Sunday, June 04, 2006

Comment to Doris

Doris:
I am heartened by you're efforts to get your parents and sister to take peak oil seriously and to be less wasteful when it come to energy and water. You try to convince your parents, turn off lights throughout the house, switchc the air conditioner etc. Because it doesnt seem like your parents are being that receptive, you could use the economic factor, which is that it is cheaper to use less electricity. When it comes to peak oil I am the same way. I used to leave my computer on all day and night, but I started thinking about the waste of energy. Its funny because before I didn't even think about electricity being a limited commodity, and while it isnt, the methods of generating it are. I really like how you cleverly got your sister to take showers. You could also talk about what living during the black out was like. Maybe if you left some books about peak oil around, your sister might pick it up. Its strange that people will not listen to things that are in their best interest, which is the same perspective as people who want others to convert to their religions.Your post was very to the point and I liked some of your phrases "Convincing my family about peak oil is as complicated as trying untie the Gordian knot." Thanks for your post.
Eugenia

Comment to Henry

Henry:
When I have spoken to adults outside of my family about peak oil, it seems like a huge proportion of them are skeptical about the peak oil theory, just as the adults that you approached were. You mentioned that a lot of them think that because of their experience with the 1973 crisis in the U.S. that they are troopers and they can handle any other energy collapse. Maybe, to help them really comprehend, you could bring up the notion that peak oil is a permanent situation. Once oil peaks, there won’t be any turning back; there won’t be any reserves left. Peak oil isn’t the result of some messed up market price gouging. It’s ironic that the same generation of people who are responsible now for the policies that the U.S. makes towards energy efficiency and the environment are also skeptical about peak oil, it compounds the problem. It is also a very American mentality to just rely on the governments influence on the world market to make changes. Americans think they are untouchable. Your post is the only one I have read so far that addresses that those in power have this notion of invincibility due to their age and experience.
With regard to “I do not know whether or not other countries had the same amount of issues with oil as much as the U.S. has in the recent past.” I think the U.S. is the biggest consumer of energy in the world, and in turn, the largest emitter of green house gases and other forms of pollution, so while I think other countries do face some difficult transitions into other forms of energy and lifestyles, I do not think anyone will have the same scale of hardship.
Throughout your post, I noticed a sense of inevitability, in two senses. The first sense was that peak oil will happen, soon. Is this something that you believe beyond any shadow of a doubt? The second way I perceived a sense of fatalism was that you seem to have given up on explaining peak oil theory to your parents and convincing them. You are usually pretty good at convincing people, so this is strange. You should ask what it would take for them to believe in the theory, what their threshold for belief is.
“While I have been holding onto the idea that we will not have such a hard time with peak oil I feel that this is showing me that it will not be easy and in fact will be towards some of the worst case scenarios. As we have talked about in class the level of which we will collapse depends on how soon the preparation starts.” People’s receptiveness to peak oil does affect our preparation for the crisis. It does affect whether peak oil will be a crisis at all. If people ignore it and deny it much longer, we will be at mercy to the forces of nature that occur when global warming and peak oil hit simultaneously. This general mentality of ignoring the negative seems to be a society – wide illness, and maybe we should try to address that as a class, or as individuals. “The truth hurts”.
You’re post raised a lot of issues that I have come across myself, and others that were interesting to consider.
Eugenia

Introducing People Around Me to Peak Oil:

