Archive for the 'simplicity' Category

High Energy Prices: Good

I’m sipping my coffee at 6 a.m. at Stumptown in Southeast Portland (joy). The Oregonian’s front page shows an ocean of the 72,000 faces that turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday (yes, I voted for him, too) and the lower right corner story is: “Who loves high energy prices? The environment.”

The gist is basic economics: when price goes up, demand goes down. And we have got to demand (use) less energy, because it costs the earth heavily. I’ve seen oil fields and coal mines described as war zones, and that makes sense, because we’re violently wresting fossil fuels from the earth that have been millions of years in the making (hence the term fossil). Moreover, burning them causes global warming, because the atmosphere cannot quickly absorb millions of years worth of carbon dioxide and methane. High prices help us slow all this down. In fact, slowing down is crucial all around.

The big problem with high energy prices is that they can make the poor suffer, which of itself is immoral and unethical. If you can’t afford to get to work or heat your house, then you deserve a price break or assistance. (But you also should carpool!) We need a more progressive tax system altogether, and those who have enough need to just voluntarily share more with those who don’t have enough. My household gives about 5% of our net income to philanthropy, but I think we can and should increase that.

If the earth loves high energy prices, let’s get it straight that we are part of the earth, too. Would we put a rock-bottom price on our own lives? No; our civilization is built on valuing human life. Because our fate rises and falls with the earth’s fate, we have to put a high price on energy and use it as the incredibly costly stuff that it actually is.

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Heat Wave: Slow Down

Here in Portland, Oregon we’re expecting 95 degrees today, which for our mild climate is a major heat wave. How to cope with it? I suggest we do what people did for theGlobal Warming Coping Mechanism 99.9% of human history prior to the invention of air conditioners. They slowed their pace down so they wouldn’t overheat themselves. And played in the water whenever possible, like the young lass here running through a sprinker.

Air conditioners use outsized amounts of energy. My home doesn’t have one, but just fans. Even Portland, with the benefit of hydropower from Bonneville Dam, still gets about half of the energy in its grid from coal plants. Coal-burning causes the carbon emissions that cause global warming. We need to reduce our emissions. That’s what all the green fuss is about. Let’s stop fussing and start changing.

I’m frustrated that OregonLive, the online edition of the state’s major newspaper, is carelessly saying on its front page “Crank the AC.” (I just posted a comment challenging that wisdom.) If your health is precarious or you’re prone to heatstroke, AC makes sense. If we’re able-bodied, let’s use the sense God gave you and behave differently at 95 degrees than we would at 65 degrees. That means moving more slowly and being less active than usual. It’s a good time to be languorous instead, and sensual.

For myself, I’m driving in my new hybrid to Opal Creek Ancient Forest for the weekend. Only natural air conditioning there. I’ll go running on the trails and cool off in the creek. The Opal Creek cabins and lodge are actually off the electric grid, using a Pelton wheel micro-hydropowered system supplemented by a good-sized set of photovoltaic panels (solar panels). Is that cool, or what? photo courtesy of adwriter

The Very Best Diet, Part II

Last week I named the very best diet for weight loss as being one of low car use. That’s because our bodies were designed to get us from place to place with this cool gait called walking. My husband and I share just one car, and use public transit, our feet and our bikes for many of our trips. It’s more fun, too.

What else has been rising in the U.S. in the past decades besides car use, body weight and obesity rates? Television watching. We’re watching four hours a day per person on average. I haven’t met anyone who thinks that’s a good thing. Robert Putnam in his breakthrough book “Bowling Alone” showed that decreased exercise, voting, social activites, etc. are all so closely linked to increased television watching that we can fairly say heavy TV use crowds out the things that create healthy citizens.

That’s why I believe the second part of the very best diet for Americans is the diet for our televisions. The less time we spend sitting still watching it, the more we move around doing other things being relatively active, both physically and socially.

Thor and I watch literally no television. While we own a TV, it lives humbly downstairs in the basement, and gets used occasionally for a rented movie. If the weather is halfway decent the poor thing can be starved of any attention for weeks at a time. It’s not a flat-screen either — flat-screens use too much electricity and we believe in energy diets too . . . a topic for a future post.

Consider putting your television on a diet, too. I bet it helps you lose weight by opening up time for more activity, both physical and social.

Our Portland CRAG Launches!

Last night five friends of mine, new and old, got together at Colleen and Thad’s house in NE Portland. We had wine, a delicious potluck dinner and animated-to-hilarious planning of our Carbon Action Reduction Group.

Honestly, it would have been fun and funny even without the wine. The four sled dogs milling around our legs added a lot to the happy hubbub. Bottom line: We’re going to do it! We’re responding to global warming by measuring our households’ carbon footprints and working together to control and reduce them. This is the basic spreadsheet each household will use.

Probably because I was the initial instigator, I get to be the group’s ‘accountant’ in the first year. I accepted this role only because Ewan O’Leary, who is starting his own carbon-offset business, is going to help me. (I love teamwork.) We are naturally open to new members: please post a comment at top of this article if you’re interested.

