Showing posts with label Peak Oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peak Oil. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Yet The Band Played On....

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

A topical rework of an article I wrote back in 2009.

Who feels like we are all on the RMS Titanic, sailing full steam ahead, not knowing that an iceberg was about to appear on the horizon?  I know I do most of the time.

The passengers and crew of this mighty vessel were unaware of the fate on its maiden voyage, as are most of the 7 billion passengers also unaware of the fate that awaits the Mothership Earth.  This post is not meant to offend the memories of the Titanic tragedy, but to offer a simple comparison against the events of that voyage, and the plight of our current civilisation and vessel that holds and nurtures us.

There is a strong connection to the RMS Titanic story within our family.  My wife Kim's Great Grandfather, William James Major, was a fireman on-board this ship, and luckily happened to be off-watch at the time the great ship struck the iceberg. Had he been at his post and in one of the boiler rooms fulfilling his duty, his chances of survival would have been slim indeed.  He was one of the crewmen allocated to lifeboat #13, and out of the 2,227 passengers and crew members who set sail, only 705 Titanic passengers and crew survived, him being one of them.  That is a 31.6% survival rate.  There were many factors that lead to the sinking of the Titanic on her maiden voyage, and I shall attempt to compare some of these events to the apparent chosen path of the passengers of Mothership Earth, if we to continue to maintain our current course and speed.

The Titanic was deemed by many to be 'unsinkable' which instilled a false sense of security amongst the passengers and crew.  The captain,  Edward Smith was a capable seaman and this was planned to be his retirement voyage.  Also on-board were Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line.  Mr Ismay had a point to prove, and wanted to be the first trans-atlantic liner to set a new record crossing time.  The bridge crew and the helmsmen were never really in control of this behemoth of a vessel, but mere puppets as you shall read later.  So it was inevitable that the order from Mr Ismay to the Captain upon setting sail from Cherbourg, was to increase power, and therefore speed for the entire voyage.  So with the course set in, and power and speed increased, with no regard of the safety of the vessel. Yet the band played on.

So, imagine the bridge crew as western governments around the world, and liken the Captain, Mr Ismay, and the powerful owner of the White Star line, Mr Ismay's father as some of the greedy corporations of our current time.  We, my friends, are the passengers and crew of this mighty Mothership Earth.  We have increased power for the corporations, relaxation and comfort for all those who choose to sail on her, and everything we would ever need even if we don't know we actually need it yet.

To the unknowing passengers of the Titanic, some of the lifeboats had been removed to make way for a gymnasium for first class passengers.  This left the ship without a full capability of lifeboats should the unthinkable happen to the unsinkable!  I compare this to our current fossil fuel situation.  Very soon or maybe already peak oil and natural gas production will be reached and there will not be enough supply to meet demand.  Many on Mothership Earth will start to miss out, and indeed many already do, and panic will prevail, just as it did on the Titanic.  Yet, the band played on.

Many ice warnings were sent to the ship during the voyage, in fact 21 warnings including 7 on the day of the tragedy.  As ordered, the Titanic steamed onward at top speed towards the reported pack ice that was drifting down from Greenland.  The two radiomen on-board passed the warnings to the bridge officers throughout the day, and these in turn were passed on to Captain Smith who ignored them, due to the insistence of Mr Ismay.  The radiomen were mostly kept busy during the day sending stock market messages from the wealthy on-board and receiving quotes back from the NYSE.  Even when the radiomen received a signal at 11pm from the steamship Californian, who was 10 miles to the Northwest, to inform the Titanic that she had stopped for the night by ice blocking her way.  One of the radiomen on the ill fated ship sent back a snappy reply, "Shut up old man I'm busy."

So to compare the two, the science community have given us all, including governments, many warnings about climate change and so far have done little to prevent its occurrence.  Governments, corporations and economists are infatuated by continued economic growth to the detriment of the resources supplied on loan to us by Mothership Earth.  We are ignoring our own form of ice warnings including melting global ice caps and the most glaciers around the world.  Quite an ironic comparison really.  It was an iceberg that sank the Titanic and it will be melting ice, heated by our thirst for fossil fuels, that sinks and disrupts the climactic patterns of the Mothership Earth!  We are all so busy trying to get to where we think we should be, we are forgetting about the vessel that carries us on our daily voyage.