The first time I mentioned peak oil to my mom was at the beginning of the year, when the incoming 12th graders were assigned Powerdown to read for a summer assignment. I brought it up, and I don’t recall how, but we both sort of shrugged off any of the uncomfortable possible implications for our lifestyle. When I started the Social Science class, I have been eating, drinking, sweating and sleeping peak oil, so I subject my mom to the theory on a daily, if not hourly basis. She seems to be pretty receptive; maybe because it doesn’t seem outlandish to her, or maybe because I’m her only daughter, and she likes to indulge me. I think the fact that I am her only child and we have a really good relationship makes her more receptive to things I find interesting and viable. At this point, I have been discussing peak oil with her so much that she has been taking it into consideration when contemplating her plans for retirement. I never had a full length explanation of what peak oil is, because she’s been learning about it gradually just as I have been, because I discuss it as I learn new bits of information.
I think the second person I discussed peak oil extensively with was my dad. He has plans to move to Italy and start some kind of laundry business… After he and my step mother have become established, they want to have their own farm and estate. My immediate reaction was “grow enough food for you to live sustainably”. But growing the right amount of food is not enough. Farming practices have to be changed, so that you are growing that food sustainably. With oil’s production peak imminent, it is not possible to farm the way we have since the industrial revolution, or even in more ancient situations. We have to farm sustainably so that the land can be reused, and so that energy is not wasted. I told him all that too, after I explained what peak oil meant, in depth. He seemed receptive as well.
Both of my parents thought that peak oil was likely and did not think that our current lifestyle was sustainable. Other people have told me that their parents do not take peak oil seriously, and I don’t know exactly what the difference is between my parents’ reactions and their’s. I think my family is just naturally distrustful of the government, so we are more likely to believe “subversive” information.
The next person I told, the first person out side of my “biological family” was Suzanne. She’s practically my family, since we’ve lived together for a year and are very close. She is an architect and she works for a firm in Phoenix. They have one major project, a resort in the middle of the dessert in Arizona. When she was talking about the project, I asked her about what they were doing to make the project energy sustainable. She said not very much, the structures were designed to take advantage of as much light with out absorbing so much heat, so the structures are oriented with windows not facing the north sun, which is evidently the strongest. I went on to discuss what peak oil was. She did the expected “what about alternative sources of energy” mechanism. I didn’t say “no I’ve already thought of that”. I made the discussion less personal and phrased it “well, some all the sources I’ve read have mentioned that there is no source of energy that is as convenient and cheap as oil, and that there is not one single source of energy to transition into, because nothing is as versatile as oil.” She had doubts about it, but she was willing to research the matter further, and she listened intently throughout the whole thing.
The peak oil theory is not unfathomable. It makes sense, unless you believe that oil is produced by microorganisms. If oil is finite, and we know how much we rely on oil and how that dependence seems to grow continuously, how could the production of oil not peak? Other non-specialist people who are skeptical of peak oil probably are in denial and do not want to face such an uncomfortable and ugly future. The people I discussed peak oil will are very much into researching information for themselves.

Skills that I believe are Necessary for a Post Peak World:

1. Being knowledgeable in Permaculture is essential for anyone in a post peak world for three reasons. Permaculture involves growing numerous crops on the same land at the same time, with different crops creating different niches in a mini agricultural eco-system. Permaculture enriches the soil, and repairs soil erosion. The first reason is our current farming practices are not sustainable for the planet; they create erosion, pack the soil, and are based on oil and natural gas technology, fertilizer and pesticides. Current methods of farming require massive amounts of energy, and harm the soil. The second reason is food is transported around the world using oil-powered planes, trucks, boats etc. After oil production peaks and declines, food will become scarce (which is the third reason) because of the above reasons. To produce food in a much more energy and effort efficient way, Permaculture is required.

2. Being knowledgeable about gathering food is just as valuable as Permaculture, for the short term immediately following a decline of oil production. For those lucky enough to live near forests and other natural environments, knowing what to eat and what is not safe for human consumption is invaluable. Mushrooms, for instance, are not all edible. Some can be fatally poisonous. One should know which are safe and which are not.

3. Learning how to effectively use and administer herbal medicines, first aid and other non-western medicine practices is truly essential in a post peak situation. Hospitals will not be as accessible for many people as they are today. Hospitals require a lot of energy, and transportation to and from medical facilities might not be available. Herbal medicines, first aid and non western medicine, using knowledge of what grows in the area you are located, can be a huge service to the community you belong to.

4. Long distance running may be a useful skill for a post peak world. I don’t know how many people will have access to other forms of transportation, but you can always depend on your own two feet. Training should be started now, and distances of 10 miles or more should be the goal.

5. Learn how to build water distilling or purifying systems. This is important because in a post peak world, many people won’t have access to clean water systems, the water system in New York for instance, is purified using electricity which is most likely generated using non-renewable resources. A billion people today already do not have access to clean water, but if we implement water catching devices, and purify or clean the water for our selves, we can avoid any water issues.

6. Knowing how to start a fire is obviously a skill needed for a post peak world. I expect that living in a post peak world will be similar to camping, except it would be permanent. There might not be gas supplies or electric stoves, so we need to learn how to start a fire, the same way our ancestors did, with sticks and nothing else.

Monday, May 29, 2006

5 demands from the Federal Government of the United States

1. Public Acknowledgements of peak oil through Presidential statements, governmental statements, commercials etc.
2. Set up a legislature that would make any conflict of interest between politicians and industries illegal, and is retroactive.
3. Develop and implement a plan to become at least 50% more energy sufficient by 2016.
4. Offer reduced price car engine conversions from gasoline to ethanol power and incentives for those who make the conversion nationwide.
5. Enact huge incentives for anyone involved in the research, production, market for: renewable energy resources, energy sustainability etc.

The first step that our class seemed to agree with unanimously was a direct governmental response to peak oil. If people would believe peak oil with out governmental acknowledgement, this step could be entirely eliminated but the influence of the U.S. government on national media, public opinion, industry is indisputable. The government dictates all these things, so the only way to get public cooperation is through the government.

