back in the world, mostly

September 25, 2005

I’m back in durham and fairly well rested. I’ve found I can get up, on my own in the morning w/o pain or grumbling. This is a sign of plentiful and restful sleep. Good thing, that. I don’t feel stressed about work and this is hopeful, too.

I’ve been reading a fair bit and writing in a journal for myself a bit. The reading has been some non-fiction, mostly and I’ve also started on the new Terry Pratchett book, of course.

A lot of my reading has been from The End Of Oil By Paul Roberts. And another bunch from an assortment of online journals and articles on the same subject. It’s been interesting trying to wrap my head around the problem and the potential solutions. As well as the impact scenarios for the world, my country, my state, myself and those close to me. It’s not obviously a surmountable problem. On the one hand the initial knee-jerk response, for me, is ‘katie, bar the door’. Find a splot of land, circle the wagons and build a bunker for the post-oil-beyond-thunderdome nightmare.

For a while I felt like I could see how things would look and it wasn’t like ‘the day after’ it was more like ‘the grapes of wrath’. I’d be looking around and trying to figure out what aspects of our society would survive but given my tendency toward pessimism I looked at the things that wouldn’t. It was creepy thinking like that and it kinda infected by vision in some ways. Looking out as we flew in to Dulles from Logan I noticed the city lights and thought how many of those would be out if the post-oil fallout was as bad as it could be?

Then I read some more about some of the impact scenarios and the potential solutions to trim the demand and my pessimism diminished a bit. Conservation measures have a tendency to happen due to market pressures and that can have good, immediate results and if they continue for long enough they could also change a few generations culturally.

I’ve been thinking along those lines and trying to figure out how to conserve energy in my own life and to make it more tenable for others to do so. I’ve been making a little mental list and trying to sort it through:

Ride a bike more: This is do-able for me (well, I kinda need a bike that won’t break every mile or so but that’s a minor detail) but the infrastructure for more people to do this is just not available where I live. Some changes would need to take place to make it reasonable for a good number of people to use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.

Take the bus to work: Also do-able but it has other energy impacts, not the least of which is the additional energy cost to warm and cool my body while I’m fighting off the fever I get from the diseases floating around the bus. Sorry, but mass transit is a mass disease vector and personal health is something I value. Additionally, the bus system in durham needs a serious refit to make it journey to places it might not otherwise go and to do so reasonably expediently. Better yet, Duke might consider putting the American Tobacco Campus on its internal bus route. That’d make for a tolerable ride.

Car pool: this is probably very do-able. I’m not working ludicrous hours any more and I’ll be down to working just one job for the foreseeable future. Then again having to rely or collaborate with a single other person rather than a system that I pay for a service is not my idea of a good time. I’m much more inclined to rely on a bicycle than I would be to rely on another person, especially if that person has children.

Buy a house and refit it for solar: I live in a southern state and I’m in a reasonably sunny location anyway. Refitting a house for partial or passive solar is not an unreasonable undertaking. It’d probably be easier to buy a passive solar house as-is and add-on any active-solar components. It’s not a cheap process but neither will the alternatives.

Only use laptops: Laptops draw less power, in general, than does a desktop computer. If I only use a laptop and decrease the draw of my desktop computer by enabling all the various sleep/powersave mechanisms then I could trim the load a bit more

Use the AC less: Learn how to finally use the programmable AC system in this house (interface from hell afaict) and it should trim down our heating/cooling costs considerably as we’ll have fewer up and down spikes and we can dump the energy use when we’re not here.

Move to a place where energy efficiency is more possible: I’ve been researching places where rail and bus systems are reviewed positively and energy efficiency is looked upon as efficacious rather than perverse. Not finding a lot of success outside of Germany and Japan. This would do something to curb my energy use footprint but it wouldn’t do much to help deal with the problem for others around me, or for the world.

Buy more goods from local vendors and local farms: This decreases the energy used in shipping the same goods from elsewhere and if they are local it can help me preserve these institutions that, if the long emergency is accurate, will be necessary once the big-box retailers die out as costs skyrocket due to shipping expenses.

Use rail travel and encourage it more: Rail travel consumes significantly less energy and fuel than does air travel. Unfortunately rail travel in this country is a laughable joke. It’s slow, it’s unreliable and it’s decrepit. Lots of things will need to change for that to work. None of the items are impossible, but some of them extremely hard.

On the other hand I’ve also been thinking about what I might want to do to ‘prepare’ for the aftermath. Some of those might include in practicing my electrical, plumbing and carpentry skills. Working more avidly and practicing in Eunice’s garden. Reading up on energy-less living. The real nightmare scenarios include massive economic loss. Huge portions of our infrastructure collapsing and much of what we think of as the modern civilization and lifestyle being destroyed or hugely diminished. This is all accompanied by a fairly massive social and political upheaval which brings with it a serious loss of life. Post-oil might be a mess of a world and I’ve been thinking about learning more about some skills that would serve me well in that society.

It’s odd – but vacation has given me time to think and speculate. Not always good things but in this case I think it’s just let me pay attention a bit more than I was.