The 90 Percent Project
Thursday, 12:48 pm
A couple of days ago, I stumbled across an experiment in conservation. It's called the Riot for Austerity 90% Emissions Reduction Project. With a name like that you know the person who thought it up has a sense of humor. But how interesting, indeed. The idea is
...to cut [our] emissions by 90% of what the average person in the US consumes - the approximate amount people in the rich world need to reduce by in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming. The eventual goal is to reach the 94% that George Monbiot calculates would represent a fair share of the world’s emissions for Americans, but we’re starting slow.
We’re doing this for several reasons. First, because it is necessary - if we want to bestow a decent world on our children, we have to cut our emissions, and much harder and faster than any government has proposed. The reason governments do not propose it is because they believe it is politically infeasible. So we want to present our leaders with as many people as possible who will stand up and say “I did it. Our nation can too.” We’re excited that people want to join us, and we invite anyone who is ready to participate!
It's an ambitious project and I've been mulling over whether I want to join up or not. The rules of the game say that we are allowed 50 gallons of gasoline per year per person, 100 therms of natural gas per year, 10 gallons of water per person per day, 90 kWh of electricity per household per month (yikes!), and a couple other categories of savings.
The idea is to try to reach these goals by the end of a year. The thought in the back of the mind is that, eventually, we won't have a choice.
Beyond global warming, I also have concerns over Peak Oil which is coming, like it or not. There is a lot of question over when it will arrive -- next year, ten years or twenty years -- but not much question about if it will arrive.
Of all the solutions that are tossed around in the media and by government types, the one thing we don't hear about is conservation. It's a dirty word. Asking people to cut back is unthinkable. Unpopular. Even politically suicidal. Most of the solutions being proposed are simply replacements for what we already consume and come with a high energy cost. Truthfully, I don't think that's feasible, either.
I think we're on a runaway train. We're having an orgy of consumerism where we're always looking for the next thing to acquire. The bigger the better -- houses, cars, toys. More and Bigger is the American way. Like Darth Cheney says...our way of life is not negotiable. Well, not until there's no choice in the matter, anyway.
That just isn't a moral way to live. The idea of I've Got Mine And I'm Entitled To It Because I Deserve It (and it's there to take) is killing our planet. Those of us who are living in a first world nation are wealthy by much of the rest of the world's standards. If we have running water (or even water), enough food, electricity, and a solid roof over our heads, we're doing okay. The rest is icing on the cake. But we take for granted that "enough" will always be there and if our salaries are large enough, we are entitled to much more. What happens in the ambiguous "over there" doesn't really seem to be our problem. And we're generally not gifted at thinking too far ahead about what we're facing.
But what happens when we begin to run out of the things that make enough and more than enough possible? Like oil, for example? It is running out. Almost all the major oil fields in the world are beginning to decline, some more precipitously than others. The world is run on oil. Our economies are based on oil. Our lives are made possible by oil. Everything is connected to oil -- the fuel we put in our vehicles, the fuel we use to heat our homes and cook with, the lights we use, the plastics we use, the foods we eat, our medicines, the cosmetics we smear on our faces, the toiletries we depend on, the clothes we wear, the materials needed to produce the alternative energies that we think will save us, our infrastructure, our computers even. And that's just the really short list. What happens after we use it all up in our orgy of consumerism...because we're entitled and we earned it and it's the American way?
Our planet is finite. It doesn't provide inexhaustible resources. There is an end to it somewhere. It's probably a lot closer than most of us want to think. And yeah, that's pretty awful scary. But I don't think the planet really cares if we deny it or not. What is, is.
I think we were provided with the intelligence to husband our resources. But somewhere along the line, we've decided to ignore that. I don't think there is anything written in the bylaws that excuses us for stupidity and greed.
For the past several months, I've been rather pleased with myself for the amount of energy I've stopped using. With regard to electricity, I was really pleased with myself for whacking our daily usage down to 6 or 7 kWh per day. With the lad home, we're clocking something like 7 or 8 kWh per day on the old meter. That's down considerably since the lad's first week home. He is now careful and has been pretty agreeable about it.
But then along comes this new challenge. The 90% challenge. I had a pretty funny response to it. First I read the rules and thought, "What a cool idea." Then I read a little more carefully and thought, "This is nuts. No one can do this." Then, to my surprise, a little bit of anger. And then I reminded myself, "Within my child's lifetime (and possibly mine), there won't be a choice."
And then I stopped. The word choice reached out and grabbed me again. Our choices, whether for justifiable or unjustifiable reasons, are still the choices that we make.
