At this point, I think it’s safe to say that just about all of us feel some unease about the energy picture, whether it’s the climate crisis, as confirmed yet again this month by reports from NOAA that this year is on track to break another temperature record, the looming specter of peak oil and the impending price shocks that are only a matter of time, or the massive Gulf Oil leak that is threatening lives and livelihoods across an entire region of the world.
All of these portend the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era and the way of life that came with it.
Whether we take concerted action as a society in recognition of the fact that these fuels are simply too risky (is nuclear really any safer?) and too costly to continue using or we simply wait until they begin to run out and the prices soar out of reach; it is only a matter of time before the ramifications of our obviously misguided energy policy come knocking on each of our doors.
Many of us feel powerless in the face of these monumental changes, but in fact, now is the time to begin taking steps that will help us weather the storm, many of which will, in fact, lessen the storm’s impact for everyone. Transition Towns is an organization, that began in England and is now sweeping across this country, helping people address the question of economic resiliency in the face of looming increases in energy prices.
Is it too soon to begin thinking about going solar? Imagine how secure you would feel having your own energy source sitting on your roof as you watched energy prices go soaring through it. Perhaps you might even have an electric car or a plug-in hybrid vehicle that you can charge overnight, for free, from the panels. Skeptics say that we could never switch over quickly enough to make a difference, but if people switched to solar at anywhere near the rate they’ve switched to cell phones, you better believe it would make a huge difference.
As you can see, getting prepared doesn’t necessarily mean giving up our current way of life entirely, though it does require changing more than the way we power it. We will need to reconsider the amount and kind of goods we buy, the kinds of food we eat and where they come from, as well as our way of dealing with waste and water if we are going to be able to make the transition to a sustainable society.
If perhaps you are not ready to become your own power company, there is at least one thing that you can and should do right away. Become informed. Stay tuned to this website. Follow me on Twitter. Check out my book and take a look at this really cool energy usage visualization tool. This iconic tool was developed for GE by Lisa Strausfeld, an alum of the MIT Media Lab. She is considered by many to be a master information architect. Her talent apparently lies in her ability to present complex data in ways that are extraordinarily accessible.
The icons in the graphic represent various home appliances and it shows how much power they require or how much energy they will consume over a given time frame. If you play with it for a few minutes, you will learn that an electric can opener uses five times more power than cable box, and that an LCD TV uses significantly less power than a plasma model. You can also sort the results in several ways including how many equivalent gallons of gas the device would require, and how long you can run each device on one kilowatt hour of electricity. The results for this one range from 60,000 messages on an answering machine (does anyone still use those?) to 3 minutes of run time for an electric furnace. My only complaint about the site is that it doesn’t show how much carbon dioxide is generated by each activity. For a rough estimate though, you can take the number of equivalent gallons of gas and multiply by twenty which is the number of pounds of carbon given off when a gallon of gas is burned.