October 26, 2013
Other than our ticking off at least thirty-five national leaders – several of them, our close European allies – with our meddlesome NSA spying, more useless Congressional hearings on the lousy rollout of the government’s healthcare site, China’s continued anger over our idiotic debt limit debacle of the last couple of weeks, the continuing civil war in Syria and other Middle Eastern catastrophes, things have been pretty quiet this week here and around the world.
So, I thought I’d discuss a problem which has come up here at my house that, sooner or later, affects all of us – humans, animals, plants and, in fact, pretty much the entire planet. That problem is my own share of our collective and profligate rates of energy use and what I can do about it in my own life.
When I lived upstairs, I was well on my way to reducing my own energy use in various ways that I’ve documented here on the blog from time to time. I had no refrigerator. I used a camp cooler for the few things I would have kept in a refrigerator and a small, energy efficient freezer for storing food for the month, a microwave oven, a TV, a computer, a ceiling fan in the kitchen, one light source per room and a small window air conditioner that I used for several hours a day during the hottest week or two of each summer. This summer, I managed to keep that usage down to six hours per day and used it only on the three hottest days of the year. In addition, the apartment had a gas cooking stove, water heater (insulated) and wall heater – each one used as sparingly as I could manage.
Not so, in the downstairs apartment I’ve moved into. To begin with, it’s twice as large as the little, 650 sq. ft. apartment upstairs. In addition to the computer, microwave, freezer and TV, which I took with me, the downstairs apartment has as refrigerator (with an ice maker), a large toaster oven, two window air conditioners (one at the front of the house and one at the back), a dishwasher and a washer and dryer – which, I confess, I came down and used once every month or two for a load of whites and colors while I lived upstairs. Otherwise, I washed smaller things out by hand every few days and hung them to dry over the bathtub. In addition, this apartment also has a gas range, an insulated hot water heater and a small, energy efficient Trane furnace.
I love the apartment. It’s light-filled and airy, with plenty of cross ventilation from windows on all sides. I use the large room in the back to set up and experiment with my winter garden. The problem in my little paradise is, while I don’t need all this extra “stuff” that I did fine without, I find myself using them – at least from time to time. This isn’t an economic problem for me; I can probably afford the small amount of extra energy I would use. Nor is it a problem of convenience. In fact, they allow me to be a good deal lazier than I’m used to being and I find I don’t like it.
What it has become for me, and what it needs to become for all of us, is a moral problem. We Americans use far too much energy. Back in 2008, the World Bank estimated that, although we represent only 5% of the world population, we use 24% of the world’s energy. (The world’s richest countries, representing about 25% of the world population, used 75% of the world’s energy.) Since the recession, our usage appears to have dropped to around 20%, according to DOE statistics. But almost as bad as the amount of energy we use, of that energy we use, the 2012 yearly analysis of energy usage done by the Laurence Livermore National Laboratory showed that around 61% of the energy flowing through the US economy last year was wasted – about 47% of it through inefficiencies in electricity production and transportation usage. But of the 10.6% used residentially, 3.7% – almost one third – is wasted. The rest is commercial and industrial energy waste.
I’ve been working to reduce my energy use the last few years,but this last month since I moved downstairs has been a bust that way. Over one third of the energy used in our collective homes last year was wasted. And since such a large percentage of the overall waste is in the energy production and transportation systems we use, we bear some percentage of personal responsibility for that, too.
Aside from the questionable morality of 5% of the world’s population using 20-25% of the world’s energy resources, the greater part of our energy use is from carbon-based fossil fuels which are, by far, the largest contributor to global warming and climate change.
Although China surpassed us in 2007, as the world’s largest emitter of carbon-dioxide and in 2010, as the world’s largest energy consumer, we are still the world’s largest per-capita energy user. The average American uses five times as much energy as the average Chinese person, since China has about 1.3 billion persons compared to our 313 million.
It seems to me that we can blame China and other developing nations for the rising CO2 and the increase in global warming, or we can quite kidding ourselves, as the world’s biggest per-capita energy users, and take responsibility as individuals for finding ways to reduce our own energy usage. Frankly, nature doesn’t care whose fault it is. Global warming and climate change will punish us all, in the end.
Over the last month, I’ve been careless about my own moral responsibility in these areas. But in a week or so, I’ll get the bill for this month’s excesses. It will tell me, in kWh, therms and CCFs, how much more electricity, gas and water I’ve used over what I used last month. The battle to reduce them again has already begun.
We tend to think, in the light of our overall national profligacy, our individual attempts won’t make that much difference. I think it will. I have to think that; this is the only world we have and I want it to be not just survivable, but livable for my children and grandchildren.
For some of you, I’m preaching to the choir. If not, look around. You might start here: https://conflicteddoomer.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/doom-and-the-working-poor-%E2%80%93-shelter-and-warmth/ You’ll find some ideas, from do-it-yourself energy audits to ways to decrease your own energy use. You can also find links to building and/or using passive solar energy for heating and cooling here: https://conflicteddoomer.wordpress.com/377-2/
We do have problems in paradise. They are moral problems. Even with our very best attempts at solving them, they’ll get worse before they get better because of our collective inattention. And if we don’t start now, they’ll only get worse, with no better in sight. It is our responsibility, individually, to address those problems in any way we can. In the same way that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, collective action begins with each individual acting to do what he or she can and encouraging others to do the same.
It’s a beautiful day here, time to plant my onions for next year and put the rest of the garden to bed for the winter. I love my life here; I just want to make sure I do everything I can to reduce my effect on my surroundings, so whoever comes after me can love it here, too.