This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Monday, October 18, 2010


13 October 2010

I have a confession.  The past 2-3 weeks or so I have slowly started to phase out of using the water barrel, falling back into more 'comfortable' habits of water use.  I have been running tap water to; do the dishes, fill up my shower bucket, wash my face and hands and brush teeth. I've been feeling kind of guilty about this because although I have a vague idea of how much water I'm using running the tap, I don't really know for sure.  To ease my conscience, and to make sure I am keeping on track with this project I wasted a bunch of water today running all the fixtures I use in my house to see what the exact flow rates were (timing myself to see how long it takes to do each task).

It was really interesting to actually take a timer and see how long I run a tap doing dishes or washing my hands.  I found that I only run a tap for; 20 seconds each time I wash my hands or brush my teeth, 1 minute to wash my face, and 7 minutes for rinsing dishes while washing.  I measured the flow rate of my shower head which came out to be 2 gallons/minute. I timed how long it took for me to do everything first.  Then ran the faucet at the same rate for each specific amount of time, capturing it in a 1 gallon bucket to measure. 

What I found was really interesting.  Most of my habits have really not changed from what I was using before the project started.  Everyday water uses such as drinking, cleaning food, house cleaning, hand washing and doing dishes are all consistent with my uses before the project. 

This scared me a little bit until I looked at the 'big users':
_Toilet flushing
_Clothes washing

Showering, toilet flushing, clothes washing and taking a bath use TONS of water.  My shower (which is a regular shower head, not low flow) fills up a gallon bucket in 30 seconds.  This means it has a flow rate of 2 gallons/minute, and a typically 10 min shower uses 20 gallons!  I used to take a bath about every week which is 70 gallons of water (10 gallons a day if measuring daily).  An average toilet flush is 2 gallons (5 times a day = 10 gallons).  By flushing only twice a day and putting a milk carton in my tank to make it 'low flow' I only use 1.6 gallons per flush (3.2 gallons per day).  Lastly, as I've mentioned before, a typical clothes washer uses 42 gallons per load (6 gallons a day if doing only 1 load a week).  My method of washing uses 14 gallons (2 gallons a day) and I haven't even been doing laundry every week. 

The chart below shows all my daily water uses, the big users stand out clearly (click to enlarge):

In total, the amount of water I was using before this project was 48 gallons/day.  I am now using an average of 15 gallons per day.  And the only things I have changed are showering, bathing and clothes washing.  The point is, when it comes to water, there really seem to be a few 'big water users' that are responsible for our huge over consumption of water. (Another big one that doesn't apply to my living situation is watering the lawn).

In the beginning of the project I was trying REALLY hard to minimize water in all aspects of my life: Using only 1 gallon of water total to do dishes (which my roommates loved because there was always dish soap left on them).  I was deciding what I cooked based on much water it would take to boil, and in general minimizing every use as much as possible.  This wasn't easy, and I was constantly worrying about how much I was using and struggling to use the least possible.  Once I had established some changed habits which addressed big water users (shower, toilet and clothes washing primarily) I fell back into 'comfortable habits' of water use and found that I am still using EXACTLY my water budget.  What a relief.  It was really enlightening to measure all my uses and total them for each day, I think for many people, doing an exercise like this would help them identify what the big water users in their life were and help to target those and ease some of the worry every time we turn on the tap.

We are fortunate in Minnesota to have a decent amount of average rain and precipitation (29.3 inches/year).  In a place like Phoenix, AZ (which only gets 8.6 inches/year) meeting my water budget would be significantly more difficult.  However, there are also plenty of regions in this country and throughout the world that get quite a bit more rain than we do as this graphic from illustrates:

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