As the Titanic sailed through the night, the wealthy upper class dined in opulence before retiring for the night, and the steerage class passed time, reassured by the noise of the engines and flow of seawater upon the steel hull.  A new country and life awaited many of them, all hoping for better opportunities.  Little were any of them aware that the ship was not unsinkable and there was a design flaw in the watertight compartments.  If a certain number of the watertight compartments flooded, there was a good chance that the ship would sink.  What does that mean in our current time period?  We drive our cars, thinking that petroleum products will be available at the service station, that there will be food in the supermarket shelves, and water will run when we turn on the tap.  We live in a disposable culture, only recently discovering the value of recycling in the western world.  Opulence in the west, and dreams of a western way of life in developing nations reminds me of the different classes on-board the ship.  The Mothership Earth also has a design flaw of sorts.  A limited carrying capacity and not enough lifeboats!  We have overshot the planets carrying capacity due to the abundance of cheap oil to grow massive amounts of food, and and now are confronted by limited natural resources.  Both issues are similar to the capacity of the ship and the limited lifeboat capacity of the Titanic on that dreadful night.

At 11:40pm in calm weather and on a clear night, the mighty vessel struck an iceberg that ripped a hole in the ships side that was long enough to fill many of the watertight compartments, thus forcing the 'unsinkable' to indeed become sinkable.  The crew of the ship attempted to avoid a head on collision, however due to the vessels speed and a flaw in rudder design, the ship still scraped the side of the massive iceberg.  Yet the band played on.

The passengers and crew were not aware of the impending danger that awaited them, in fact it wasn't until at least 30 minutes later that the crew were aware that she was taking on water.  Many of the passengers slept through the entire incident and had to be woken up to begin abandoning the ship.  From 12:15 am, the radiomen began sending their first distress signal, only to get a reply 10 minutes later from the Carpathia.  Within two hours the Titanic was sinking bow first, with the watertight compartments flooding one after the other, and the radio failing due to lack of power from the flooding engine rooms.  The crew, who were totally unprepared for this type of event struggled to launch what lifeboats they had, and struggled to convince many bewildered passengers that this was necessary for their safety.  Many passengers must have thought that if the ship were so unsinkable, why where they being forced onto the lifeboats.  Many would drown, especially from third class and steerage, simply because there were not enough lifeboats and the ones that were launched were not filled to capacity.  Plus the fact that many were locked behind steel meshed doors preventing them from escaping.

The radio message sent at 1:45 am was the last message and it read, "Come as quickly as possible".  It was sent in hope, as the last of the lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship.  Still the band played on until the deck was so tilted that they couldn't sit and play.  Those not safely on a lifeboat stood little hope of more than a few minutes of survival due to the freezing temperature of the water.  The Captain went down with the ship, as did the first officer, however Mr Bruce Ismay was one of the first onto a lifeboat. 

So, with all the scientific warnings, and with many dire new discoveries of approaching tipping points regarding climate change, with our population having gone from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7 billion in 2011 due to the abundance of cheap oil, and with our resources dwindling whether they be fossil fuels (stoking climate change and overpopulation) or precious minerals and natural resources including a mass species extinction, are we about to hit the a proverbial iceberg?  It paints a pretty grim picture when compared to a real life event that could have been avoided.

As with the Titanic, instead of steaming ahead at top speed, we need to reassess, and slow to avoid the impending disaster that soon await the fate of all who are passengers on Mothership Earth.  Is our rudder too small, and that we may not be able to turn away soon enough, with the speed of progress, growth at all costs, resource depletion, and increasing carbon emissions hold back our inability to act in time.

As for the bridge crew, who I liken to current day governments, are failing to act decisively, because of the pressure exerted upon them by the corporations like Mr Ismay and the board of the White Star Line.  Will this pressure be too great, with vested interest lobbying our poor, misguided crew at every chance?  What will happen the the passengers of Mothership Earth?  Will there be enough lifeboats, or will there be a mass die-off as in the case of the Titanic with the lower classes bearing the brunt of disaster?  These questions go unanswered as yet, but there are signs that we may be approaching the "iceberg", with the majority of the passengers of Mothership Earth blissfully unaware, and still dressed in their finest clothes dinning, or in this case, consuming until they drop, egged on by governments and corporations.  As with the Titanic, there will be survivors, how many are unknown as yet, but there have been estimates that our carrying capacity may be reduced to as little as 500 million to 1 billion passengers without cheap and abundant energy.  A sobering estimate indeed.

I am not saying that disaster is inevitable, we just need to slow or steer away, by reducing consumption, reducing emissions, and living a more sustainable lifestyle. As the passengers of Mothership Earth are loaded onto what ever form of lifeboat is available, will they still be wondering "Why?  I thought we were unsinkable!"