It is about choice, isn't it? Rather than thinking that it's impossible to cut that much use, I turned it around. If I only have 3 kWh of electricity to use each day, what would I choose to spend them on? What's the most important to me?
If I only have 10 gallons of water to spend a day, what do I want to spend them on? What's the most important to me?
At least these two things are places where I can make changes now. Hard choices, but possible.
But I am less sure with regard to gasoline use. Funny that. This is also about choice and I'm no more inclined to make the hard choices than the next person. Now, I have a 7 year old car that just turned 50,000 miles two days ago, so I am not a profligate gasoline spender. But according to the rules of 90%, I should only be using 100 gallons of gasoline a year (at least until the lad is no longer part of this household or a dependent). I've already spent 15 of them this month. It was a choice we made for the lad to work two or three towns away rather than in this town for three dollars less per hour. That was a conscious choice based on some good reasons. But the planet and remaining quantities of oil in the ground really don't care about our good reasons, do they? What is, is. Nevertheless, I don't think we're going to undo that choice. It seems to be an important one. So I guess what that means is a lot more walking for activities close by that I used the car for before. And a lot more careful planning and combined trips.
Natural gas use, though. That's a problem. I don't heat my house with gas except for a couple of times in the autumn and spring. It's almost entirely used for hot water and cooking. My use last year was 465 therms. And according to the rules of 90%, I'm only supposed to be using 100 therms? Sheez. If I turn my hot water down any lower, we might as well be taking cold showers. If I could eliminate pilot lights, that would help. They use about 70 therms per year, each (I called my gas company and asked). I have three. That's something to work on over the next year. It's still about choice, but a bit more difficult because the choice involves whether to replace wasteful appliances. Of course, I also consider what I'd do if I didn't have a choice and gas was rationed. Someday that may happen. I'd rather figure it out before that happened.
So, yeah, I think I am going to join the 90% challenge and see where it leads. I have a feeling it will be an interesting, frustrating, experimental, and even a surprising year of good choices, bad choices, and some downright nutty ones.
Finding new music
Tuesday, 7:25 pm
I was searching for music earlier and, quite unexpectedly, discovered the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. I’d never heard of them before. And come to find out, they’ve gained new popularity recently even garnering Grammy nominations. They’re gospel singers which is probably why I haven’t heard of them before.
In my music search on Napster (looking for something by Alabama), their music came up and I noted that one of their songs is Amazing Grace. That’s one song I will always stop to listen to. I’m frequently disappointed, but you never know.
This time, though, my jaw fell all the way to the floor when they began singing it. I had to look twice to make sure I was listening to the right song. And sure enough it really was their rendition of Amazing Grace set to the music of House of the Rising Sun. What an interesting thing to do—redemption of life gone wrong in one terrific package. I really don’t know if that was in anyone’s mind at the time they first tried it. According to this 2003 CBS article some of the members felt it was sacrilegious...yet the lyrics fit with the music so well. They couldn’t resist. I think it was brilliant.
These guys have been around for a long, lonnnng time. They are versatile from what I’ve listened to so far, with a wide range from hard core gospel to a little Curtis Mayfield, Aretha, to beautiful bluesy folk.. I now have a new favorite rendition of Amazing Grace and boy do I love it. I wish these gentlemen would sing the real House of the Rising Sun, but they won’t. They purposely avoided that fork in the road many years ago.
If you want to listen to it (you really, really do, right???), you can get it here at Rhapsody. They don’t require membership and will let you listen to 25 songs for free with no registration. While you’re there, you might also click over to the Most Played tab to listen to them sing I Shall Not Walk Alone. There is something so sweet and gentle about it. Their voices and tone are amazing. It is bluesy folk that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt. I don’t think she has ever done this song (?), but man was it made for her.
I also love their treatment of Motherless Child.
It’s so much fun when I find new music. Like...muddyharp who I also discovered today. He is all blues with intriguing voice, great guitar picking, and an outrageous harmonica. He does a fine rendition of House of the Rising Sun. Muddy Waters is fun, too. And I *love* Staesboro Blues. You could try some of his tunes at Rhapsody, too. If ya wanted. He really lets rip on the song, Train. All instrumental, mostly his harp work. It’s an arrangement of Orange Blossom Special and made everything on me want to dance. I don’t think the recording quality is particularly good on that one, but it’s passable. Bet it would be something in live performance. Here’s a 2003 article about him in Style magazine.
My toes are all tapped out now.
