Posts Tagged 'biodiesel'

Doing The Unthinkable

Every household has its own little culture. Within Thor’s and mine, I did the unthinkable last night: I drove (did not walk) the 3/10 mile from our house over to choir practice.

This was not even in the Prius or other hybrid we have yet to purchase, but in our 1993 Nissan Sentra. As I was stepping out the door to walk to the church, I realized there was a hard, driving rain. Changing into rain gear would make me late. I didn’t want to be either late or soaked, so I jumped into the car for the 3/10 mile journey. Normal in many households; unthinkable in mine.

How would I respond to a ‘normal’ person’s charge of being obsessively PC (politically correct)? Well, my answer is about context and about the dismissive power of labels.

The context is that Portland Oregon (where we live) wins awards for being the Most Sustainable City in the nation. We are ‘early adopters’ in that arena, with excellent public transit, bike lanes, land use and biodiesel availability. So my household makes choices in a city-state context of sustainability.

Concerning the label of PC or any other label: it’s a form of dismissal. For instance, to say that New Yorkers are rude, or Southerners ignorant, dismisses them from further thought. It also makes them lower-than, less worthy than the one labeling them. “Portlanders not wanting to drive? How PC!” — and the speaker and listener toss away the notion of driving less, without thinking about what they’ve tossed.

That thing of not thinking is how we’ve landed in the global warming mess we’re in.

My work-day today involves getting input from my statewide transportation-options group about my idea of an Oregon residential energy tax credit (RETC, rhymes with Betsy) for carpooling, and then meeting up with a leader of the state’s Drive Less, Save More publicity campaign.

And you can bet I will not be driving to those meetings — though I’ll admit to my colleagues my slip-up last night :).

Biodiesel Now Yielding 3.5 to 1?

Some folks are familiar with how we heat our home with biodiesel, with real success. The kind we use is made from vegetable oil that had its first life in restaurants, (and is usually discarded in places less funky and sustainable than Oregon). All of which is another reason I love living here.

My understanding had been that traditional (not recycled) biodiesel was not sustainable, i.e. uses so many fossil-fuel inputs it’s no improvement over just using, for instance, petroleum. But yesterday I read biodiesel yields 3.5 to 1 according to newer research.
I’d like to hear other people’s evaluation of this report, since the author is the National Biodiesel Board. They’re assuming soybeans as the source.

Biodiesel is different from ethanol, and it’s taken me awhile to understand the difference. Ethanol is made from corn, which strictly speaking is a renewable resource. However, agribusiness uses ENORMOUS fossil-fuel inputs to grow that corn. I think ethanol takes us down the wrong trail altogether.

For one thing, growing food to feed gas-tanks when millions in the world are either starving or without food security is unethical. For another, to think that ethanol can move us toward energy independence from the Mideast I’m afraid it is a wet dream born of addiction to the fossil-fuel-based way we are living in the U.S. As Thom Hartmann writes so lucidly in his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, we have to start living differently, consuming differently, than we are doing.

What I maintain is that in many cases, we can be happier in the process. More tomorrow.

Biodiesel, Carpooling and Happiness

In my ongoing quest for the diamond-cut life of happiness without excess consumption, I notice a couple of things.

Many non-mainstream choices I make, like carpooling, increase my happiness. (This gang of public-interest attorneys I’ve gotten mixed up with is turning out to be a hoot. So-o-o-o much more fun than driving alone.) Other choices my household makes, like heating our house with biodiesel, has a fairly neutral daily impact on our lives, aside from knowing we’ve reduced our emissions, which knowledge makes us happy when it happens to cross our minds.

My thought here is that it’s easy to live inside the box of mainstream choices without even considering whether the greener or lower-consumption choice could be a happier one. Most people in our country commute alone and emit lots of carbon as they heat their homes — without even expecting any satisfaction from either of those activities. In fact, it’s normal to complain about commuting and heating bills. I think we should raise our expectations for our own happiness.

Research on happiness states that the single biggest predictor of it is the number and quality of the relationships we have with others. Interesting that relationships are something we earn with our behaviors, like kindness, and are not something we can buy or consume. Going outside the box of mainstream commercialism is looking more and more like a well-kept secret. I think we should all be blowing the lid off it.

Heating Our House With Biodiesel

I got up at 5 this morning and immediately put on my fleece pants, top and socks. (It’s a bummer that fleece is so great when it’s derived from petroleum). I was still cold so I turned the heat on — not petroleum.

Thor and I have almost pure biodiesel (B99) in our oil furnace. We bought it from Star Oil, who bought it from SeQuential Biofuel. So we’re heating our house with used vegetable oil from restaurants and Kettle Foods. Recycling on a new level. And it reduces our home heating’s carbon dioxide emissions by 73%.

Our only claim to any sacrifice here is that we paid slightly more for biodiesel, and have had some fuel pump challenges. If you know where to find a fuel pump specifically designed for B99, please tell me where in the comment section below.

Biodiesel, I have finally figured out, is a different animal from ethanol, with a much lower carbon footprint. I’ll devote a future post to that. But right now, I have to work on firming up my carpool plans for my first day of work at ODOT on Tuesday.