Thursday, 29 March 2012

We really REALLY need to talk about resilience.

Aurora@Island Dreaming

Yesterday the news broke in the UK that sizable numbers of tanker drivers had balloted to go on strike, possibly as early as next week. The UK has been here before, most spectacularly during the fuel protests of 2000 when fuel refineries were blockaded and the country was a mere '9 meals from anarchy'. Media coverage and a few either well placed (if you're cynical) or incredibly dumb (if you're cynical) comments from a few high profile politicians urging people to top up their tanks and have a jerry can of petrol on standby have led to queues and panic buying.

My own nation desperately needs to start talking about resilience. It doesn't really matter if tanker drivers go on strike for a few weeks. Well it matters, it will cause pain and disruption to a lot of already stretched people, but it doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the fact that we collectively and individually saddle our entire beings on the availability of a rapidly depleting, mostly imported, polluting, nonrenewable liquid fuel. THAT is a real problem; and judging by the commentary in today's papers, the majority of the UK public still doesn't get that. According to the International Energy Authority, 'conventional' oil production peaked in 2006. The potential short term pain we are about to feel is nothing in comparison with what awaits us in the next few decades if we don't wake up.

I became aware of peak oil several years ago, along with tottering housing markets, banking collapse, austerity drives and the potential for civil unrest. What did I do with that awareness? Well, I read voraciously for a few years. I read Richard Heinberg's 'The Party's Over' (a very good if somewhat gloomy introduction to peak oil if you need one) and many of the titles in its bibliography. I read and read and read and made moves to change my own life and become more resilient. Some of these I wrote about on my blog, preaching to the already converted. Who else did I tell? Pretty much no one. As all of these dire warnings became reality, I found myself unable to really talk about them effectively. These are not isolated problems that can be blamed on or palmed off on others to solve and as such are hard to talk about. Talk about bogeymen is cheap and this is instead a conversation  predominantly about personal responsibility.

I came across this video last week that explains the problems we are facing in a natty animation. I posted it to my Facebook page and it got a single like - from someone already in the know.

I think I understand why KONY2012 went viral and generated so much interest, when videos like this one do not. Murderous individuals are so much easier to 'solve' than murderous circumstances. You watch and post the video, you have done your bit - doesn't it feel good? You have helped change the world. You watch a video about the triple whammy reality of resource depletion, economic collapse and environmental degradation and within minutes you start to feel a little off colour. You may try to rationalize it away as extremist nonsense and stop watching. If you can't quite manage to rationalize it away and continue to take in uncomfortable information, you won't feel good for a very long time to come. Watching the video is only the very start of your contribution to the solution, because in essence, the problem is all of us choosing convenience over resilience every step of the way. The change has to come from within and comes to bear on every lifestyle decision you make.

This lack of resilience thinking also explains why the prospect of oil tanker drivers going on strike is causing such a furore here at home. Yes, it is going to be very inconvenient - but wouldn't it be better to stop the bellyaching and use this as a practice run for real energy shocks and disruptions that are undoubtedly going to be a part of our future. Resilience is not having a jerry can on stand by and sending out the army to deliver fuel. Resilience is designing our lives so that a temporary disruption to petrol supply doesn't warrant such attention, because other systems are already in place to take up the slack. It is sharing lifts and getting fit enough to walk a few miles instead of driving. It is buying a bike and learning to maintain it. It is maintaining a pantry and a kitchen  garden. Resilience demands forethought over immediacy. It demands that we make changes and choices and lobby government, but that we don't expect them to listen or to create a resilient society for us.

I haven't communicated any of this and it is time to own my own frustration. These issues encapsulate some of my deepest fears for my children, my community, myself. If I can't communicate these deepest fears and hopes to my nearest and dearest, in the same way that they express their own insecurities to me, then I am not really communicating, am I? It isn't a case of preaching, it is a case of revealing a little more of yourself and potentially taking flack and ridicule for it. So this week I aim to introduce these issues to someone who currently doesn't know or care and a tanker strike is the perfect opportunity. And then I will do it again with someone else next week. I aim to fill my barren Facebook feed with videos and links like the one above, promoting everything from economic collapse theory to up cycling old furniture and repairing bikes. Resilience is the very issue of our time and won't become a reality until the majority of people embrace it as a filter through which to view the world. I aim to start a conversation.

What do you do to promote resilience? Should we even try?

