Monthly Archives: April 2019

7 posts

What I Did Do and What Might You Do.

Sometimes, when overwhelmed by the energy that swirls about, the hyperactive doing, the sense of not enough time, I think of the Laws of Thermodynamics. I wonder if that’s why everything feels so out of control these days: all the energy that used to be stored (in the earth,) has been freed by us, and now it gyrates and spirals, more and more, with every tank of gas, every lightbulb, energy whirling toward chaos. A sense of low grade panic seems to be part of every day life. 

The discomfort of heart palpitations ticked up yesterday when I read this article:

https://truthout.org/articles/the-last-time-there-was-this-much-co2-trees-grew-at-the-south-pole/

I did not get too far into it before I knew what I had to do because panic is unhealthy. As has been previously stated, it can kill. And so, to regain a sense of control and empowerment, I acted. I called my senators to ask what they are doing to effect change in regard to climate change. 

The responses of the young women who answered my calls were measured and by the book. They both suggested that I go to their boss’s website and read the press releases on the topic of my concern. My response to their response? I believe it’s called sympathetic, also referred to as the “fight or flight” response. My “Really?” hit a high squeak that is not in my usual vocal range.

 I took a deep breath. 

*I told myself my senators, and the young women answering the phones for them, have to deal with a lot of different issues, and different opinions. They are trying.

But business as usual is not going to effect the necessary changes, nor bring back all the species that have already gone extinct. That’s the heartbreak. I took a moment to mourn.

*I thought about the Green New Deal, that road plan that might, or might not, be given the chance to pave (with permeable concrete pavers!) the way to a new economy and lifestyle. And that this is our bright and shiny moment as humans. It’s a better and bigger opportunity than World War II to let our true selves shine—to do whatever it takes, however small, to make a difference. And like World War II, it seems to be an impossible task.

I noted that it is impossible, unless each and every one of us takes a first step toward change. No exceptions. 

But what of all those climate deniers? They won’t change. They’ll sneer and scoff and shake their head at my lily white, privileged, liberal to progressive naïveté.

But here’s something: In the next posts on energy, you’ll see that they, too, will start paying attention, because it is entirely uneconomic not to. They already are. The necessary changes are already happening. The only question is, will enough people take the first step?

Step one: Set your micromanaging self free. Go out and buy a power strip if you can. Tonight, after dark, go for a walk through your home. Look for the green and red lights that glow 24/7. Your television. Your stove clock. Your microwave. Your washer. The lights you forgot to turn off. Begin tonight to make a habit of unplugging them when they aren’t in use—or plug them into the power strip. Every night before you go to bed, turn off the power strip. 

Replace your bedside electric clock with your cell phone.

When you get your next energy bill, see if  those changes made a difference.

Step two: Go to the website www.drawdown.org. There you will realize a most comforting thing: we have the answers. 

Step 3: Call your Congress people and request that they get busy or busier, or thank them for doing what they are doing about climate change. Mention that they, too, can go to the Drawdown website for ideas. Whatever you do, make it clear that you care about climate change, and that you vote. (Do you vote? Step 4: Go register.) 

When I lived in Rhode Island, I could look to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Every week, for years, he has given a “Time to Wake Up” speech. Here’s one he gave in 2017 about the politics of Climate Change. Citizens United: Demo-n-Captialism at work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=176&v=nPew-_8HdhI

Next post: Demand Response & Solar Flares.

Energy 102: Energy in the U.S. of A.: Definitions and Infrastructure

 

Do you know how energy works in the U.S. of A.? A lot of people at all levels of society don’t. That is a problem. How can we deal with the energy side of climate change if we don’t understand the problem, or even the right terms to use? We need facts, not opinions. Facts like:

*Energy is the biggest part of our economy, barring our medical and healthcare system. 

*Our economy and daily lives depend on the energy infrastructure we call the grid.

*The grid is a tenuous network that, at times, is unable to supply us with enough power.

*Energy and power are not interchangeable terms. Before we go any farther, we have to get down the terms.

“Energy” is the thing itself. “Power” is the rate at which energy moves. Or, to put it another way, power is energy plus time, as in a car has a lot of power. 