A problem now that will undoubtedly manifest and grow like cancerous tissue is the intertwining of our democratically elected officials and industry interests. How can our government be for and by the people when industries (through lobbies) have a more direct outlet in legislation and policy than regular people? Will our government be able serve our best interests when peak oil comes if our politicians are so entrenched with big oil industry priorities? Most people in our class believed that the government can not “serve two masters” so to speak, and we should be the exclusive recipients of the benefits of governmental policy.

I want more from the government than just acknowledgement of peak oil and the elimination of officials with conflicts of interest. Our government should be responsible for figuring out (the same way their responsible for other public programs and policies) how to become at least 50% more energy sustainable by 2016. They have all the means: the researchers, structure, organizational influence, manpower etc necessary to think up and implement a plan.

One of the most inefficient uses of energy today is American cars. The most popular mode of transportation is by car (thanks to the lobbying of the automobile industry who diminished public transportation systems, railroads and tram systems throughout the country in favor of endless, humongous highways and freeways), and we are near completely reliant on oil for gasoline The longevity of most cars is 10-15 years. We can not afford to wait 10-15 years for consumers to buy more fuel efficient or ethanol powered cars. We need change as soon as possible, and the only way to entice the public to convert their cars is if there were incentives and it was not costly.

The last demand is the most broad and probably vague. I wanted to condense this demand into these terms so that I would have exactly 5 demands and not more. Basically, I want to or the government to create incentives (in the form of tax subsidies etc) for the companies that research environmental technologies that will alleviate peak oil, companies that currently produce systems for alternate sources of energy (such as companies that install solar panels), companies that decide to incorporate more energy smart techniques and technologies into their places of work (offices, factories, etc). Simultaneously, this means incentives for the individuals who decide to incorporate these energy smart technologies into their personal lives, properties etc.

One demand that I noticed from another group was the demand that we completely terminate any U.S. involvement in other countries. At first, I sympathized with this demand. Our tax dollars are going towards numerous foreign causes that Americans in general do not condone. The conflict in Iraq has consumed huge sums of public funding that could have otherwise gone towards public healthcare, free university education, better public education, sexual education etc. A third of Israel’s economy comes from U.S. funding. Egypt is also a huge recipient of U.S. aid. Colombia’s fruitless and harmful Plan Colombia, the plan for preventing and destroying the production and distribution of illegal drugs, is funded by U.S. funding. There are U.S. involvements I wouldn’t mind seeing cut off etc.

However, we need global partners in our efforts to mitigate and cope with peak oil. We have a lot to gain from partnerships with Sweden, who has already begun steps towards fuel suffiency. We can not expect help and give nothing in return. The United States can not afford to cut off engagements with the rest of the world. Not only is it not in our own interest to end U.S. involvement around the world, it is also not ethically or morally acceptable. The U.S., by being more developed and prosperous, and by developing and acquiring that prosperity at the expense of other less developed and prosperous countries, has a responsibility to help and guide the rest of the world.

Sweden and Peak Oil : REVISED!

Reading this article really opened my eyes. When we watched the Cuba film, it was refreshing to see possible actions to an energy crisis actually in practice, but these initiatives were not a government acknowledgement or response to the imminent Peak oil, but a reaction to Cuba’s micro energy crisis. The acknowledgement by the government of Sweden that peak oil will occur, soon enough definitely gave me some hope. I was convinced that every government was going to follow the United States’ lead and ignore and avoid the peak oil issue. Thank something that Sweden isn’t.

They identified six measures towards becoming energy sustainable. The first measure was to broaden and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. Sweden hardly oil dependent for its energy demands, according to the article, their energy is generated half by nuclear power and half by hydropower. This is a good start, but Uranium, which is refined and used for generate nuclear power, is a finite resource, maintaining nuclear plants is costly and storing the spent nuclear fuel is risky. Development in the alternative renewable sources of energy is necessary for the least oil dependent countries too.

The next measure is to focus this development and increased use of alternative renewable sources of energy on wind power. This sounds harmless but what kind of impact will many wind mills have on migratory birds?

The third measure is to make Sweden heating sustainable, instead of using oil, which is pretty widespread throughout the country. Heating is an especially necessary consumption of energy for Sweden, because they are at a very high latitude, with really long winters. Heating is not a luxury in Sweden, it’s essential.

The fourth measure was to become energy sustainable concerning cars. The fuel for transportation issue is not exclusive to Sweden, its relevant all around the world. Sweden hopes to become transportation sustainable using a combination of converting cars to ethanol and biofuels. Brazil has proven that ethanol is a very feasible alternative to petrol, most if not all their cars have been converted to that system already.