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Looking to the past

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

The problems that the world has begun to face (whether consciously or not for the majority) - financial, energy and resource descent, and an increasingly unpredictable climate - signal the onset of a decline in material living standards for many of us - a sizeable number of whom have got used to ever increasing levels of consumption and material wealth over the past decades. How we individually and collectively navigate these challenges will largely determine the quality of life we experience; and I personally do not believe that a decline in material consumption is a one-way ticket to misery and social breakdown.

Last year I finally got around to visiting my city's flagship tourist attraction - the historic dockyard. This is the home of the Royal Navy, and the place that it keeps its historic flagship, HMS Victory. As Victory is now preserved as a museum in dry dock (though technically it is still in commission) and has been restored and patched up several times over the centuries, it offers a sanitised view of life on a 250 year old warship. There were no fires, slop buckets, wounded soldiers, or unwashed sailors on board when we visited and conditions on board would have been grim when the ship was in active service.  But it did show that humans have lived and thrived with far fewer resources, far less complexity, than we have today. 

Fast forward a century, or take a walk a few hundred yards across the dockyard, and step on board HMS Warrior, the most advanced warship of the 19th century navy. The British Empire project was well under way, and it shows - a majestic, iron clad ship boasting the very best engineering and built and furnished from raw materials imported from across the world. By today's standards, it is still rustic (no running hot water, no electricity)  but it shows something of how humans climbed up one side of a bell shaped curve to the level of energy and resource consumption we enjoy today. Can the past show us a possible path down the other side of that curve?

 In the UK there has been a resurgent interest in WWII era house keeping since the onset of the financial crisis. This era, more so than more recent economic recessions, inspires people. Government pamphlets from the era covering everything from victory gardens to 'make do and mend' have been republished, and wherever you are in the world, you have probably seen at least one piece of merchandise or blog buttons with the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On' splashed across it. 1940's cookbooks have been reprinted and ration diet challenges taken - none of which is necessarily a bad thing when it inspires people to face the material challenges in their lives with 'Blitz spirit'.

The problem with looking to the past for inspiration on how to live today is the tendency to over-romanticise things, to look through the prism of the Hollywood movies we may have seen - to believe that society was rosier back then and the hardships that people faced were more severe but somehow more 'real' and endurable than the more familiar, boring challenges we may find ourselves facing today. A discerning eye is necessary when adopting historical practices and 'lost' skills - some make no sense, financially or ecologically, in the modern era. Still, many of us will be engaged in old fashioned, rustic and downright medieval experiments of our own in our quest to lead simpler, less consumption driven lives; and we will extract great enjoyment from them. 

If we can overcome a tendency to romanticise, there are real lessons to be learnt from the past. As humans we have used our ingenuity and opposable thumbs to increase our ability to exploit resources, increase consumption and create waste. Any era before our own shows that it is possible to live with less than we have today; and it is possible to live a good life with much less. Combined with the vast knowledge we now have in physical, environmental and social sciences - knowledge we have traditionally channelled predominantly into growing a consumer society - the practices and perspectives of our less spendthrift forbears might show us a way forward through challenging times. If our ascent has been characterized by increased consumption and  decreasing quality, increased outsourcing and decreasing self reliance and self determination - how might we be able to fashion our descent?

I am currently rereading articles and books from the 1970's and 1980's fuel crises and back-to-the-land movement, and the DIY and craft books that were spawned by that era - because they happened to be my first introduction, many years ago, to the issues we currently face. Much has to be taken with a pinch of salt, much is still valid and inspiring. What periods of history are you inspired by?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Simplifying Change

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Our local LETS group has been leading a Transtion movement across our region over the past couple of years. At a recent film night event, we had a a discussion forum including a panel of representatives from LETS, Transition FNQ and ASPO, as well as Permaculture Cairns, Food Lovers Club, Seed Savers Up North and BioN Water Synergetics. Representatives from our regional council and local media also attended. We had an Indigenous elder give a Welcome to Country speech on behalf of the Ngadjon-jii people, telling about his childhood in Malanda.

The discussion was focused on transitioning our region through climate change, Peak Oil, food security and financial instability. Resilience and relocalisation were deemed the ideal outcomes.

It doesn't seem to matter how many meetings and events we run, what sort of newsletters we publish or how much media attention we get... People seem to still need to be reminded as to HOW they can make changes.

Where we live, a possible pathway to these outcomes is working with our local council while they develop a community plan for the next 10 years. We can continue building community and making changes by sharing responsibility for the future of our region.