If you are sitting there thinking you are definitely not ready for this CRAG thing yourself, don’t feel alone. Here is what some of my friends said at the prospect. And I am absolutely still friends with them; I’m even going hiking with Micki tonight. I do believe, though, that my frequent-commenter Mick down in Berkeley is thinking about starting a CRAG, himself. Hope he’ll keep us posted. 🙂

Our Carbon Reduction Group

The funny thing about climate change (also known as global warming) is that it is so invisible to us, while so serious. Our daily lives here in the affluent U.S. don’t look different despite the icecaps melting, etc. But our lives should look different — we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. So Colleen and I are starting a Carbon Reduction Action Group (here is my first look at this).

This means we and whoever joins us will be counting our households’ monthly greenhouse gas emissions in three ways: our heating bills, electricity bills and transportation (personal use, not business use). The idea is healthy competition with ourselves to steadily reduce our emissions down to a sustainable level, especially given that government is not taking the lead.

To clarify, CRAG in the United Kingdom is a Carbon Rationing Action Group. I’ve noticed though that the term ‘rationing’ is seen differently in the UK than in the U.S., i.e. with less morbid fear. So I’m doing as some others have done by using the term ‘carbon reduction action group’ rather than ‘carbon rationing action group’. Got to respect your market.

If you find this idea daunting you’re not alone. Half my friends freaked at the idea of counting and reporting their emissions. But I know in my gut this is absolutely doable. More soon.

Carpool Survivor

I am lucky enough to be in a carpool with five great people for my two-hour round-trip commute. (I found them through Carpool Match Northwest.) We save money, save emissions and have fun. So on the morning of April Fool’s day I tossed off a prank email to them.

I wrote: “It has been such a pleasure knowing you! My new inheritance means I can now afford a new Prius. I’ll soon be driving alone to work in it with Steve Earle cranked up full blast. warmly, Alison.” I chose Prius rather than Hummer to enhance my credibility.

Still, I thought they would zing me back with: “B.S.! April Fools!” Or at least: “If we agree to play Steve Earle, won’t you stay?” But instead, I basically got a dead silence. Not good. So in the late afternoon I emailed that it had been a fraud. “Of course I’m still in the carpool. I can’t believe you believed me! I’m not a gold-digger, not with you for the money.”

It turned out that Sam had decided I was a rank poser, only having pretended all this time to care about the environment. (Have I mentioned my carpool is 67% environmental attorneys?) He was laughing by the time he debriefed with me — “This is carpool survivor!” he said, but I could see he had seriously disliked me for an entire day. Whoa. John was more vulnerable. He said that, knowing break-ups often happen for reasons other than the stated ones, he’d been convinced I’d just manufactured an excuse to dump them all. (I decided this might not be the right day to ask John about his abandonment issues.)

It doesn’t take a background in counseling (though I happen to have one) to see that a carpool can bond and take on some family dynamics. It wasn’t that funny to threaten to leave. I had upset them.

Yesterday, a gorgeous spring afternoon, I was waiting for the gang at the Agriculture building at the Mill Creek bridge. I climbed up on the bridge embankment just for fun. As Sam and John approached, I yelled, “My carpool hates me! I’m going to jump!”

“Don’t jump!” they called. I climbed on down and all six of us got into Richard’s van. We talked, read and joked the hour back to Portland, probably happier together than many families. While driving alone isolates us from others, the game of Carpool Survivor rewards us with community and I plan to be the ‘last woman standing’ in it.

The Case For Hybrids and Sex

On March 2 I wrote about my household’s deliberations over which hybrid should be the replacement for our single car, a battered 15 year old Nissan. People have been asking me, “So what have you decided?” It’s almost like they’re wondering if a new baby will be a boy or a girl.

The answer: we don’t want this new baby (new car) until late summer. At the earliest, if then. I can name three reasons (and maybe you’d like to add some more).

1.) I don’t want to fertilize the market with a car purchase. Our nation already has way too many cars of any ilk (250 million, and that’s just the registered ones). Most of these run just fine and don’t need replacement. It takes 20 barrels of oil just to make a car, I’ve read. So, we’d have to drive a hybrid 20,000 miles to save that much oil if it got double the average car’s mileage. And why would I want a motivation to drive 20,000 miles?

2.) Babies (new cars) are very needy and therefore disruptive to sexiness. Thor is already trying to set rules about no eating or drinking in our hypothetical new car. I am already outraged: “Who’s driving things here, us or the car?” (You can tell I currently drink coffee every morning in our ratty Nissan with impunity.) This marital disagreement has not yet hampered our sex life, but you never know when a playful power struggle might escalate.

3.) Cars are not sexy, anyway. It was only when we were semi-homeless teenagers that there was a legitimate association between cars and sex. Has your sex life not improved since you were 18, moved out and got a better place to neck than a car? I rest my case.