When you see “kW”, that is a kilowatt which is equal to one thousand watts. “kWh” signifies a kilowatt hour. If you leave on a one hundred watt lightbulb for ten hours, you have used one thousand watt hours, or one kWh.

Usually used to express electricity, kWs are units of power. So are British thermal units or BTUs, but BTUs refer to heat. A BTU is the energy it takes to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. One BTU/hr is a British thermal unit per hour. If you have ten BTU/hr, that would be the quantity of power that would heat ten pounds of water one degree, or one pound of water ten degrees, over the course of one hour. Though BTUs are commonly used for heat and are derived from heat, they can be used to express any energy, including electricity. 

Just as “liters” express units of water, kWs and BTUs express units of energy. The rate at which you pour the water into a pipe is a watt. And the size of the pipe is the voltage. Sort of. 

According to the EIA.gov website,⁠1 there are five primary energy consuming sectors: Electric power (38.1%); Transportation (28.8%); Industrial (22.4%);  Residential (6.2%); and Commercial (4.5%). These five sectors depend on the electrical infrastructure that has been built, in ad hoc fashion, over decades: the national grid.

The grid began small. As each town, then city, or isolated human, moved in, and then out, and farther out into the suburbs and across the country, the wires that connect us followed. We now have a system that connects us in such a way that, at times, when you flick a switch in my town of Jaffrey, the response might take place in Quebec or Rochester. The electricity that turns on your light has traveled hundreds of miles. That is not efficient. 

Even locally, the grid has wires going every which way, not least, way off into the hinterlands of country living. Though the utilities have to provide customers with the means to get power, it is more expensive for the utilities to run those wires and run the electricity through those wires, than the amount they can charge customers for the power. Not good economics. 

More definitions: Power generators produce electricity, then sell it on the wholesale market. Electricity providers purchase the rights to that electricity at wholesale, and then turn around and sell it to their customers, who can decide on fixed rate, variable rates, 100% green options. Electric utilities deal with the physical movement of electricity from the generators to the customers: they maintain the wires and poles, thereby enabling the energy that has been harnessed by the power generators, and bought by providers, to go through wires maintained by the utilities, to your house, a process that is noted by the electric utilities because they need to collect the delivery charges, which are duly regulated by the state public utility commission (PUC).  The theory is that by separating providers and utilities, the customer is able to shop for competitive rates and still receive reliable service.

Eversource Energy is an energy provider. And a utility. Hm.

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. And it’s a complicated system with a lot of entities involved, not least, the customers.

Please feel free to comment and correct! 

anImage_5.tiff

1 United States Energy Information Administration

Interstices

Are these energy articles worth our while? I’m not sure. Rather, it will be a case of the blind leading the blind because I don’t know “energy” any more than the next person.

Or maybe I do. Because, in the years since moving from Rhode Island to New Hampshire to live off-grid at Darwin’s View, my perspective on energy has shifted, as it did when Carl and I bought our EV Leaf in 2012.

The cutting edge of electric vehicles at the time, the Leaf requires an off-grid mentality of limited resources, not abundance. Just as I have learned to turn off the lights when I leave a room and not to use a hair dryer, just so the Leaf requires a certain mind set: Planning. It is remarkably like budgeting. We must ask ourselves how far are we driving? Why? Is it a necessary trip?

And, stunning but true: Carl drives slower in the Leaf because driving fast takes up more electric charge. He takes it as a challenge to keep track of how much less energy he uses on each trip. 

For my part, I drive slower because it’s incredibly satisfying to grow more of those trees that appear on the dashboard when I drive carefully.

Due to its lowering battery life, our Leaf can go eighty miles on a full charge. That means eighty is the number of miles we have to get to where we are going, and back again. On a seventy degree day. No hills. With the windows closed, and no heat or cooling. And the whole time, we feel like we’re in a Star Trek vehicle. The quiet whirr of the electric motor. Sh! You slide past the gas stations, feeling oh, so oil free. And the car has an adorable thing called “turtle mode”. A little turtle joins the trees on the dashboard when the car is on its last gasp of power. The turtle appears just after the red, blinking lights begin, and the sultry car voice announces that the car “will not reach its destination please head immediately to the nearest charging station,” which is usually farther away than one’s destination. And then the car slows waaaaaaay down. Just like a turtle.

