows (cheaper than replacing windows).

- Put in thermal window coverings / window quilts.

- Put up bubble insulation on windows where you don't need the view.

Here are some extra tips: Off The Beaten Path and Robert Waldrop's Blog.

Here's the Half Project, with their "Top 16 projects" and energy & money savings calculations.

Habits

- Open blinds during the day, close them at night.

- Check and clean or replace your furnace filter every month.

- Wear layers of warm clothes, hats, shawls, scarves.

- Use multiple blankets, comforters, down comforters.

- Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat at night and while you are gone.

- Or... just freeze yer buns by turning down the thermometer.... as low as you can go.

- Use a mattress heating pad (NOT electric blanket) if it will allow you to turn your furnace down at night. Unlike electric blankets, the power consumption for mattress pad heaters is very low (about 0.15 KWH per night) and will keep you very comfortable in bed.

- Block off parts of the house where you don't spend time.

- Don't use the vent in the kitchen/bathroom except for short periods of time. All the air vented out must be replaced by hot/cold air from the outside which must then be heated/cooled.

Other ways to live lightly

While renewable energy is often promoted as a way out of our climate change and peak oil problems, you can do much more, for less money, through conservation and efficiency. Having said that, you can also:

- Purchase renewable energy from wind or solar through your electricity provider.

- Consider installing solar water heating. It has a much quicker payback period than solar PV.

- Plant trees, yourself, and care for them. If they are fruit or nut trees, all the better!

- Spread the word - help your friends save money by reducing their impact on the planet.
















Friday, January 16, 2009

Fill in the Blank!

Fill in the blank:

I could live forever without seeing another ____________ again (insert your most hated ecologically destructive item that you hope will disappear after Peak Oil); BUT you'll have to pry my ______________ from my cold, dead hands (insert your favorite ecologically questionable item that you hope will still be around).

My answers:
1. gas-powered lawnmower; wineglass
2. BlackBerry; pulpfiction fantasy novel
3. Hummer II; hot, hot showers

What are YOUR top three?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

OKC Transition Town Pre-Meeting

Sustainable OKC has invited me to co-chair the Oklahoma City Transition Town Initiative! I met with Shauna Struby, President of SOKC, last week just to talk principles and strategies and whatnot, before we have our first Steering Committee meeting. I will be blogging about this process for anyone who is interested in starting a Transition Town.


The Transition Town concept, as pioneered by Rob Hopkins, is more applicable to "towns" of 5,000 people than to cities of 500,000+ people, so we are going to have to modify our approach a little, maybe including the Post-Carbon Cities model. We will also use Richard Heinberg's Resilient Communities approach, which focuses on being prepared for a peak oil shock, ready to offer advice and plans to the local government and community. Because frankly, it's just a fact that a lot of things that will need to be done post-peak are not going to get done pre-peak.


We like the Transition Town principles of permaculture, positive energy, and psychology. We want to create an enticing, attractive future for people to feel excited about, rather than paint a grim, frightening future for people to be scared of. We want to address the human side of feelings and culture, not just the technical aspects like peak oil decline rates. Because unless we help people confront their addiction to oil, they won't change. They'll just disengage.

There appears to be some kind of required training before we can officially designate our project as a Transition Town. I don't know when we might be able to do that - while it looks extremely helpful, I do have an 18 month old toddler to take care of.

Obviously, this project is going to be a huge undertaking. I am very excited!


So far, we've come up with some preliminary goals for our project. One interesting thing about Transition Towns is that the Steering Committee (hopefully to be called something friendlier) is designed to have a lifespan of about a year. By then, the project should be released into the wild and Sub-groups, such as Food, Energy, Education, Sanitation, whatever, will have started their own projects. The leaders of these groups will then become the new Steering Committee.


Preliminary goals (subject to change with our first meeting):


  1. Raise awareness about peak oil and climate change.
  2. Stimulate the creation of a positive vision of a future with less energy.
  3. Provide a supportive environment for people to cope with a realistic assessment of the future.
  4. Provide information and resources to help people prepare for a future with less energy.
  5. Inspire projects to help Oklahoma City become more resilient and sustainable, and help coordinate those projects with existing resources and community groups.

And here's the rough draft of our first agenda:

OKC Transition Project

Welcome and Introductions

Peak Oil - the dilemma (quick review of information sent by email)

Transition Town Concept - why we are here (quick review of information sent by email)

Sustainable Energy Alliance - how we started (quick review of information sent by email)

Exercise: Pair up and answer 2 questions each:
1. My concerns about peak oil and climate change?
2. My positive vision for Oklahoma City in the face of these challenges?