Some of the personal actions we can take to mitigate any effects of possible crises include:

  • supporting our community currency – Tableland LETS
  • growing your own food
  • buying local wherever possible
  • car pooling
  • ensure your house uses as little power as possible
  • talking to all your neighbours and friends about change

These actions will also save us money and create more secure communities. What other simple actions do you suggest, which people can take TODAY?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Being resilient is about being able to withstand a shock to the normal way of life.  Recently there has been a shock in the form of the Global Financial Crisis and the ongoing economic crisis, however I believe that these are tame compared to what is about to come in the next decade.

For me, two big issues come immediately to mind.  Climate Change and Peak Oil.
Me being a concerned citizen at a climate change rally
You have probably heard a lot about the concept of Climate Change, and we are already feeling the effects of extreme weather events all around the world.  Doesn't it seem strange that we are getting more and more '1 in 100 year events' closer together and they are becoming more like 1 in 10 year events?  Not strange, but normal according the climatologists.  Climate change means more extreme weather, not just getting a bit warmer. Of course the climate changes over time and has many times before in Earth's history, but not in a matter of decades as we are now seeing, we are talking hundreds of centuries for these events to occur naturally. You can't take millions of years of trapped sunshine in the form of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil and release it in to the biosphere in the space of fifty years or so without some repercussions.
Attempting to spread the word in our local newspaper about Peak Oil.
This leads me to the other big issue.  Peak Oil is a term that many might not be familiar with. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. There was a time when Climate Change suffered the same lack of media coverage.

Peak Oil is not about “running out of oil” – we'll never run out of oil. There will always be oil left in the ground because either it's too hard to reach or it takes too much energy and cost to extract. Ponder on a fact that the economists conveniently gloss over – regardless of how much money you can make selling oil, once it takes an oil barrel's worth of energy and cost to extract a barrel of oil, the exploration, the drilling and the pumping will grind to a halt.

Peak Oil is about the end of cheap and plentiful oil, the recognition that the ever increasing volumes of oil being pumped into our economies will peak and then inexorably decline. It’s about understanding how our industrial way of life is absolutely dependent on this ever-increasing supply of cheap oil.  To learn more about Peak Oil please read a this previous post of mine titled "We Are Oil Junkies".

So why did I start out talking about local community resilience?  Well the two big issues have a lot to do about community resilience, because when these two effects start to bite hard, the outside inputs that supply our towns, cities and countries will begin to slow down, and we have to depend upon each and our local communities more and more just to get by.  This is why the Transition Town movement are going a long way to solving this problem of resilience.

Let me pose this question.  Do you know your neighbours, or at least 10 others in your community?  If you don't it might be a good idea to reach out to others where you live, because soon enough we are going to need each other more than over.

Local resilience begins when like minded people actually care and look out for each other.  People work better in communities, and have done so throughout all of history.  So join a local club to build that community spirit and start to talk about the two big issues that I have articulated in this post.  We have the power to change the way we do things, before the change gets forced upon us!

“Because the best protection isn't owning 30 guns; it's having 30 people who care about you. Since those 30 have other people who care about them, you actually have 300 people who are looking out for each other, including you. The second best protection isn't a big stash of stuff others want to steal; it's sharing what you have and owning little of value.”

- Charles Hugh Smith

How are you building resilience into you family and community?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Keeping Keen and Green

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Someone asked me the other day how I keep motivated about being green, or in other words, how and why do I keep striving towards a sustainable lifestyle.  I couldn't really answer them without going into why I started living like this in the first place and what the benefits of the lifestyle was.  I sounded like a walking advertisement for Mother Earth or Grass Roots magazines.  I don't think they were bored, just surprised that it took so long for me to finish the answer.  It is hard to list the reasons why I keep keen about sustainable living into a short conversation!

This got me thinking long and hard about how to describe it better to a wider audience.  Long time readers of this blog would know about my green epiphany and how that one day back in October 2006 changed my life forever.  When I think about it, I could have walked out of the cinema and not given the message in the movie a second thought, but I didn't.  But why?  Anyone who has been to a motivational speech would know that listening and being pumped up at the end of the talk is one thing, and taking the first step towards action is another entirely.  As soon as you walk through the auditorium door, you usually fail to act because reality is waiting for you on the other side of it, and most of the time you are rarely given the next piece of the puzzle. That missing piece of the puzzle is what usually stops people dead in their tracks because of the fear of change, or not knowing where to begin.

