August 2008

Book Lernin and Peak Oil30 Aug 2008 09:17 pm

I’ve read several books this summer that deserve mention:

Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben

This book takes a long, hard look at the way that most of us in the developed countries of the world have been living in the last half century or so, why it isn’t sustainable or healthy, and what we can do to correct our course. The focus is on building resilient communities that can survive shocks to our larger society. It covers many of the same topics that James Kunstler does in The Long Emergency, but avoids Kunstler’s apocalyptic tone.1 McKibben is totally peak oil aware, and this informs his writing. Highly recommended for everyone.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a very readable story of a family that decided to live for one year exclusively (or nearly so) on locally grown foods. Mrs. Kingsolver is a great storyteller, and the book is entertaining whether or not you arrive at the door with a local-foods agenda in hand. You will read about her family and their adventure, their friends and neighbors; along the way you will learn why local foods are our future, and why we will come to respect and appreciate our farmers and our land (if we don’t already).

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

This is a relatively short (215 pgs) but very enlightening and intense work. It is packed with information that will prove extremely valuable in the near future, especially to those on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. This book is about ‘radical’ sustainability and social justice: when you are mentally prepared to really make a difference, when you are ready to become truly green, this book will be waiting for you. They cover a lot of ground, albeit from the 5000 foot level: personal food production and water supplies, handling waste, generating energy, and even bioremediation (cleaning up contaminated areas so that they are suitable for living and food production). My only complaint is with the title of this book: in no way is this information useful only for those living in the city! The reference section is excellent, and I really enjoyed the illustrations by Juan Martinez.

Recommended? Yes, to the right audience. This book is kinda hardcore: I highly recommend it to those already peak oil aware and thinking hard about the things that they need to do in the next five or ten years. It is the most informative and forward-looking book I’ve come across in a long time. But if you’re a relative newbie to the issues around peak oil and radical sustainability, this book is probably too much for you right now; make a mental note of it and come back in a few months when the larger implications of peak oil have sunk in, and you are wondering about next steps.

Simple Prosperity, by David Wann

This book is in many ways similar to McKibben’s Deep Economy, and covers many of the same issues, but Wann writes in a more personal tone. He offers more of his own life experience, focuses more on the spiritual, and may at times come across as a bit preachy. Still, his message is right on, and I definitely recommend this book for general audiences. He is very well aware of limited fossil fuels, but these considerations don’t dominate his thinking.

Up next on my reading list is Richard Heinberg, although I’m very familiar with his views from online reading… but our local library system does not seem to carry his books… What’s up with that?  :-/

1While Kunstler has proven long-sighted on a number of fronts, I’m hopeful that we will avoid the most dire of his collapse predictions. John Michael Greer provides another useful counterpoint

Life23 Aug 2008 05:54 pm

I added picture albums from beach trips this year and last, and added some new gardening and wild plant pics to existing albums (hit the links and scroll down). Enjoy!

Bird at sunrise

Peak Oil21 Aug 2008 07:57 pm

I was reading an article the other day about how energy-dense gasoline is, and the amount of human labor that equates to a gallon of the golden stuff. I don’t remember the numbers, but my immediate reaction was “Nah, that can’t be right.”

When I did the calculation myself, I was shocked. You can get all the info you need from a few Google searches:

  • A human doing sustained manual labor (say a 10 hour day) can supply something like 2 kCal / minute.
  • A gallon of gasoline supplies about 124,000 BTU, or 31,000 kCal.

So how much energy is 31,000 kCal? It is a lot. Do the math, and you find that one gallon of gas supplies you with about as much output as having a manual laborer at your disposal 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, for about 5 weeks.

Holy crap!! And I can get a gallon of gasoline for only $4?! That means the pay rate for my mythical laborer is about 1.5 cents / hour. Sounds like a bargain to me…

If you also consider the other uses of petroleum products, like manufacturing plastics and agricultural inputs (fertilizer, pesticides), it seems that our increasingly wanton use of fossil fuels this last 50 or so years has been an absolute orgy of excess. We’ve been rapidly using up an incredibly valuable — but very finite — resource that we should have been mostly saving for future generations.

Whether we like it or not, it now looks like that orgy is going to be winding down over the next decade or two. Our society, which has never been told ‘No!’, is about to have its accustomed way of life rudely taken away.

It has been a wild, extravagant, once in a (planet’s) lifetime experience.

I hope the hangover is not a killer.

Biking and Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources21 Aug 2008 06:58 am

Today marks the one year anniversary of when I began biking to work.

I’ve logged about 3500 miles. I’ve had three flats (only one was a blowout; the other two were slow leaks that I could fix the next day at home). I haven’t had any spills or any accidents, though there have been a couple of (kinda) close calls.

Payments for gas, insurance, inspections, and repairs have been quite low  ;-)

My original goal was to get more exercise. While I’m not in any kind of great shape now I’m a good bit healthier than I was a year ago.

And I still love it  :-)