Monday, 2:02 pm
Out of habit, I almost wrote “Happy Memorial Day.” That’s an automatic salutation for a holiday. But I don’t think there is anything happy about Memorial Day, especially this year. Nor should there be anything automatic about referring to it as a holiday. It is kind of an automatic response and I even made that reference in my last post. But, it’s not really a holiday, is it?
Sure, we’ve turned it into the great summer kick-off weekend filled with mega-sales and picnics and get-aways. There were tons of fliers in my Sunday Boston Globe advertising blow-out sales and great savings. There was much made of the people going away for mini-vacations despite the high price of gasoline.
The front page of the Boston Globe, however, didn’t mention Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Memorial Day. Complete silence about them. And complete silence about the service men and women who are the reason for this Memorial Day weekend.
Actually, I take that back. There was one mention of Iraq in the front page’s side bar. The headline was “GOP rivals embrace unproven Iraq-9/11 tie.” Well, that’s not exactly Memorial Day deep thinking or reflection or introspection, is it?
What I did find on the front page, however, were headlines like, “Behind the wheel, on the phone, styling hair....” and “No place like home” and “Heavy TV viewing under 2 is found” and “Cuts put towns’ libraries at risk” and “Boston 2017” and “Ready to roll: NASCAR 600, Indy 500 hit the tracks today.”
I don’t get the Globe during the rest of the week, so perhaps they saved it all for today. But it is Memorial Day weekend and you’d think maybe they could devote a weekend to it. But that’s probably not what their readers want to read. Heaven forbid that we should have to be exposed to the horrors of war any more than absolutely necessary.
By inference, I suppose that means we shouldn’t have to think too hard about the service men and women who have fallen in all our names this past year, either. Maybe it makes us too uncomfortable. And, from what I’ve heard over the past few years, it is patriotic to go shopping which is, apparently, exactly what this ‘holiday’ has become. Pardon me if I don’t quite get the connection between shopping and dead service men and women.
Well, I do think about our dead service men and women nearly every day. Maybe we all do. Or maybe not. I guess we shouldn’t really need a ‘holiday’ to remember them and honor their service. But, as long we do have a national ‘holiday’ weekend designed specifically for remembering our war dead, it seems to me that we should do a more believable job of it.
I guess that’s just me, this year. It feels far more like a day of mourning than a happy, happy hot mega-sales kick-off to summer.
She's sooo tired
Sunday, 7:17 pm
The previous week caught up with me today. Yesterday was full of activity and I managed to get a lot of work done around here. Today? Not so much. My behind has been draggin’ all day long.
I may be among the few in this day and age who not only requires, but usually gets a solid eight hours of sleep at night. But summer is here and the lad is home with the screwiest work schedule I’ve ever seen. One day he works until nearly midnight and the next morning he has to be at work by 8:00...with a 20 minute commute. Needless to say there isn’t an 8 hour stretch in there for sleep. It’s been like that all week. My schedule has been more or less turned on its head.
I am so ready for a holiday tomorrow. After I fetch the lad home in a couple of hours, I’m going to crash and nobody had better knock on the front door or ring the phone until noon tomorrow. By that time, I should have the news read, a shower out of the way, two cups of coffee down the hatch, and a hummingbird or two watched. Then I’ll be approachable. That’s the goal, anyway.
That’s probably not how it’s going to work, though. Kids are exhausting.
The air conditioner wars have begun
Friday, 1:59 pm
The Air Conditioner Wars of 2007 have begun. I’m holding the line—just barely.
Today we have a preview of summer. The thermometer has reached 91° and is still climbing. At least the humidity is low, though. So it’s dry heat, right? Yeah, well, whatever. Ninety one degrees is hot whether there’s humidity or not. And with not one shade tree growing next to the house, the upstairs is already 87° and that heat will gradually creep down the stairs where it’s still a reasonably comfortable 80°.
Soon the lad will be going off to work at the air conditioned country club and, by the time he gets out, the temps will have fallen by nearly 30 degrees. Perhaps a gentle breeze will have picked up to sweep the cooling air into the house. If not, window fans will suffice. At least there won’t be any impassioned pleas for air conditioning for a few hours.
Oh for a tree. A big old tree with lots of leaves to canopy the roof.
I remember the house that I grew up in for the first sixteen years of my life. There was an enormous maple tree in front with branches extending out over most the house’s roof. Now, I know we had hot days in the summer when I was a kid. But the house was always comfortable. We didn’t have air conditioning. We didn’t need it. The shade from the maple tree kept the house cool.
I’ve lived in other houses that have been shaded by large old trees. They kept those houses comfortable during the blazing days of summer, too.