So, how did I take that next step?  Well, the very same day as my epiphany, I began to seek knowledge.  It was like a thirst that I could not quench.  That is, I felt compelled to find out what simple steps I could take to lower my carbon emissions and in turn, and without realising it, lowering my consumption of resources which I now know is what sustainable living is all about.  So I went headlong into a journey that will probably never end, with a burning fire in my belly, determined to change my behaviours and, again without realising it, influencing those around me by my green actions.  It could have been the guilt for sins past that I felt, but I think it was more.  It was the feeling of wanting to make a difference, no matter what the cost that drove me.

I found that it took continuous baby steps, or mini projects if you like, to stay focused on lowering my carbon/environmental footprint, and it is a method I still use to this day.  Once a project is complete, (I only do one at a time which must be a man thing) and I have learnt the basic skill, I maintain that now embedded behaviour and start looking for the next challenge or project.

All of the above doesn't mean that I am a perfectionist or have found the holy grail of "greenness".  Far from it.  After three and a bit years, I still have an office job, I still commute each day, and I know that I will not be about to grow enough food, generate enough electricity or harvest enough rainwater to be self sufficient.  Self sufficiency is difficult to do alone.  Just look back a few hundred years to see that even a small village had people with many skills living in it, who all helped each other out to survive.  Self sufficiency is more for your Survivalist types (there is nothing wrong with being a Survivalist).  I am convinced that a strong, well skilled and resilient local community is the key to surviving future events, like climate change and peak oil.  A community who can and do grow some or all of their own food will be able to trade amongst each other for a fair price or exchange of labour, and able to survive better than being in isolated out in the sticks.  They will also be able to trade surplus to other towns and communities and suburbs.  Look I know it sounds a bit medieval, but I am afraid that the reality is, that without cheap sources of energy, it will be difficult to maintain the suburban lifestyle that many of us lead, without major changes.  However, I digress and sorry for the rant.

Other things that keep me focused are events like this unwarranted personal attack, whereby people challenge my beliefs in a very nasty and anonymous way.  Narrow and shallow minded people, hell bent on growth at all costs, and not being able to see the bigger picture like you enlightened readers.  This makes me even more determined to prove that it is easy to lead a sustainable lifestyle and in the process, increasing my overall happiness, which is exactly what I have found to happen.

However, the ultimate motivator is the thought that the steps I take will hopefully ensure that we have a habitable planet for my four children, the oldest being 22 and the youngest being 10, and for unborn generations to follow.  As global emissions targets are debated at Copenhagen, it recently struck me that the two important years that keep getting discussed are 2020 and 2050.  In 2020 I will be 55, and in 2050, 85 years old (if I make it to that ripe old age).  If we don't act now to combat the impending climate chaos, I will most probably live to see the tipping points.  I know that my children will definitely see either further deterioration of climate stability, or with my motivation, help and guidance, be integral in being part of the solution for change and its ultimate success.  This is what motivates me on a daily basis.

So, with all of those ways to keep green, keen, and focused on the road ahead, I don't think that my journey will ever end any-time soon.  It's not like I am going to get bored or anything like that!  One thing I have learnt so far on my green travels is that you must take time to saviour the little things along the way.  What I mean by this is simple pleasures like eating your first home-grown tomato that actually taste like the tomatoes you remember when you where a child and to watch your own children enjoy them as you do.  The very first omelette made with eggs from your well cared for chickens.  The joy of a full rainwater tank after a long dry spell, and actually looking forward to energy and water bills because you know that they will be as low as the belly of a tiger snake!

I find that keeping my lifestyle green and keen is easy if you take time to plan every now and then, and by visualising your personal goals foremost in you mind.  Enjoy the journey, as you travel towards your destination, because it is all about the journey, and when you don't think you are doing enough, just pause and reflect upon the path travelled so far.  You will probably find that you have come a very, very long way in a relatively short period of time.  Give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate the journey once in a while.

Go ahead.  You deserve it!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Green Transportation

written by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin.

I don't know if this subject has ever been covered at the Co-op, so I thought that I would list a few methods that I know to help you get around in the greenest way possible in order of lowest to highest emissions produced;

1.  Walking or Aka Shanks' Pony - The most obvious method of green transport but probably the least used in western society.  I say this purely based on observations of my surroundings, because I see so few people walk in the suburbs (more on that later).  I have even seen people who live only 500 metres from the corner shop get in their car and drive there and back.  I could leave home on foot and still beat them there!  This oddity of human nature to take the easy way out is a contributing factor to the increase in medically diagnosed obesity rates.  Certainly another reason to get out there and walk, not only for exercise and to live longer, but to lower your greenhouse gas emissions.  I have read somewhere that we should all walk at least 10,000 steps a day to remain healthy in body and mind, and as it is the greenest form of transport known to mankind, I am all for walking to get from A to B.  Sure, there are GHG emissions created when we add fuel in the form of food and water into our bodies, however this is a lot lower than all other transportation methods.  So if your journey is only a few kilometres, then consider walking to your destination.  Not much fossil fuel burnt in the process and it is very cheap as well.