And so, driving the Leaf is, at times, like a cross-country train ride: it’s about the adventure, not the arrival. So is living off-grid on top of a windy hill in times of climate disruption. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Frightening. Sobering. Life at Darwin’s View: a study of change and transition because Carl and I might live off-grid but, still, on some days, our propane-powered generator charges into action. 

And so, maybe my experiences here will become the interstices between these energy articles, exhibiting some of the possible answers to the bedeviling issues we face. Or maybe the energy articles will be the interstices between those I write about what we are doing at Darwin’s View. Maybe, with time, the two will become one. We are all, after all, just energy.

Much as we love our Leaf, it’s rather a sad rendition compared to the cars coming out these days that can go two and three hundred miles on a charge. But here’s a secret: I prefer our Leaf for exactly that reason. It doesn’t fool us into thinking we can go farther, faster. Which is a lesson we, Americans, must learn. Bigger is not better. More and more and more money is not life’s purpose. And being often makes more sense than doing as energy swirls around us, and our world rockets through the universe, and ever in the background, that aching question: will we save her?

Friday’s post will be Energy 102: Energy in the U.S. Of A. Definitions and Infrastructure.

 IN WHICH IT IS NO LONGER A CASE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, BUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.” PAUL GILDING, THE GREAT DISRUPTION

Energy 101: Introduction

From www.wattsupwiththat.com

Apparently, we are in trouble: Icebergs melting. Waters rising. Species dying. The last five years, the hottest ever recorded.⁠1  These are facts, not conspiracies, and I see the hand-wringing of people—myself included—who want to do something to stop our sprint to extinction. We know that this environmental devastation is due, at least in part, to human activity, and that we, Americans, have the potential to make an enormous difference in dealing with it. Our actions matter. We’re not acting. Why?

That question could take us in myriad directions. We could delve into the psychology of fear, a primal reaction to danger that causes adrenaline to course through the body. Extreme fear, called panic, can kill because it shuts down more rational reactions, like thinking, and action. 

Or we could consider the learned helplessness and disempowerment that has been encouraged by the demo-n-capitalist society in which we live: Bigger is better. You can’t be too rich. Profits prioritized over people, and corporations rule our politicians, so why bother to vote? Go shopping, instead, because there is (arguably) nothing one person can do to make a difference.

Or we can study energy. Energy is complicated. There are so many different kinds of it—kinetic, potential, thermal, electrical. Our labyrinthine lives in 21st century America depend on the convenience and reliability of energy, in the form of fossil fuels, the extraction and use of which is one of the causes of our heating world. What built this country is also its Achilles heel, and do we even know how it came to be? How it works? What will happen when it runs out? Which it is going to. Fact, not conspiracy.⁠2

Convenience rocks. Change is hard. We are complicit in our environmental free-fall because we all partake of the fossil-fueled system. If we want to make a difference, we have to change. But in order to change, we have to know the facts, and our options. So let’s educate ourselves on the thing that keeps us alive and connected: Energy. That simple, elegant and overwhelming aspect of life that is us, that connects us, that runs life as we know it in the United States of America. 

Or not. We can opt to do nothing and watch the droughts and floods, the fires and mass extinctions but the spectator seats aren’t comfortable because deep inside we know this: If we leave others to sink under the rising tides, we lose what we claim puts us above other animals: our humanity. Too, who will be left to help us, and why would they? 

1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/02/06/undeniable-warming-planets-hottest-five-years-record-five-images/?utm_term=.2561f982839e

2 Fossil fuels are considered finite because they were formed of organic material over millions of years. Millions more years will be required to make more. Thus, for our intents and purposes, they are finite. In 2014, British Petroleum said that in fifty years, reserves will run out.

Ideas Popping Like Popcorn . . .

Bicycles. This is an interesting article on bicycles that might solve a number of problems in a small town like Jaffrey, or a bigger one like Providence. Maybe only in spring, summer and fall. But the infrastructure built to accommodate bicycles might adapt to winter, too. We would just have to think a bit deeper.

https://www.motherearthnews.com/green-transportation/bicycling/growing-importance-bicycle-infrastructure-ze0z1412zhur

What problems, you ask? Parking. Traffic. Obesity and other health issues. Pollution.