The fifth measure was to increase efficiency of energy, which is necessary when generating energy from any source, even the most ideal. Within the same argument, they say that efficiency of energy is crucial for economic growth and sustainable development. I agree with the sustainable development, but economic growth will be an issue. The world market relies heavily on oil. When oil production peaks and then decreases, economies will also peak and decrease, because trade will be limited by the need for oil use in transportation, the diminished quantity of agricultural products (which require oil) etc. While Sweden can remain self sufficient with their measures, in terms of energy, I doubt the economy can grow independently of the rest of the world.

The sixth and last of Sweden’s measures to become energy sufficient is to increase research into renewable and alternate sources of energy and harnesses of energy. Learning that a large portion of Sweden’s export trade (the eight largest) is environmental technology was really interesting. Instead of ignoring and avoiding, even outright lying, about environmental issues, Sweden has been trying to address these issues, on a large enough scale that they can say that environmental technologies are their eight largest export. It is really eye opening to see.

How feasible is it for the United States to imitate Sweden’s decisions, measures and head toward energy sufficiency? I’m not sure, but there are some differences between Sweden and United States.

Sweden has a little over 9 million inhabitants, and is “slightly larger than California”. In comparison, the United States is about “half the size of Russia” and has the third largest population in the world, with 298,444,215 people. Sweden is also many steps ahead of the United States and probably the world in terms of energy sustainability. As I mentioned and the author Mona Sahlin mentioned, half of Sweden’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, and the other half by hyrdropower. The other needs for energy in Sweden are transportation and heating. I do not know the elements of electricity generation in the United States but I’m sure it’s a safe bet to say that a huge sector of our energy comes from non-renewable resources, otherwise why would the United States engage in so many conflicts over those resources? Our president even acknowledged it when he said we need to “quit our addiction to oil”.

What may work on a relatively small scale in Sweden may not be suitable for the massive scale of the United States.

Aside from the difference in scale between the populations and area of the two countries, there is a difference between mentality. Sweden is a socio-democratic country, where people pay huge portions of their income to taxes. They receive many benefits in return, with free healthcare, higher learning, elderly care etc. It seems like people are more willing to cooperate and contribute for the collective. In contrast, in the United States, we pay relatively smaller amounts of taxes, receive lousy quality public programs which do not include health care or free college education. Everyone has a tantrum and vows to vote republican whenever someone raises taxes (to cope with all our foreign spending and deficiets) or implements shopping tax. Everyone wants to pay as little taxes as possible, and then some wonder why our public programs crumble. As was summarized in the Cuba film on the American reaction would be to a suggestion to turn off unused lights “Why should I if I pay for it?” The concept of collective prosperity is lost on the people of the United States.

Basically, Sweden has the public support and funding to implement these six measures of energy sustainability, while in the United States, public funding has been squandered on the war in Iraq and people are more likely to suspect the government of cheating and try to prepare for an energy crisis alone.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

sweden and peak oil

Peak Oil & Sweden: what a small country can do
Reading this article really opened my eyes. When we watched the Cuba film, it was refreshing to see possible actions to an energy crisis actually in practice, but these initiatives were not a government acknowledgement or response to the imminent Peak oil, but a reaction to Cuba’s micro energy crisis. The acknowledgement by the government of Sweden that peak oil will occur, soon enough definitely gave me some hope. I was convinced that every government was going to follow the United States’ lead and ignore and avoid the peak oil issue. Thank something that Sweden isn’t.
They identified six measures towards becoming energy sustainable. The first measure was to broaden and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. Sweden hardly oil dependent for its energy demands, according to the article, their energy is generated half by nuclear power and half by hydropower. This is a good start, but Uranium, which is refined and used for generate nuclear power, is a finite resource, maintaining nuclear plants is costly and storing the spent nuclear fuel is risky. Development in the alternative renewable sources of energy is necessary for the least oil dependent countries too.
The next measure is to focus this development and increased use of alternative renewable sources of energy on wind power. This sounds harmless but what kind of impact will many wind mills have on migratory birds?
The third measure is to make Sweden heating sustainable, instead of using oil, which is pretty widespread throughout the country. Heating is an especially necessary consumption of energy for Sweden, because they are at a very high latitude, with really long winters. Heating is not a luxury in Sweden, it’s essential.
The fourth measure was to become energy sustainable concerning cars. The fuel for transportation issue is not exclusive to Sweden, its relevant all around the world. Sweden hopes to become transportation sustainable using a combination of converting cars to ethanol and biofuels. Brazil has proven that ethanol is a very feasible alternative to petrol, most if not all their cars have been converted to that system already.

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