Tag Archives: oil

The End of Suburbia, the Rise of Local Networks

We watched a documentary last night — THE END OF SUBURBIA: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream.

It’s very interesting, and some of what they predicted (the movie came out in 2004) has already happened.

But here’s one takeaway for me. There’s another reason for buying local, besides just feeling good about supporting the local economy.

I addressed the ideal of buying local in my Sustainability and Socks post, in which I concluded that buying local was not worth it for me in that case. In other cases (like the farmers’ market) I’ve found it very worthwhile.

But the movie had one really good reason. When oil really becomes scarce, we simply won’t be shipping products across the country, let alone around the world. It just won’t be an option. And we will need local options.

So if we develop local economic networks now, they will already be in place when we need them. But if we let local businesses die out, we may be stuck when the time comes.

Food for thought.

Car-Free Challenge: The Final Wrap-up

It’s been a week since I wrapped up the car-free challenge. Things have pretty much gone back to the way they were before, meaning that I don’t go out all that much, but I generally do use the car. That’s the status quo for summer. When I go back to work, I will be bicycle commuting again.

So what was the point of doing the car-free challenge, then?  Well, at first I just wanted to do something to encourage other people to try going car-free. So I asked for volunteers to go car-free for one day, and I matched those days.

But it turned out that many of you are already car-free or car-lite, including some of the people who volunteered.

It was also a response to the BP oil spill. I’ve been deeply saddened in recent months by the price we (as human beings) pay in order to be able to drive motor vehicles and use oil (and coal) for other things.

Professor Amy Myers Jaffe of Rice University told NBC News that if every American drove 30 miles less per week, it would cut our country’s oil consumption by 20 percent. I think it’s do-able. And I hope that by blogging about my life, others will realize it’s do-able, too.

Which brings me to the benefits of having done the car-free challenge.

  • Encouraging or inspiring others. Shetha said, “I have to say you’ve been motivating me to make more of an effort too.”  Other friends actually complimented me on sharing my frustrations — it’s somehow encouraging to know that I get frustrated sometimes, too. I hope that the car-free challenge series helped others as well.
  • Increased fitness. I’ve been working on my personal fitness this summer anyway. I’ve been doing the Couch to 5K running program, rather than doing cycling workouts, but cycling to various places during the car-free challenge helped with my fitness level, too. And when I almost made it up the long hill without stopping, I really knew that my fitness level had improved.
  • Time with kids. My kids like to ride,too, and I took one or more of them with me several times. They’re the main reason that I have an Xtracycle, after all!
  • More blogging! I blogged every day for ten days because of the challenge. It gave me motivation to post.

What about the negatives? Well, I did get frustrated and sick of the whole thing. And I haven’t been making an effort to bike or walk anywhere since then. So maybe being 100% car-free is not for me. I know that I can do it if necessary. But I’d rather not.

We’d probably be good candidates for a car-sharing system, like ZipCar, but they don’t have any cars out our way (and yes, I’ve told them I’m interested and suggested locations).

Living in a different neighborhood might be better for us. We could move someplace with better access to stores and services, and/or where ZipCars are available. But most of those neighborhoods are also further from our workplaces.

So for now, we’ll be sticking with our current set-up: An Xtracycle, an assortment of kids’ bikes, and a minivan.

Thank you to those who participated in the car-free challenge. I’m working on rounding up comments and/or blog posts from all of the participants and will be posting or linking to those soon.

Car-Free Challenge, Day 6: More Ways To Cut Oil Consumption

Yep, I totally just stayed in today. I signed up for SOHO Action Day with the SOHO Solutionist, Brandie Kajino, and worked on writing and sending query letters and writing an article. And my dear, dear husband took care of the children and the house, and they stopped at the store while they were out, which was his idea, so it’s not cheating!

Tomorrow is getting-the-kid-ready-for-camp day, so it may involve going out to buy a few things. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, here is a link to an informative article from GOOD on things you can do to cut your oil consumption (besides not driving).

There are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil. About 20 gallons of a barrel go to gasoline, and the rest goes into making approximately 6,000 other items we regularly use, consume, and toss.

Go find out more! And Happy Friday to you.

Oil and Coal: Who Pays the Price?

The average price per gallon of gasoline in the United States is now $2.901; that’s almost double what it was in 2003 (Wolfram|Alpha, 5/1/2010).

The average price per kilowatt hour for electricity in the United States in January 2010 was 10.54 cents. That’s up from 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour in 2003 (U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Of course, this is nothing compared to Europe, where gas is often sold for $7-8 per gallon (due to heavy taxes), and Ireland, where electricity was going for about 22 cents per kilowatt hour in 2008 (also including taxes).

But what’s the REAL cost of this energy use? I’ve read that if you account for associated environmental and health costs, gasoline costs us about $12 per gallon. That’s from a 1998 report by the International Center for Technology Assessment, so I’m not sure how that translates to 2010, but it gives you an idea. It’s similar to the method the CDC used to calculate the associated costs of cigarette smoking.

I don’t think that takes all of the human costs into account, either.  How about:

We’re paying in human lives in order to have gasoline, heat, electricity, plastics, cheap food and more.

And no, I haven’t stopped driving altogether, gone off the grid, and started producing all of our own food. So I’m complicit too.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Getting Back on the Bike

I haven’t ridden my bike since well before the Portland Snowpocalypse started (around December 15).  You see, I stupidly gave myself a flat tire, and then was unable to add more air.