But, please, read the article and contemplate the issue yourself. I’d love to get a conversation going about things climate change and the options we have to deal with it, not least bicycles.

Going forward, on Fridays, I will post my Stone Age Redux articles, an alternative to the current path we are on, the one that’s so familiar, so convenient, so inevitably leading us over the climate cliff.

No doubt, I will expose my own version of cognitive dissonance, and starry-eyed willful blindness. Feel free to point them out. Please join in with your own. I’d love to hear from you.

Article to Read!

This is an interesting read on the cognitive dissonance we all live with. I might add that there is a lot of construction and buying of big, expensive buildings on and around the island of Manhattan . . ..

https://popula.com/2019/04/02/heaven-or-high-water/?te=1&nl=morning-briefing&emc=edit_NN_p_20190409&section=whatElse

Missed Opportunities

I’m trying to get a foothold back into the blogosphere, and have been for months. Dozens of attempts fill up a document folder titled “Possible Posts”, and each beginning has a paragraph, or a series of sentences, none of which got finished. Missed opportunities to connect on topics that range from rental goats and possible goat adoption, to heritage breed chickens, broody hens and chicken deaths, and on to a debate about the necessity of winter prep for our resident frogs. (We didn’t, and recently scooped out four corpses from the pond-pool; lesson learned but at such a cost . . ..) The last was about book writing. After fifteen drafts, I have finished At Crossroads with Chickens and now face the daunting process of seeking agents and a publisher, and then publishing, and it’s far easier to write.

(That is a lie. Rather, choosing to write is my choice and, therefore, within my power. I have no control of agents and publishers who might, or might not like, or even read, what I send them.)

When in the final throes and pages of At Crossroads with Chickens, I began a series of articles on energy with an aim to raise awareness about the true costs of fossil fuels, and educate myself and whoever read the articles, on how energy works in the U.S. of A.. Easier said the done. The articles had the wrong tone, from too “lite” to too pedantic. And where to begin when energy in our lives is so far reaching, and each fact requires pages of supporting evidence because ever in the background are the doubters, the deniers, the giver-uppers, and too-laters? So much background noise on top of the cognitive dissonance of the world is ending but isn’t it a beautiful day?

Note to self: The world is not ending, it’s just that Mother Nature, not Homo s.sapiens, will bat last. The world as we knew it, though, is long gone. Coming up is the world without us, and just what will that look like?

That is where I draw my line in the sand. Here. I want to make the world a little bit better. I am done with the question “Is there climate change?” Because the answer is a resounding yes, and it is human caused and more aptly described as climate chaos. We are at ground zero. And, as Derrick Jensen says in his article “Nothing Else Matters” . . . nothing else matters.

Except, perhaps, tone. Tone matters. If I get too dark, people will get depressed and overwhelmed. That brings to mind a conversation I had with a local dairy farmer. A cheerful, kind fellow who spends time with his cows because they have so much to teach him, he smiled when we got on the topic of things climate, Big Ag, soil  health and pesticides. He laughed and said that, when he first started  in organic and biodynamic farming, he was radical. It was his way or the highway but with time, he calmed down, and adopted a live-and-let-live attitude. After all, it takes all kinds. But now—and here his voice hardened, his jaw tightened, his expression became intent and serious—now he is back to militant because who will protect, nurture and heal the earth and its sentient creatures if he doesn’t? 

I’m with him. I can’t control other people, and yes, the situation is absolutely and undeniably overwhelming. And no one person can save the world. But each of us has his, her or their personal being with which they can change the world. Think energy. Think electrons connecting us to everything around us. Our actions make a difference. What we bring to the table, each of us, is our own unique being. That’s all. That’s everything.

Change a lightbulb, and turn out the lights when you leave a room. It matters.

Walk, don’t drive. It matters. 

Hang your laundry, don’t use a dryer. It matters (and will lower your electric bill, too.)

Eat less meat, and try for happy meat. It matters (especially for those sentient animals living in CAFOs).

Call your legislators and tell them climate change matters. Talk to your neighbors and create connections because they are who you are going to need when things get tough.

And they will need you.

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing, because there is no perfect, no single answer, and everyone of us is accountable. We have the chance to save the world. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Only time will tell if it’s easier than finding a publisher.