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Post-peak: The change starts with us
Pat Murphy, Community Solutions
The average American consumes six times the energy of the average person in the rest of the world.1 Yet we don’t seem to realize the cost of our massive energy consumption on the poorer people of the world, on our own health, and the health of the environment. Although interest in Peak Oil is growing, most do not yet fully understand that this means the “American Way of Life” will be over within a few decades.

This issue of New Solutions aims to bring the problem of energy consumption down to the personal level, to questions of our personal accountability and our personal capacity to change our societally driven habits. We can’t anticipate that leaders who ignore science or a press that continues to tout fantastic technological solutions will offer us any rational, considered approach for change to a problem both we and they deny. We can only look at ourselves.

Understanding Energy

There are many individuals and groups who are beginning to see Peak Oil as a unifying principle that offers a perspective on war, inequity and pollution. These people can be found in groups such as community movements of all kinds, simple living groups, agrarian advocates, and intermediate technology organizations. Probably the total number of involved people is in the tens of thousands, well below one percent of citizens in the richer countries.

It is vital that some of these pioneering people begin to make the personal changes needed for a Post Peak Oil world to provide authentic leadership for those who will follow. Such people can develop ways to live on a severely reduced energy budget. This will not be easy because we are so far removed from the knowledge and skills of the past, and because it is hard to make the choice to live using less when those around us are living as if our way of life can go on forever.

A major diffi culty is the complexity of the problem itself. It is not easy to understand energy – it is a massive subject and complicated by many different opinions and ideas. It is diffi cult to decide what to do. Should one recycle plastic bags? Is changing light bulbs really a good idea? Is burning wood a good choice? There are new skills that are needed to wisely formulate our response to the energy crisis. They include thinking numerically about energy, understanding per capita analysis and grasping the difference between embodied energy and operating energy.

Developing Numeracy Skills

There are significant skills lacking in the general population which makes it hard for people to understand the implications of Peak Oil. Lester Milbrath says, “We used to think a person was educated if he was literate. We later came to see that mere literacy was insuffi cient, people also need numeracy. We should expect people to develop the ability to handle numbers and the habit of demanding them.”
(8 March 2006)

Latest CSIRO newsletter focuses on personal actions
(614kb PDF)
CSIRO Sustainability Network Newsletter #57 (Australia)

  • Taking action for climate change – we have more influence than we think;

  • Urban horticulture and forestry – a vital role in “future-proofing” our society;
  • Many reasons for not choosing to drive your car;
  • The swimming pool as a future “backyard billabong”;
  • The handshake as a greeting is a social liability – let’s ditch it
  • Massive domestic energy waste is a big opportunity;
  • “Blogging” for sustainability;
  • CSIRO energy & renewables research.
  • Also, more feedback on energy futures, and the non-sustainability of current sustainability thinking.

(17 March 2006)

In Memory of Carla Emery

Carla Emery website
Carla Emery DeLong, bestselling author of The Encyclopedia of Country Living and tireless crusader for the homesteading movement, passed away of complications from low blood pressure on October 11, 2005. She died in Odessa, Texas, on her way home from a national speaking tour, surrounded by her family.

Carla’s entire life was distinguished by her strength of character and her willingness to make her own way on her own terms. She will be remembered by thousands around the world for her writings on independent living, and for the doctrines of self-sufficiency and environmental stewardship she preached at speaking engagements across the United States. ….

Fossil Fuel Depletion by Carla Emery
[conclusion of a post-peak scenario] Historically, the most food-productive land use pattern was intensive family farming on privately-owned small pieces of land. Congress eventually rejected the promises and bribes of agribusiness corporations and handed the nation’s future to those homesteaders. The government nationalized all multinational corporate and foreign-owned agricultural land-as well as most former national forests, grasslands, and deserts. The land was then divided into small acreages and offered to those persons who would live on a piece and grow food there. This gave each homesteading family a chance to survive by farming, and to help the remnant city population survive by their surplus. In a non-petroleum economy, these modern homesteaders lived as gently on the land as the wolves and grizzly bears.

…Your Personal Plan to Cope with Petroleum Depletion

1. Be frugal. Choose thrift over waste, spiritual over material. Get out of debt. Sell your mortgaged home. Use the equity to buy housing that you can own free-and-clear, “be it ever so humble.”

