Relocalizing, resilience and community-building are hallmarks of the Transition Movement, but at the heart of it all is energy descent. This recognizes that 1. global warming is real and threatens not only our way of life but life itself, and 2. easy energy is history (aka Peak Oil). Absent a technological breakthrough that can be scaled quickly enough to fill current needs, energy shortfall is the reality we are all facing, sooner rather than later. Energy, including our own human energy, is something we have some control over, so it behooves us to experiment, here and now, in order to become better able to handle it and other challenges, e.g. food and potable water shortages, that could arise further down the road.
‘Cheap’ energy has created our civilization and continues to drive it forward (although the costs will soar once externalities become accounted for). So in one sense, people who already ‘make do’ with far less energy have a leg up on us. To take one example: as difficult as it is to imagine in the Southeastern U.S., with millions of square feet artificially cooled, many people around the world have developed other strategies for dealing with extreme heat. Think mud walls. Strategically placed trees and landscaping. Minimal clothing. Communal watering holes. Siestas. Evening strolls (paseo). Even spicy foods. Hold these in your mind while you recall that the thousands of people who succumbed to the ‘killer’ heat wave of 2003 were all in the developed parts of Europe, many housed in apartments during power outages, many isolated from family and friends.
What might we be able to learn from our ancestors and extant native traditions about cooling it?
As I sit here in my home office, feeling over-cooled though the thermostat reads 79°F, I find myself thinking about fellow Transitoners and artists, Beju Lejobart and Sherryl Muriente – he from France, she from Puerto Rico – who defy conventional wisdom that AC is best and have devised any number of methods to cool their single-family home in a neighboring town, including strategic positioning of fans to encourage cross-ventilation and a swimming pool they happily use in the middle of a hot night. Sherryl also teaches urban planning at FAU, and dreams up ways of making small urban spaces more human-scale, walkable and liveable. See C’est La Via.
Although we’re far from a Net-Zero existence, we keep adding to our personal energy descent plan in as many ways as we can. This morning, we got an invoice for $108. from Pear Energy, the renewable resources company that powers our home and EV. In May, our power was supplied by Superior Wind Project, in Iowa, which came on-line in Spring 2009. We have previously been powered by Lakota Wind, also in Iowa, and now have the opportunity to switch to solar energy via Gainesville Regional Utilities for an extra $.01 per kilowatt-hour. When people who attend one of my rants, uh, presentations on global warming ask me, What can I do? I suggest the 10% local foods challenge, composting, and switching to Pear Energy as three very doable choices. No martyrdom here.
We cannot wait to see how the White House initiative on ‘carbon pollution’ will play out (or what kind of reframing will make global warming more easily digested by more people.) There is much we ordinary citizens can do about our own energy usage, and in Southeast Florida, that means paying attention to AC. Here are a few random facts and observations
- Most indoor spaces are too cool for comfort (ask most women). We need smarter thermostats and zoned HVAC in our homes, and more responsive retailers, restaurateurs and public officials.
- “Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We’re cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that’s still habitable.” William Saletan
- Refrigerators and air conditioners are the largest consumers of energy in American homes today. Find ways to cut down.
- AC use for the average American home emits over 6,600 pounds CO2 a year. Maybe smaller spaces are an answer. See LifeEdited. Or the Tiny House movement.
- The U.S. uses more air conditioning than the rest of the world combined, but that is about to change as the developing world catches up. Let’s hope not.
- Even Eskimos are purchasing AC units.
Final note: I added a Solar Charger to my sunny East window this morning and plugged in the iPhone I’m trying to rely on less. Two hours later, 100% charged. One small step for energy self-sufficiency…
EPA, Clean Energy Calculations — very useful for an energy audit
Carbon Rally — take the challenge