2.  Cycling - It has been said that the bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation ever invented by our species.  You can travel further by bike than you can by walking using the same amount of energy.  Not only that, you can carry heavier loads than when walking.  If you need to transport more items than you could normally carry in a backpack, then I suggest fitting saddle bags on your bike, which help balance the load.  For even bigger items, you can fit a small trailer to tow behind your bike.  It is quite amazing what you can add to your bike these days.  The embedded energy that your bike contains is quite low considering that the average bicycle will probably last a few decades with a bit of tender loving care.  Easier to fix than a car, and much cheaper to run as well.  So for that quick trip to the farmers market, consider taking your bike.  Some cities even let you take your bike on public transport so you ride to the station and then on to your destination at the other end of your journey!  A few cities even have a bicycle sharing scheme.  I believe the one in Paris is very popular.

3.  Animals - Now I realise that this is a bit out there and not everyone has room for a horse, camel, oxen or donkey, but look at it this way.  No embodied energy concerns, they are a very personal means of transport, mostly friendly, and you only have to feed it and have enough land to house the beast.  It has been a long time since I rode a horse, but I do remember that it was a lot of fun.  Who knows what may happen in the future as the age of cheap oil comes to a close.  We may have to rethink how we get around.  I can see one of the benefit for avid gardeners in the form of lots of manure!  The only drawback is the current use of fossil fuels in growing sufficient amounts of feed stock for the transport animals and therefore GHG emissions are produced.

4.  Public Transportation - If your town or city has an accessible and reliable public transport system, then consider this option next time you need to travel further than you would normally on a bike.  Not only is it much cheaper than the average running costs of maintaining a car i.e. fuel, insurance, registration, drivers license etc., it is better for the environment due to the lower emissions per passenger-kilometre.  The following graph is presented from the Public Transport Users Association (2008) and includes emissions from public transport in Victoria, where I live.

Transport mode
Energy use
(MJ per
(g CO2-e per
Petrol Car
Ethanol (E10) Car
Electric Tram
Diesel Bus
Ethanol (E10) Bus
Natural Gas Bus
Electric Train
Diesel Train (V/Line
250cc Motorcycle
1000cc Motorcycle

(It is assumed that the factors identified for Victoria will be similar to that of other states.  This is because the electricity factor for trains and trams in Victoria, Australia is similar to that of most other states and fuel use from buses should not vary much at all.)

So, a very good comparison regarding emissions from different types of public transportation mode and much greener than your average car and motorbike. Trams, Buses and Trains win hands down for green modes of transport per passenger-kilometre.  The more people you can pack into a vehicle and the more fuel efficient it is, the lower the MJ per passenger-kilometre.  It makes sense really!

5.  The motor car - If you must drive, and most of us do, think about the way you drive.  Fast acceleration burns more fuel, as does travelling above 100 km/h (60mph).  I remember reading that the main reason that the speed limit was dropped to 55mph in the US during the 1970's was to save fuel during the oil embargo.  For more ways to save fuel and therefore GHG emissions have a look at this previous Co-op post titled "Hybrid miles from the car you already own".  If you are in the market for a new car, take into consideration the fuel economy of each vehicle.  The less fuel you use, the less emissions (and smog) you are pushing out the exhaust pipe.  Hybrid and Electric cars are hitting the market with increased regularity.

6.  Air travel.  Well, suffice to say, one short haul trip can wipe out all of your emission reduction savings for an entire year.  Even though aviation is a relatively small industry, it has a disproportionately large carbon footprint.  It is estimated that it presently accounts for 4-9% of total global CO2-e man made emissions.  Compared to other modes of transport, such as driving or taking the train, travelling by air has a greater climate impact per passenger kilometre, even over longer distances.  So, I choose not to fly at all.  I do not condone air travel completely, but if you do need to travel by this method, consider offsetting your carbon emission for your flight with a reputable carbon offset provider.