Transition Town Principles, Model and Psychology (quick review of info sent by email)

Resilient Communities (info previously sent by email)

Set Project Goals (3 - 5 top goals)

Decide Project Name

Discuss commitment to the project - time, attention, timespan for dissolution.

Discuss and decide how to proceed:
- Budget / Funding
- Website / Blog
- Marketing - Logo, business cards, pamphlets
- Raising Awareness and Creating a Vision - film screenings, speakers, ????
- What events are upcoming that we could partner/ co-sponsor/ piggyback with?
- Resilient communities
- Hands - on preparation projects
- Information sharing with other Environmental, Social Justice, Disaster Preparedness, and Government groups

Set date and time for next meeting - 2 weeks

Well - the first meeting is scheduled for next week. Let me know if you have anything to share about getting these kinds of projects off to the right start!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Environmental Nutjobism

After being so kindly nominated for the Environmental Nutjob award by Crunchy Chicken (jumping up and down! so excited!), I have to write a post confessing how I am not nearly the Nutjob that I should be. Although, for Oklahoma City, I am pretty weird. You don't even see people using cloth bags here.

First, the unusual stuff. I grow a garden, have fruit trees in my front yard, compost, use a reel mower, use a Sun Oven (regularly!). In the summer, I have 850 gallons of water sitting in raintanks in my backyard. My furniture is all hand-me-down and I buy mostly used stuff. I had a guerilla wedding. I do use cloth toilet paper and cloth hankies - that's probably the weirdest thing.
Occasionally I think things like "I must be the only person in Oklahoma City who owns a Kelly Kettle", and "I wonder if 375 pounds of wheat berries is enough?".

Seriously though - the basic facts of my life. I live in a 2000 square foot house in the urban suburbs. I am married with one child. I graduated from college and worked in the corporate world for 4 years. I drive a car (an old, old car.) I have a fridge and a clothes dryer. I read a lot. I drink coffee, and wine, and margaritas when I can get them. I like to go on long walks on the beach and go to movies. Whoops, this isn't a personal ad, is it?

Here are some pictures showing me being ordinary.


Hausfrau, shown here with real existing friends, who don't actually know about my online identity.



Hausfrau, depicted at the Grand Canyon, a very ordinary spot for a vacation (but with an extraordinary view).




Hausfrau, shown at guerilla wedding. Wait, that is a little strange.

I started this blog as an offering for some of the other people out there who may be stuck in the suburbs, for whatever reason, still living quasi-normal middle-class lives, but still want to prepare for peak oil. You know, I'm not out there with Sharon in the farmhouse. I'm not in a hideyhole with a stash of guns somewhere in Idaho. I haven't emigrated to the island off the coast of New Zealand or that ideal small town in North Carolina. I'm just trying to get along where I am.

The most interesting thing about me is that my expectations for the future are very different from the norm. I'm not expecting the future to be like the past, only better and more stuffed with technology. I'm expecting the future in twenty years, maybe even ten years, to be so different we don't even recognize it.

I think oil will steadily or suddenly become scarcer and more expensive. We may see the end of "retirement". We may see the end of "upward mobility". We may see 20% unemployment. We may see a large rise in crime. We may see the end of the dollar. I don't know that's going to happen, but I see it as enough of a possibility, with enough danger, to prepare for it.


I think climate change will make a big difference in our lifetimes. Crops, coastlines, migration patterns, growing schedules, natural disasters - all will change. I think it will be difficult in many ways to adjust. Places that were liveable will become semi-unliveable, and vice versa.


So I'm preparing for peak oil, and the potential financial and social disruptions that may come along with it. I'm trying to reduce my negative impact on the planet. And I want to help other people understand what may happen, and prepare for it.


In spite of all this, I want to have fun. I want to make the future fun and enjoyable. It doesn't have to be a disaster! It doesn't have to be horrible! Just because we have to give up some of our most cherished illusions and expectations - we don't have to be miserable.

I think one of the most positive things about the future is that we will have to give up our illusions of independence and status and work together. I think that working with other people towards meaningful goals is one of the most satisfying and exciting things in the world. Currently, our lives are not set up to give us that satisfaction. But I believe in the future we will be first forced, then expected, and finally excited to work together to meet our everyday needs. Hallelujah!

I am so honored to be nominated for the Environmental Nutjob award. I only wish I were more worthy. ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Help!! Tips on Rioting

Here we go - let's put together a tip sheet on Rioting 4 Austerity! The Riot is a project where participants aim to reduce their carbon emissions by 90% by reducing their use of electricity, heating fuel, gasoline, water, waste, and changing the way they get and make food.

