Monday, November 21, 2005

Peak Oil Preparations

Some people in Petaluma have been getting together to talk about preparing as a community for the end of oil. I was unable to make the first potluck meeting, but had the privilege of joining the second.

While I have my doubts that oil is going to peak before we destroy the world with CO2 emissions, I've long been interested in decreasing my own ecological footprint. So I felt I was with congenial souls. Some in the group want to make changes at the city government level, while others--myself included--want to do things as a small group and then publicize our successes as a model for the larger community. Chances are good that at some point conservation is going to be an economic necessity.

One thing we are going to do right away is set up a food exchange, so I can find both someone to use my persimmons and someone who has a more successful winter vegetable garden than I do with produce to share.

Another interesting proposition that came up was the idea of a campaign to plant more fruit trees in sidewalk parking strips, so there is a bounty of fruit for the whole town to share. A concurrent step would be to generate a "produce map" of the city, so people could find the fruit they needed at a particular time.

Last year I visited Seville, Spain, where Seville oranges--prized everywhere except Seville by marmalade lovers--grow everywhere. The Sevillanos themselves consider the bitter fruit a nuisance. Maybe diversity is the key.

Personally, I'm an olive lover in touch with others who informally share olive-harvesting locations around town. Most olive trees are planted as ornamentals, and the olives, which are easy to cure, go to waste. Yet in terms of food energy, olives--almost pure fat--pack a wallop.

My own interest is in exchanging concrete ideas on how to be more efficient as individuals and as a small community.

Can someone show me how to set up a rain-barrel? A solar hot water heater? A bicycle generator? I frequently ride my stationary bicycle while watching TV because I need the exercise to stay healthy; what if I could power my TV--or computer or washing machine or coffee grinder or kitchen blender or a couple of lightbulbs--with my bicycle?

I've always been interested in the modern paradox of having so many labor-saving devices that if we want to avoid becoming cardiac patients we have to schedule energy-expending sessions (exercise) to make up for all the exercise we've avoided by using those labor-saving devices. And there seems to be no connection between labor-saving and exercise. Do the ranks of exercise bikes in the local gym return anything to the energy cycle? In terms of sheer economics it would make sense to have those bikes generating electricity to run the lights and other power devices, but I bet no one has even thought of it.

What are others doing to conserve water? I have gallon buckets in the bathrooms and kitchen. I collect the gallon of water that has to run before the water gets hot and use it to flush my toilets. I also save rinse water from a dishpan when I wash dishes.

I'm not bragging; it's only a very minimal exploration, using painless ways to save water. I don't yet turn off the shower when I'm washing, because I'm so attached to that stream of hot water. I don't have two dishpans in the sink--one for washing and one for rinsing--nor have I set up a system to divert washing machine rinse water to the garden. But the few things I do make me think every time I turn on the water about whether I could use that water more than once.

What are people doing in other areas of conservation?

Here are some other ideas that came up during our meeting:

Neighborhood ethanol stills using waste products from the garden to generate fuel. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for cars.

Using money responsibly by investing locally.

Learning from the Willits, California model of "economic localization.


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