2. Be healthy. Grow as much of your food as possible with no herbicides, no pesticides, and no artificial fertilizers. Every year, try to make your garden bigger and more productive than the year before. Sell your surplus food production. Drink pure water (filter if needed).

3. Choose sustainability. Install renewable energy substitutes for all propane-using appliances. If you burn wood, grow a woodlot. Learn solar cooking and get a solar cooker. Install a rainwater collection system with storage tank. Install a compost toilet. Use all the homestead-produced humanure and manure to enrich your soil. Save seeds or let selected plants self-seed. Reject embalming and choose a “green burial.”

4. Be self-reliant. Store food. Feed your livestock homegrown food (vegetables, grass, hay) as much as possible. Ride a bicycle. Or horse. Or drive a motorcycle, or hybrid, or electric vehicle (batteries charged by surplus power from your private renewable energy system)! Learn to use hand tools (versus power tools).

5. Be networked. Practice lifelong learning. Get to know your neighbors and make yourself helpful to them. Lobby for enlightened local zoning. Encourage development of renewable power in your community.
I was very sad to learn of the recent passing of Carla Emery. For more on this remarkable women, see:
Letter from Hen Waller – Carla Emery: A legacy of hope
Tribute from Gentle Spirit
About Carla Emery (from her website)

Brooks once a center of wind power industry

Andy Kekacs, VillageSoup (Maine)
BROOKS (March 19): The proposed wind farm in Freedom is just the latest expression of Waldo County’s continuing fascination with alternative sources of energy.

Not only have local farmers and back-to-the-landers experimented with wind power for decades, Waldo County was — for a brief period — a center of the wind industry in the United States.

The county’s national status came not from the number of generators produced or installed here, but from the thousands of windmill blades made at a small factory in the heart of the county. From 1978 to 1983, Peter Baldwin’s Brooks Windblade company built about 2,500 solid wood and laminated windmill blades for the nation’s leading wind generator manufacturers.

“Around 1977, I decided to erect a windmill,” said Baldwin, who was then living on a homestead in Monroe. “But first, I needed a set of blades.”

Baldwin had arrived in Monroe six years earlier, one of many young people who came to Waldo County in search of a simpler, more self-sufficient life. Before moving to Maine, he had studied mechanical engineering at Northeastern University.

Like many people in the Midcoast, Baldwin struggled to make ends meet. Among other things, he worked as a carpenter and made rustic furniture. His woodworking skills and engineering background were good preparation for making windmill blades.
(19 March 2006)
Windpower from the grassroots.

Why lawns? (“Lawn mores”)

Ted Steinberg, LA Times
ONLY IN AMERICA, with its 50-odd-million households participating in lawn care and its 16,000 golf courses, is turf an estimated $40-billion-a-year industry. That is roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Vietnam. The United States is far and away the world’s leader in cultivating perfect, weed-free, ultra-trim, supergreen grass. How did the greening of America come to pass?

…A better explanation rests on history and ecology. While it is true that lawns in the U.S. go back to the time of Washington and Jefferson, only after World War II did the perfect-turf aesthetic emerge. The story begins in the late 1940s with the mass production of suburban homes. Every one of the 17,544 homes built in Levittown, N.Y., was surrounded by grass. But the quest for perfectly groomed expanses of turf doesn’t really begin until the 1950s.

First, you need to understand some ecology. We tend to associate bluegrass — one of the most common lawn grasses — with Kentucky, but the species actually hails from the moist, cool climates of Eurasia. Trying to grow bluegrass and other cool-season species here that are not indigenous to North America is thus an uphill battle. Many turf grasses, for example, need an inch of water per week during the spring and summer, or more rain than normally falls anywhere in the continental U.S. during these seasons.

That the deck is stacked against perfection is bad news for the homeowner but a potential windfall for the chemical lawn-care business. Beginning in the 1950s, companies selling herbicides and fertilizer used advertising to cultivate the perfect-turf ideal.

Why did the perfect-lawn aesthetic emerge in the 1950s? Because that was a time in the nation’s economic history when — with Americans already awash in consumer goods such as refrigerators and washing machines — manufacturers longed for new ways of stimulating demand. The perfect lawn fueled postwar consumerism as homeowners repeatedly bought products in the elusive quest for an impeccable yard.

Ted Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University, is the author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.”
(18 March 2006)
Widespread planting of lawns in inappropriate climates – an anti-soluiton.