One morning, the rear tire looked a little low, so I thought I’d better put a little extra air in before I left for work.  However, I’d been having trouble with our pump.  It had developed a crack in its hose.  I really needed to get going, though, so I decided to put a piece of tape over the crack and give it a try.

The pump ended up taking half the remaining air out of the tire, so that I could not ride it.  Oops.  I ended up on the bus.  Later, I could have either taken the bike to a gas station for air, or bought a new pump, but the first would have required me to remove the child seat from the bike in order to fit it in the car, and the second would have required money.  So I left the bike in the garage and took the bus for the rest of the week (although later in the week I also bought a 7-day bus pass, so the money thing doesn’t make a lot of sense in retrospect).

Then the snow hit, and I didn’t even want to ride my bike.  So it’s been sitting in the garage for the past month or so altogether.  This week, I finally bought a new pump, a new set of lights, and a front basket which allows me to carry things while my three-year old rides in the back.  I just need to inflate the tires and attach the lights and basket, and I should be ready to go again.  We’re in the middle of intense rain right now, of course, but I’ve got gear for that.

Enough about me.

The story on bikes since summer 2008 has been that bike businesses are doing well, because the high price of gasoline has been turning people to bicycle commuting.  However, the New York Times (who talked to Portlander and Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves) says that  businesses have seen a slow-down since the cold weather began, and some are wondering whether the cyclists will return when the weather warms up again.

The New York Times also has an interesting graph showing that bicycle unit sales actually surpassed automobile unit sales in the early 1970’s, and that they had the potential to do so in 2008 as well (data for 2008 was as yet incomplete).

Meanwhile, an Associated Press article gives us a good reason to get back into more active forms of commuting:  it lowers obesity rates!  Well, duh — but the article does give statistics comparing obesity rates in American commuters with those in countries where walking and biking rates are higher.

And finally, Peter Nierengarten of Southeast Portland writes an excellent letter to the Oregonian detailing his ideas for keeping a new I-5 bridge in Portland from increasing car commuting and urban sprawl.  Scroll down to the fourth letter, “Improve bridge, limit sprawl.”

More Car-free News

Willamette Week reports on a family on a low-car diet, courtesy of ZipCar.  They’re not totally car-free, but they’re not using their personal car — just bus, bike, feet, carpool, and the occasional ZipCar.  

This is really appealing to me.  I’d like to be car-free.  We don’t, however, have any ZipCars near us.  So far, ZipCar hasn’t seen any need to serve East County.  So I’m still hesitant to actually sell the car, as there probably will be times when we need/want one.  I will also have to convince my husband that we can do it.

Anyone have a car-free story to share?  Or a link to a good story?

I-5: Bridges, busses, bikes, and I can’t think of a b-word for light rail

Non-Portlanders, bear with me — this is a local issue, but it’s probably the sort of thing that may come up in your area too (or perhaps it already has).

Summary of the situation:  I-5 crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.  The bridge there (actually two side-by-side spans) is in need of repair/replacement/expansion due to age and increased traffic. The current Locally Preferred proposal (so designated by six local partner agencies) would “replace the existing Interstate Bridges to carry I-5 traffic, light rail, pedestrians and bicyclists across the Columbia River. The new bridges will not have a bridge lift. They will carry three through-travel lanes and up to three auxiliary lanes for entering and exiting the highway in each direction. Like today, northbound and southbound traffic would be on separate bridges.”

Problem:  Naturally, not everyone agrees with this plan.  Some think it will just encourage more car traffic and urban sprawl.  Some think we shouldn’t bother with light rail, just cars.

Why am I thinking about this today? President Bush has just designated the I-5 bridge replacement as a high priority project, which will make it happen much faster.

What I think:  I’m strongly in favor of alternative transportation.  I think we need to get out of our cars — and yes, I need to do better with that, too.  However, we aren’t going to eliminate all car and truck traffic.  In fact, one of the main reasons for fixing the I-5 bridge problem is that I-5 is a major truck route, transporting goods up and down the west coast.

We also need to have a safe crossing for the cars, trucks and busses that are on the road.   We don’t need a bridge collapsing into the Columbia River.

So, I think we do need a new bridge, along with the promised pedestrian/bike/transit upgrades.  As far as preventing increased congestion and sprawl goes, I think that’s another matter entirely.  We do need major lifestyle changes — but we’ve got to convince people in some other way, not by bottlenecking traffic or by allowing a bridge to fall into disrepair.

However, the issue is even more complex than thatOther potential problems include contamination of Vancouver, Washington’s drinking water resulting from bridge construction, air and noise pollution affecting residents near the construction site (many of them low income), and possible effects on endangered species of fish in the Columbia River.

After reading all of that today, I’m still somewhat reluctantly in favor of the current proposal.  I think it best balances the needs of area residents.  I do think the project managers should be required to take all possible measures to protect the environment and area residents, though.

Bush Still Pushing Offshore Drilling

This is really p*ssing me off.

Especially this quote:  “Now the ball is squarely in Congress’ court,” he added. “Democratic leaders can show that they have finally heard the frustrations of the American people by matching the action I have taken today.”

As I’ve said before, making new offshore oil leases available will accomplish exactly nothing — except to put more money in the oil companies’ pockets.

Members of Congress, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, can show us they care by taking action to make alternative forms of transportation and energy available to more people.  That won’t be easy, but it is necessary.