Thursday, August 28, 2008

The End of Suburbia - Gulp!

In my Intro to Energy class this week, we eased into the semester by watching the movie, "End of Suburbia." In addition to scaring the hell out of me, that movie was a clear demonstration of how finite fossil fuels really are and at the same time how dependent upon them we are. Our American lives are completely wrapped up in oil (of which about 60% comes from the Middle East) and coal for electricity. An interesting point in the movie was that the American way of life was in some respect guided by the consumption of fossil fuel (think the suburbs, roads, commutes, transporting food in trucks and cars, instead of increasing density urban development, rails and trains, walking and localized food production). Fossil fuels are our masters, but according to this documentary not for long.

The documentary also discusses the theory (now fact?) of peak oil and explains the growing consensus of belief in that theory by policy makers and scientists around the planet. Most are beginning to realize that peak oil is occurring now (the sweet light crude oil has been pumped already, and the Middle Eastern nations are spending extra money and energy extracting the heavier, harder to refine crude oil at the bottom of the wells. This all leads to an extended refining process, a gradual dwindling of supply and of course higher prices for everything). Simply put, our economy can't grow at a regular rate without reliable and cheap fossil fuels. What happens if it becomes cost prohibitive to ship goods from China to our shores? Well for one, we will have to start creating the goods locally. In addition, we will begin to see the end of big-box retailers and the rise of local mom and pop stores.

So get the movie for a good dose of reality and let's start to think about life after oil. You may think that I am crazy for even suggesting that oil will run out. Life without oil! It's just not possible. Well, we can't burn our way into oblivion (whether it be coal or oil) because the supply is finite. We can't burn our way into oblivion because the environment of the planet and the health of humans and animals can't handle the carbon emissions. We can't burn our way into oblivion because the global demand is outpacing supply, oil output has peaked, and an economy can't continue grow without reliable electricity and transportation means.

It is time for us to make short and long-term plans to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, in addition to retrofitting suburbia into localized, urban-like units where we can walk to the store, we can grow our own food for our local neighborhood instead of driving to the grocery to get food trucked in from out of state, and were we can start to get to know our neighbors so that ideas on how to confront this crisis will flourish.

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Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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