In conclusion, throughout the western world, many parts of our newer cities are designed specifically for the motor car, without taking into consideration other forms of greener modes of transport.  Take the suburbs for instance.  A good many suburbs lack easily accessible public transportation systems with many light rail systems being ripped at the start of the 20th century, to make way for the car.  You are now forced by design to travel any distance by car, which again will not bode well with the age of cheap oil well and truly over.  To really reduce emissions in our transportation, either public transport will have to be retrofitted, or the suburbs will need a makeover, big time.  Air travel will also have to become cleaner and produce less emissions if we are to continue to travel long distances quickly.  Things will need to change sooner rather than later, if we are to reduce global emissions with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change.  Read about what I think may happen if we do act in time at my post titled "Path towards Zero Carbon"

So, do yourself, your children, grandchildren and future generations to come a favour by choosing your method of getting around this big blue marble in a more environmentally friendly way.  Please.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Moving Beyond Panic

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I don't often confront the big issues of our times head on in my blog posts. Usually I tiptoe around them. Today I'm going to make an exception, in light of a recent article by the UK Guardian concerning the IEA, or International Energy Agency. The IEA is responsible for promulgating official statements about the world's remaining reserves of oil and other fossil fuels. Even if we take the IEA at their official word as of late last year, we are now facing a reduction of more than 9% in the global oil supply - annually. Given that industrial economies are reliant not merely on a steady supply of oil, but on a supply of oil that in living memory has only ever expanded in response to demand, this is bad news.

The kicker is the Guardian's report that two whistleblowers from within the IEA have now come forward to say that even a 9% reduction (or a mere 6% reduction if we "invest in more discovery,") significantly overstates the world's reserves of oil. The US government has leaned on the IEA to publish rosy forecasts for years, and a 9% decline was apparently all that passed muster. The bottom line is this: by far the majority of us have no way of knowing how much oil is really left, except that it is probably far less than we've been led to believe. Those who do know mostly aren't saying. Those with the industry background to make very well educated guesses are not giving out forecasts that square with those of the IEA.

My guess is that the readers here at the co-op have thought a bit about peak oil and its implications. Chances are that most of you have gotten past the panic and the paralysis of early peak oil awareness. This news may not be welcome to any of you, but I somehow doubt that it's paradigm shifting for too many of you either. So my question to all of you then is: what have you done to prepare yourself, your family, or your community for the changes that a dwindling oil supply will bring? What have you accomplished so far? What other things do you hope to accomplish in the very near term? What other changes would you like to tackle as time and money allow further down the line? Do you have a formal schedule of projects, or are you just working intuitively on what seems most urgent?

I'll start...

On our suburban 2/3 acre we put in about 2000 square feet (~186 square meters) of food garden. We planted several perennial plants including fruit trees, several types of berries, asparagus and grapes, none of which are productive yet. We added laying hens, and are doing as much as possible to increase the fertility of our garden soil. I learned the basics of canning, dehydrating, and lacto-fermenting foods. I've begun to learn a bit about medicinal herbs. We've made changes in our spending habits in order to pay off our mortgage debt as quickly as possible. Although these changes were made gradually, looking back from the perspective of a few years, they're pretty radical. We had an energy audit done on our home, added insulation and had the house air sealed. My husband built and installed a single rain barrel to catch runoff from our garage, and has plans for next year to chain several more of them together for more capacity.

For the future, we're very seriously considering adding a passive solar thermal heating system for our home, which we heat steadily for about four months per year, with an additional two months of part-time heating. Moving forward with that system will depend on whether or not my husband remains employed after the new year. I also have plans to take a first aid course in January. We plan to add honeybees to our mini-homestead next year, and should be able to do so. In the spring I'm scheduled to teach a homesteading class for beginners. I have no idea whether anyone will enroll. Next year we'll start fig and citrus trees in containers so that we can pull them inside to protect them from the winters that would otherwise kill them in our zone.

As you can see, like most peak oil-aware people I've concentrated on and made the most progress in the area of food production. This is the low-hanging fruit among the host of problems that peak oil will create for us. Not easy, but the easiest among the bunch. Debt reduction has been a very high priority as well. After that, my efforts have been spread over the challenges of medicine, heating, water supply, and the state of my wider community. I've made much less progress in these areas, and haven't even begun to address an alternative source of electricity or transportation. All in all, a pretty average response among those taking peak oil seriously.

I'm not asking how you've begun to prepare for a post peak world in order to stir the pot, nor to goad anyone into action through guilt or fear. Least of all do I want anyone to panic. Panic is never helpful. I'm asking for purely selfish reasons. Because knowing what steps others are taking is heartening to me when I hear news this disturbing. Blogs like those of the writers and the readers of this co-op provide me with both concrete facts and techniques, as well as inspiration and a sense of camaraderie, however distant my comrades.

Please share your stories in the comments.