I'd like to put something together to help new Rioters - a Quick-Start Tip Sheet.
I have started a rough outline of some ideas to help reduce carbon emissions, organized by the seven Riot categories. Please help me with your ideas and experience - take a look at the outline and let me know what you think! Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Ideas/suggestions for specific changes to reduce waste/consumption/energy use - with links you found especially helpful?
  • What changes saved you the most money? (Specific numbers??)
  • What changes saved the most energy? (Specific numbers??)
  • What changes were most worth it overall/ most satisfying?
  • Was there anything you tried that didn't work?

1. Water
Conservation
i. Habits
· Taking shorter / less frequent showers (egg timer anyone?)
· Letting the yellow mellow
· Planting xeriscape or garden instead of watering a thirsty lawn
· Infrequent lawn watering
· Turning off tap when brushing teeth / dish-washing
ii. Technology
· Low-flow showerheads
· Low-flush toilets / Toilet dams
· Fixing leaks ASAP
iii. Conservation in the garden
· Mulching
· Adding organic matter to the soil
· Ollas / In-ground buckets
· Drip irrigation
· Swales

Water Harvesting
i. Greywater
· Re-using shower or washer water in the garden
· Re-using shower water to flush the toilet
ii. Rainwater barrels / tanks

2. Waste
Reducing
i. Stop junk mail
ii. Buy in bulk or buy with less packaging
iii. Buy used goods (which usually don’t have packaging)
iv. Decrease disposables by replacing with reusables
· Cloth hankies
· Cloth bags
· Drink containers (Coffee cups/Water bottles)
· To-go boxes, plasticware and napkins
· Cloth TP
· Diva cup and cloth pads
· Cloth diapers (??)
Re-using
Recycling
· Composting
· Freecycling
· Municipal recycling

3. Consumer Goods
Resisting temptation
· Avoid watching TV
· Don’t go shopping
· Shop only with a list
· Resolve to postpone any purchase for one week
Make it last
· Buy durable, well-made goods
· Use smaller portions of items like shampoo, makeup (or use less often)
· Take care of machines and tools
Buy used
· Thrift stores
· Used book stores
· Consignment sales (ex: JBF sale for kids stuff)
· Craigslist
· Freecycle
· Family members
· Amazon (used)
Buy local
Don’t buy

· Do you need it?
· Do you have one already hidden somewhere in a closet?
· Borrow
· Rent
· Reduce disposables (see under waste)



4. Gasoline
Use your car more wisely
i. Trip reduction
· Planning & combining trips
· Shopping & researching via Internet
· Staycations
· Telecommuting / 4-day workweeks
ii. Carpool
iii. Drive efficiently
· Driving habits (speed, acceleration, braking, don’t idle)
· Car maintenance (spark plugs, air filters, oil changes)
· Tire inflation
Car alternatives
i. Biking
ii. Scooters
iii. Public Transport
Replace your low-mpg car with a (used) hybrid or other high-mpg vehicle

5. Heating Energy
Better technology
· More efficient furnaces
· Geothermal (aka ground source heat pump) units
· See renewables
Insulation and Weatherizing
· Get an energy audit
· Insulate attic and walls
· Insulate windows (quilt/thermal window coverings & bubble insulation)
· Seal leaks ("Great Stuff"/caulk/weather strips/draft dodgers)
· Seal HVAC ducts
Habits
· Turn it down/Turn it up - go extreme!
· Programmable thermostat
· Clothes, hats, shawls, blankets and hot water bottles keep you warm without the heater
Use renewable sources of energy
· Passive Solar techniques
· Solar heating panels
· Wood stoves (only EPA-certified efficient stoves, and sustainably harvested wood)

6. Electricity
Efficient technology
· Kill-A-Watt
· Energy Star appliances
· Laptops
· CFL’s
Conservation
· Vampires
· Good habits
Appliance alternatives
· Sun Ovens
· Clotheslines
· Crockpots
· Haybox cookers
· Wood cookstoves
Renewables
· Solar hot water
· Photovoltaics
· Solar Appliances
· Wind energy

