Kristen posted a bit about why ethanol isn’t the answer (and Larry added a bit). Silly me, I wrote a longwinded answer in comments which wasn’t as longwinded as it should have been (grin). Fortunately, it got deleted when Larry tried to edit, which gives me the excuse to get REALLY longwinded on my own blog. Go get your no-doze, I’m going to pontificate some.
Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I spent too many years in low-population and low-income areas, but I find myself wincing when I hear how we all need to “just walk” and “just…”. The simple thing that gets forgotten is: No solution is universal. Or to be more crass, “For every human problem there is a solution that is obvious, simple, and wrong.”
Now, I do think we’re about to go through some major changes. And I think that people should start battening down the hatches. Some of Kristin’s suggestions are outstanding for that. Some, however, make assumptions that are just a tiny bit unachievable for large proportions of the population.
Take, for example, her solar water heater. A great idea… Unless you rent. Or live in a densely populated urban location. But if you’re not in that area, it’s great.
Walk? Again, great. Unless you’re elderly or handicapped and the nearest grocery is 1.2 miles away. (I’m not handicapped or elderly. I am, however, 1.2 miles to the closest grocery – the one with the worst prices and product of those within a 5 mile radius.)
And walking to the grocery works if your circumstances allow you to bring home food on an almost daily basis – or supplement what you’re growing. However, there’s an almost equally effective alternative – change your grocery pattern to once a month. And carpool that, too. Now distance matters but far less than it did. (By the way, I expect someday soon to start seeing either groceries offering delivery or independent contractors doing the shopping and delivery from lists — a third model.)
The point is that not all solutions are valid – or invalid – for everyone.
See, ethanol works for the Brazilians. And it’ll probably continue to work for a while, even with all the problems the Rolling Stone article Kristin links to mentions. It’s similar to what Larry adds to the post — biodiesel works for some people for a while, but it’s not going to work for everyone and it’s not going to work for even some of the people all of the time.
I think it amusing, and rather ironic, that the mantra of many hippy communes of many decades ago is becoming a mainstream mantra for those in preparation: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s good advice – always was. It’s just… “woah – flashbacks, man…”
I have my own suggestions I make to most people who ask. The first one – that comes close to being available for everyone – is replace incandescent bulbs with compact florescents. Their lifespan alone makes them cheaper in the long run. The direct and indirect energy savings… indirect? They get hot. With them gone, cooling the residence is a little easier. Same light (lumens), less energy per lumen, and less waste energy in the form of heat. Winner. (Except in the winter, when that extra heat can actually be kind of nice…)
The thermostat always gets comments from folk, but I try not to make people jump straight to “68 in the winter, 72 in the summer.” Instead, I just suggest they change their threshhold by 2 degrees. If they’re doing 66 in the summer, I ask them to change to 68. Yes, higher would be better for them and for the rest of us, but I’ve learned that small and simple steps get taken, while big ones that “hurt” don’t.
Now, I’ve come to love on larger step I’ve done, but it only works for homeowners – and not all of them. I put in a solar-powered attic fan. No, not one of those that pulls air from the house to the attic — that’s a BAD idea. No, this merely pushes air out one gable/vent. The mild vacuum pulls air in from the other side (as well as the soffet vents). The cooler air entering has reduced the peak temperature in my attic by 30 degrees F this summer, which is in turn a lot less heat being absorbed and then radiated from my ceiling, which means less cooling is needed in the house. (oh – in the interests of stopping some complaints up front, my daytime thermostat setting in the summer is 84 degrees.)
OK, so I’ve meandered a ways in responding to a good post. Let me jump sideways with some final remarks before I close.
Our lifestyle in ten years will not be the same as today’s lifestyle. We’ll use rather less oil — the change in demand will be due to changes in both mannerisms and equipment that are more efficient in that regard. But oil won’t have gone away – and in fact the reduction in demand will keep us from seeing oil in the multiple hundreds of dollars per barrel (probably). What we’re in today is just past the early adopter stages. There is beginning to be common thought that says we need alternatives – it’s not just the fringes demanding it anymore. But in a decade we will not have made a radical shift. There’s too much inertial, and too much investment with insufficient ability to change that far that fast — unless, of course, we have to.
I admire K and L for their action. I cannot emulate them – I haven’t got the sort of job that will allow me to move and buy a large plot of land. (My job in their neck of the woods would pay me half what I get, and my lcoal land and house prices are less than what it is in that area of Colorado.) The time may come when I have to do this, but it’s not now. And I suspect that by the time it might have come enough other things will have occurred in parallel to change the entire equation.
For some people, at least some of the time, ethanol is an answer.