Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

September 8, 2006

Water, Food, Energy, Sustainability, Climate, War

Category: Conservation,Economics,Organic & Local Food,Sustainability – Tom Harrison – 9:41 pm

I have spent some words on energy, in particular how we can use less of it. Our program has been successful by all measure, I think. For those reading and practicing some of the same simple tactics or others, well done. For the other 200M people in the USA, c’mon, give it a try. It’s fun!

I have been reading a lot, and learning a lot as I write. My wife recently finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma (next on my list) and I finished 1,000 Barrels a Second, and am in the middle of Outgrowing the Earth. I saw Brokaw’s Global Warming special (and am going to an Inconvenient Truth any day now). Earlier this year, I read Cradle to Cradle. And I watch the news every night on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (some of the blanks filled in by The New York Times). This is all delightful, nice, light, summer entertainment which will warm the cockles of your heart. Not to mention the cockles of the earth.

What is striking is that there’s a common thread amongst these disparate subjects. Outgrowing the Earth’s author, Lester R. Brown says we should worry about our food supply. He demonstrates with a great deal of data that the trends are not particularly hopeful. He attributes this partially to over-pumping aquifers and draining rivers for irrigation. More irrigation is needed because there are more people demanding more produce (don’t think just “corn and wheat”, think “cows and pigs”). But more irrigation is needed also because temperatures are rising. He also notes the relationship between fertilizer and pesticides and fossil fuels.

1000 Barrels a Second’s author compares the trends for demand and supply of oil and concludes that we are on the cusp of a global change in energy sources of equal significance to those in past history. He argues that societies rose and fell, and wars were fought as a result of the destabilizing influence of energy “re-balancing” as he gently calls it. He doesn’t really discuss coal or natural gas, instead focusing on oil, as oil is currently the primary fuel for almost all transportation and for which there is no ready substitution. He doesn’t mention much about food, and in a rather rose-colored scenario at the end describes a future in 2017 in which he looks across at the beautiful sunset from his waterfront property in California. He does, however, suggest that shocks like hurricanes and droughts may be enough to trigger significant economic downturns.

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma espouses sustainable farming methods. I haven’t read the book yet, although there’s an exceptional dialog between him and the CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey which can be seen at his blog. It’s clear that the idea is that our industrial agriculture methods, once seen as the savior of the world, may instead be responsible for its demise. Fundamentally, as I understand, the way we create, distribute, purchase and, in general, think about food is unsustainable.

Global warming issues are addressed in the NBC special Global Warming, What You Need to Know, as well, of course in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The former (which I have seen) paints a picture of a future of severe weather, flooding, drought, food disruptions, rising seal level and many other alarming results of global warming. I believe both conclude that the scientific data correlating temperature rise and CO2 are indisputable and now recognized as the most likely hypothesis for global warming by scientists. The source of all this CO2, of course, is our ravenous use of fuels that have kept excess CO2 sequestered in the earth for millions of years, and which we have systematically and relentlessly been releasing for about 150 years, since coal and oil were first used as major sources of fuel.

And then, the news. The news is about war, usually the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then, of late Israel vs. Hezbollah. Have we indeed started World War III?

So I think we have a rather big circle of related phenomena about which many are writing. Each author, film maker or proponent looks at the picture from his or her particular angle and is able to make a compelling case that their angle is critical; failure to address it will result in something pretty bad. What is remarkable is that each viewpoint acknowledges most of the others without dismissing it — no one author claims that other issues aren’t important (with a possible exception of 1,000 Barrels a Second, which seems to take a rather narrow view). And so, I conclude glibly that all of these issues are really the same issue. They are all linked, and all a result of the same underlying cause: consumption with a capital C.

We consume more. We need more food. More cars. More of everything, faster. We use up stuff, then throw it away. And over the last hundred or so years we have been doing this rapaciously, and with wild abandon. As we consume more and more, those who haven’t joined the party have gotten mad. Quite mad. As resources to continue this growth become more scarce, people get edgy, and weaknesses are revealed. So whether it’s Israel’s disastrous attempt to quell Hezbollah, or America’s disastrous attempts to secure energy, er, I mean find Weapons of Mass Destruction, er, I mean win the War on Terrorism (or is it “Struggle”?), the bottom line is, it’s all from the same cause.

Energy. We consume it as though it were free.

It’s not.

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