But here I am now in this house without a large tree on the property. The sun beats down on my roof all day long. The house absorbs the sun’s heat like a sponge. All because the builder, who slapped this neighborhood together, decided it was easier to chop down every tree in sight, rather than put a little thought into building the houses around a few select trees. And he was certainly not alone in doing so. That has to be one of the dumbest ideas of the latter 20th century—and one that still persists if the recent housing developments in this area are anything to go by. First they chop down all the mature trees, build energy sucking houses, and then replant tiny trees that will take years to grow large enough to provide any shade at all.
Meanwhile, I’m having my own troubles getting any tree to grow at all. I’d like to strangle that developer. Or make him live in this house for a season without an air conditioner.
Thursday, 10:26 am
For about the third day in a row, I woke up in a cranky mood. Cranky with sprinkles of cynicism. I don’t like feeling this way, but a couple of days of paying close attention to the news does that to me.
Maybe it’s the feeling of being in an alternate reality. It’s disconcerting. Yesterday the press couldn’t talk about much other than the wonderful compromise struck between Congress and the President over the Iraq funding. I kept muttering, “But where’s the compromise?” At least I didn’t shout.
But the thing that just slayed me was Nancy Pelosi talking about this fabulous compromise piece of legislation that was a good first step, toward something. And it’s so darned fabulous that she’s not going to vote for it. That’s where reality disconnected for me. I suppose if you’re going to totally sell out, you still have to put the best face on things, but come on. That was just pitiful.
My indignation was given a voice last evening through the words of Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment. Thank you, Keith, but it still wasn’t enough to break crankiness’s firm grip.
We live in a screwy world where nothing seems to be called what it really is and politics is a shell game.
This morning, I had hoped to feel a little better about the world. The sun is shining and the air is warm and luscious with the scent of lilacs. What’s not to like about that?
But, I had to take the lad to work this morning. We had a pleasant enough drive and a steady stream of chatter. Then we reached the gated community where the country club resides.
On the long winding drive, into the community—one that’s bordered by immaculately manicured golf greens (and sprinklers) and beautiful lush landscaping (and sprinklers), we passed a number of female residents, resplendent in their fancy walking duds. They were hoofing it along, working in their morning constitutionals, while they were surrounded by the plebeian worker class. Mostly hispanic men who industriously shoveled mulch or pruned plants...gardener type stuff. The workers smiled and waved back. They were in a good mood.
The walking ladies, though? Nah. They simply did not take any pains to hide their disdain for the hired help or strangers cruising through their community. While these guys were busting butt making these gloriously coiffed and stylish ladies’ environment a thing of absolute beauty, the ladies walked wide circles around the gardeners as if they might catch something from being too close. It was so pronounced that it was painful. I wanted to jump out and slap them. Truly. There is no excuse for that.
The lad and I received our share of suspicious stares as well. Despite my crankiness, I smiled and nodded at them. Didn’t get a one in return, though. My response?
Class warfare having one of its finer moments.
I passed the same stylish ladies on my way out and things hadn’t improved any. The workers smiled and nodded and waved back at me. A few shouted a cordial greeting. The ladies’ eyebrows arched in disapproval or distaste, I couldn’t be sure which was the more ascendant. I suppose that defined me as Not One Of Them, not that there was probably any doubt, anyway.
On my way out, I had to stop at the guard house to allow the guard to check me out and open the gate. I like these guards. They’re older fellows who have undoubtedly retired from their earlier life positions and are doing shifts at the community. It’s easy work and they seem to have fun. They’re also really friendly. While I stopped, the guard and I passed some idle chatter. Then I asked him, “Do you like working here?”
“Oh sure,” he said. Big grin. “You won’t find a better bunch.”
“Employees, you mean?” I asked.
“Yup.” he said with a wink. “We’re a close knit crew. We have a good time. Does you son like it here?”
“Yeah, he does. He likes his work mates, too. They do have a lot of fun.”
“See? There you go,” he said. “Is he going to be here all summer?”
“Yes, until August, I think.”
“Well, now that I know you, you won’t have to stop to sign in again. You’re one of the gang now.”
He waved me through with a wide grin and wished me a good day.
And that really should have improved my mood by leaps and bounds, but it didn’t. I thought about that all the way home. There is such a class division there. It is palpable. The thing is, based entirely on external signs, I’d be willing to place bets on who gets more enjoyment out of their day. I should take note. Smiles and good manners are easy enough. They’re free and they pay dividends. Especially if you give some back.
It’s a strange environment for an outsider. I don’t really have any irons in that fire, one way or the other, but observations are also free and they were low hanging fruit this morning.