7. Food
Use local sources
· Farmer’s Market
· Food Co-op
· Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Change your diet
· Less meat, less dairy
· Less imported food
· Less processed food
Grow your own
i. Permaculture food forests
· Fruit and nut trees
· Fruit shrubs & vines
· Perennial edible and medicinal herbs
ii. Gardening
· Building soil and composting
· Starting seeds
· Crop rotation
· Companion planning
· Season Extension
Raise your own
· Bees
· Chickens / Ducks / Rabbits
· Goats
Cook and preserve your food
i. Meal planning
ii. Making your own
· Baby food
· Cheese
· Yogurt
· Bread
iii. Preserving
· Root Cellering
· Drying
· Canning
· Fermenting
· Home-brewing

Special Topics
Rioting at work or with your business

Rioting with babies and kids
Home improvement and the Riot
Keeping up motivation
Tracking the Riot

Thank you to everyone for sharing your tips, ideas and experiences!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Riot 4 Austerity Baseline Numbers

During the inaugural week of our Riot, I am calculating the data for our prior year's consumption. We tracked our food, consumer goods, and gasoline expenditures for the last 2 months of 2008, and I am calculating the electricity, heating, and water from our utility bills.

We have 3 people in our household - 2 adults and 1 child. I also run my part-time business from our home, so other people are also using our water, electricity, and heating. I'm assuming the average American use numbers found on the Riot page are "personal use" - I assume they don't include, for example, water used to grow crops, make iPods and books on our behalf - just water we use to drink, wash dishes and clothes, take showers, water the lawn and garden, etc.

Water

The American average use is 100 gallons per person per day. Our total water usage for the year was 34,000 gallons, so we use 93 gallons per day (for 3 people). This is about 70% less than the American average.

Since we have reduced our water use already by about 70%, I am not going to concentrate on this area for our Riot.

Electricity, Cooking and Heating

We use 9889 kWh per year in our house for both electricity and heating, which is 824 kWh per month, for 3 people. The American average is 10,800 kwh for electricity and 1000 therms for heating & cooking per year - when I translate therms to kWh and combine the two numbers, it equals 40,100 kWh hours. (!!) This seems outrageous, but anyone feel free to check my numbers. I've noticed that our electricity use doubles during summer and winter when the Geo unit (our heating and cooling) is running.

When we compare the combined numbers, our use is currently 75% less than average. To improve this, I would like to install solar heating window panels before the end of winter, and consider looking at solar PV later in the year to see if it makes any kind of monetary sense at all.

Gasoline

I averaged out our gasoline use for November and December. These were pretty typical months - we commuted as usual and took one trip to Tulsa (100 miles away). We also did not take any plane, train, or bus trips last year, so I didn't have to do any accounting for that.

We used 35.75 gallons per month, total for the three of us. The American average is 50 gallons per person per month, so that would compare to 150 gallons per month. (Although my toddler is not driving yet, we do drive on his behalf - babysitting, doctor's appointments, etc.) So we are currently using 76% less than average. I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised by this.

I would like to reduce our gasoline usage more, if possible. This is obviously an area that will be directly affected by Peak Oil. I can only think of two ways to reduce our use more without sacrificing family time: my husband could increase his carpool days, and we could buy a hybrid. The carpooling really depends on his schedule, because he does not have a job with predictable hours. My Geo Prizm is on it's last legs (almost 150K miles, with a few fender benders to boot), and when we replace it I hope we can get a used hybrid car that is more fuel efficient.

Food

Although we did keep our receipts for the last 2 months, I am not going to bother tallying them up. I can tell in general how we did, and honestly, the tallying system is a PITA. Here's what I estimate that we did:

  • Garden produce: Frozen tomatoes, okra, and pesto, dried basil and oregano, fresh parsley and kale.
  • OK Food Co-op: Local eggs, peanut butter, wheat berries, and jam.

  • Organic, grocery store: Soy milk, whole milk, coffee, random occasional items like applesauce.

  • Meat: None for me (except fish once every 1 - 2 weeks), only about 5% of my son's diet, and my husband eats meat for lunch about every day and about 1 dinner per week.

  • Alcohol: Impressive quantities of homebrewed beer.

  • Traditional industrial food: Everything else, although we do buy mostly "healthy" foods and whole foods.

So is this better than the Standard American Diet (SAD)? Marginally - maybe 10-15%. I think this is an area where we can show improvement. Here are my strategies to improve this next year:

  • Expand garden. During the summer, our diet will look somewhat better than in November/December. I plan for our garden to be more productive next year, especially the apple trees, and the year after that, I hope our blackberries and kiwis will start producing.

  • Preserve more from the garden.
  • Visit the Farmer's Market. I was not impressed with our local market the last time I visited, but I was informed today that it is MUCH improved now. So I will try to visit it more often.

