Problems in Paradise

English: Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China ...

English: Wind power plants in Xinjiang, China (Taken with a Nikon D70.) 中文: 中国新疆的风力发电厂。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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: 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:

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.

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13 Responses to Problems in Paradise

  1. Silvia TIC says:

    Thanks for sharing the tips (and the struggles). Here we are also trying to reduce the impact, but it becomes very difficult with teenagers and no much control on certain features of the house (it is a townhouse). However we have managed to reduce 13% from last year’s usage…it is October and we haven’t turned the heating yet (and this is Canada). 🙂

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Silvia, I was amazed (and more than a little ashamed) at how easy it would be just to slip back into using all those things I don’t need, for convenience sake. So I thought others might be having the same problems. Maybe we can push each other toward behaving better. 😀

  2. CaityJ says:

    Well put, I must say. I also must admit I’m a sinner even though I conserve energy use in a number of ways (e.g., my thermostat stays around 60 degrees F. all winter long…and in Maine that makes the house quite chilly when it’s below zero outside!). I haven’t used my window air conditioner for a few years now, but nearly croaked with heat exhaustion this summer, so may have to drag in out for the hottest days. I could use a smaller refrigerator but would hate to do without one completely. I could go on and on about the conserving I do, but I still feel guilty about not doing more. I look forward to taking a look at your hints. Thank you very much for providing the resources. Keep up the good work and writings. And from my perspective, you don’t need to feel guilty about a little bit of convenience in your life. Fare thee well, Linda.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Caity, LOL I don’t want too much convenience in my life. Moving downstairs was a convenience to not have to go up and down two flights of stairs every time I went outside, but other than that, I was pretty happy without all the “stuff”. I actually like washing dishes by hand, for example. That’s the time I do some of my best cogitating. 😀

  3. Infinitea says:

    It really is amazing, when you look back over a lifetime and see the changes in our culture. From living in two or three bedroom houses with 3 or 4 children, now every child has to have their own bedroom. From one t.v. in the living room, to a t.v. in every bedroom, the living room and the rec room! From one car for the whole family to pile into and go places together to Mom and Dad having their own vehicles and the children of age having their own, too. From one computer for the whole family to share… well, you get the idea.

    Some of us are turning back the clock out of necessity. Not just because energy rates are rising faster than wages, but because we realise how much togetherness and just plain feeling-good about doing a job manually that we lost along the way.

    Before I finished reading (even though I don’t have a car or a dishwasher) I got up and turned off a few of the unnecessary lights I had on even though I rent and it’s included.

    One point you made about us feeling like the little we contribute to the problem isn’t enough to make changes over, goes even deeper. Every area of our lives where we reclaim our power, empowers us to make even more and deeper changes that can be for the better of us now and for future generations.

    Thanks again for the reminder Linda.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Infinitea, I know what you mean. Our first phone was a party line with two or three other families on the line. I remember going down to the old Forum, there in Wichita, to watch the 1952 elections on a series of TV monitors, lining the edges of several long banquet type tables. People lined up around the tables to watch a while, then moved on so the next one could watch for a while. We got our first TV later that year. And life here in the Ozarks for most of its history was even more lo-tech than that.

      People got along pretty well, so I don’t think we should be so afraid of voluntarily lowering our living standards. The alternative, if we don’t, seems much more frightening to me.

  4. graveday says:

    Heh, dead people don’t require much in the way of living standards, but I’m not volunteering for that. Yet. It may look good at some point.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey Grave, yep, I’m not volunteering for that either, but if we don’t start decreasing our lust for things pretty soon, I fear the choice will not be ours much longer.

  5. Nadia says:

    Since our own severe crash and downsize – my husband and I have adjusted to living nicely in our one room cabin of 242 feet with our 2 dogs and 2 cats. Over the past three years; we have whittled our belongings back and back and back to only the bare essentials and we have become calmer, wiser and happier for it. Less on the mind and we are recovering financially and putting money away for the first time in a long time. If we had tried to, instead, live on the still relatively modest but inflating scale we had before we would still be in debt and feeling always frayed and exhausted by it all.

    As always, Linda, you express what many of us feel so extremely well. I love reading your posts.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Nadia, I think with the economic crash and the increase in natural disasters, a lot of people have had to learn (sadly, sometimes, the hard way) that happiness doesn’t depend on having a lot of things that you once thought were mandatory.

      Having lost “everything” a couple of times – and “everything” wasn’t that much to begin with, as far as material things go – it’s been easier to do without a lot of those things. They just aren’t as important as family, friends and other non-material things. I think that’s why I feel so discombobulated right now. I don’t know what to do with all this “stuff”. Maybe I’ll sell some of it and get the roof fixed 😀

  6. expedeherculem says:

    While it’s certainly a good impulse to try to conserve energy on a personal level, most energy and water are used by industry – in mines, in factories, in transportation systems, in satellites, etc. – and so no amount of shorter showers or LED light bulbs will ever make a significant dent in this waste, even if everybody did them all of the time, which we both know they won’t. It takes thousands of gallons of water and untold amounts of energy to fabricate, ship, operate, and maintain a car. THAT’s the message I think we should be sending and talking about. (cf. What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen)

    • theozarker says:

      I agree, Herc. And I can protest their behavior in many ways, but again, the only behavior I really have the power to change is my own. Besides, it’s good practice for when everything goes belly-up because too few were willing to do with less – whether it’s individuals or industry or whoever. 🙂 At least, that’s the way I look at it.

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