Consumer Goods

Wow, Christmas shopping season was a bad time to save consumer goods receipts. Looking at the pile, I am almost too intimidated to add them all up. While some purchases were used, and many could be counted as peak oil preparation / green improvements, many were just traditional stuff - gifts for self, friends, and family. I don't buy many disposables, so at least that's a good thing.

OK, I added the receipts up after all. Our monthly average for the 2 months was $315. The American average is $10,000 per year, so $833 per month. Therefore our expenditure was 62% less than the American average.

I am looking for suggestions to improve myself here. My plan is to try harder to find free stuff and buy used goods. But as I mentioned in my 09 Goals, we are going to do some minor remodeling in our kitchen and replace our carpet with wood floors. Can someone provide any sources for remodeling with used or reclaimed goods? The only place I know about is the Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

My next post will be an invitation to the other Rioters (and anyone else) to help me compile a "starter" kit for new Rioters with the best, proven tips in one handy document. I'm going to kick it off with an outline and call for suggestions and details on each area. It might take a little while of your time - but will be worth it to compile all your great knowledge and experience to help future Rioters! Anyone care to help?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Handy use for vinegar #37

You can easily remove annoying price tags off glasses, mugs, and dishes with that most handy of green cleaning products - vinegar. Here's the process:
  1. Peel off the price tag. Actually, this step is probably optional.

  2. Lay the item in a shallow bowl of vinegar, with the price tag completely covered by the vinegar. Alternatively, pour vinegar into the item, covering the price tag.

  3. Wait 5 - 10 minutes.

  4. Scratch off the rest of the tag. (This should be extremely easy - if not, set back to soak some more.)

  5. Clean item as usual and rinse.

  6. Vinegar can be reused for some other cleaning project or poured back in your bottle (if you are very skilled or have a funnel!).
  7. Done!

Friday, January 2, 2009

09 Goals

I don't make resolutions, I make goals. Resolutions are promises that you know you are going to break. Ha ha, just kidding. But goals and projects are things that I plan to achieve. Goals that are written down are much more likely to be achieved, and goals which are public are even more likely to succeed.

The beginning of the year is imbued with hope and promise... even if things look grim. We can turn grim to our advantage by using it to generate momentum to get some serious good works accomplished. Making goals is an important first step - and at the end of the year, if everything has not been achieved, so what? More has been accomplished than if no goals were ever made at all. So here we go: My goals for 2009.

1. Save $XX thousand by end of year.
2. Pay down mortgage by $XX thousand by end of year.
3. Grow garden for spring, summer, and fall and plant blackberries and kiwis in the spring. Preserve the harvest as much as possible by canning, drying.
4. Renovate kitchen to allow two people to cook in the kitchen at the same time, add storage space, and increase ease of cleaning. This will give me more room for storing produce during the summer garden season and help me keep the kitchen neat and clean. We plan to keep the cabinets we already have in interest of frugality and being environmental.
5. Replace old carpet with wood flooring in kitchen, dining room, and front room. I consider this Peak Oil prep since I don't want to be vacuuming carpet when there is no electricity ;). Also I think carpet traps allergens.
6. Fitness! Walk - every day if warm enough. Yoga - twice a week. Lifting weights - once a week.
7. Start Riot 4 Austerity in 1 or 2 categories - starting yesterday, January 1st! :) So far we have been tracking the receipts, and I need to add them all up to see how far we have to go. I am troubled that the kitchen and floor renovations might make any reductions hard to achieve, but I will just see what I can do anyway.
8. Continue preparing for Peak Oil.
  • Install solar heating panels in windows.
  • Buy or make (really this means "Ask my Dad to make") solar food dryer by June.
  • Help start Transition Town or Resilient Communities initiative in Oklahoma City.
  • Learn how to make food - bake bread, make cheese and yogurt. Hopefully, without electric gadgets.
  • Investigate keeping bees and chickens.

Ahhhrgggh! After writing it down, that looks like a lot! I know from experience that once I break it down into sub-goals and weekly to-do lists it will become a lot more manageable. No doubt the "Help start a Transition Town initiative" will spawn thousands of sub-goals all by itself. After that, I have to just keep plugging away. For example, this weekend we will:

  • Order seeds.
  • Call Horn Seed to see if they have blackberries locally.
  • Order blackberries and kiwis.
  • Look at finances (assets and liabilities) to see where we are now.
  • Break down yearly savings and mortgage goals into monthly goals.
  • Add up receipts for gas and consumer goods for the Riot from November and December.
  • Look for places to find used home renovation products.

It seems like everyone is making their goals and resolutions right now. Do you have any you care to share?