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)

Sunday, October 3, 2010


30 September 2010

The University of Minnesota has an institute called Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives which works to improve the Universities and surrounding communities access and understanding of healthy foods by funding research and increasing connections and communication.  They put on a conference annually which I attended with a few friends today.  The conference was a day of listening to speakers about various food topics, the general consensus being that Americans need to eat MORE PLANT FOODS. 

The first speaker-Paul Coates-talked about dietary supplements.  50% of Americans use dietary supplements resulting in a $26 billion/year industry with over 50,000 products on the market.  Why are people so into dietary supplements?  Because we don't get enough nutrients from the diets we currently eat.  Ironically, the majority of people using dietary supplements are the ones who don't really need them.  They are the people who already eat generally healthy diets, are concerned about their health and exercise regularly, so these supplements really aren't successfully filling a need.  While supplements can be an important part of someones diet, they should not be used to 'replace' real nutrients found in foods.  The most healthy way to get the nutrients you need is to EAT them.

David J.A. Jenkins then spoke about foods for disease prevention and his 'Portfolio Diet' experiments.  His argument was similar to the one the author of "Green For Life" (green smoothies) book that I mentioned earlier, that our genes have not changed significantly over evolutionary time and we should be eating diets more more similar to our close primate relatives than the Standard American Diet (SAD).  Jenkins had done 3 test diets which had various levels of vegetables and greens integrated.  The most extreme version was the Simian Diet in which participants needed to eat 63 servings of fruits and vegetables a day in order to maintain their body weight.  This would be about 9-10 hours of eating, a total of 5.5 kg of food in and 1 kg of feces out a day (constipation is not a problem in this diet). 

A lunch of acorn squash stuffed with a wild rice mixture and steamed brussel sprouts and carrots was served to us. All local!  And we ended up sitting at a table of nutrition graduate students and the woman behind Spoonriver (a local foods restaurant in Minneapolis) - Brenda Langton.  I asked Brenda about the local foods served at Spoonriver and she gave me the same answer that many local foods restaurants have that they serve local food when it is in season exclusively, but as the weather gets cold, they switch to a conventional diet.  I can see why restaurants want to avoid freezing, drying or canning foods if not necessary (because they can get it fresh from another source) but I would be really interested and excited to see a local foods restaurant that was year-round local. 

After lunch, Melissa Laska spoke about food public policy issues.  She had some interesting statistics:
_$517.7 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on food at home, whereas $445.1 billion is spent on food service.  This means we eat 42.4% of our food from restaurants and fast food. 
_Food accounts for 11.8% of our total incomes (much less than in almost every other country of the world) Families below the poverty line, however, spend about 20% of their income on food.
_Each household spends an average of $6,000 on food/year.

There were some shocking statistics on how much of our food is imported:
On average:
79% of fish
16% of wine/beer
32% of fruit/nuts
13% of vegetables
12% of grains
11% of sweets
11% of red meat

98% of our limes come from Mexico, 51% of our garlic comes from China, 8 countries account for 80% of spices.


Below is a chart showing a typical week of bicycle commuting (click to enlarge):

In this week (sept 12-18th) I biked 77.2 miles.  It took me a total of 5:34.8 hrs

I wanted to compare how much energy would have been used if I had been driving my car everywhere instead of biking.

I used the following calculation to find how many gallons are used in each commute:

(33 mpg) (gallons used) = distance

For example on the chart, I would have used 0.53 gallons of gas on a day I commute 17.6 miles.  There are 36.6 kWh in each gallon of gas, so this translates to 19.398 kWh saved on that particular day. 

In total, I have 'saved' 2.325 gallons of gas and 85.095 kWh this week bicycling instead of driving. 

HOWEVER, I AM using some energy to get around with my bike.  It is about 500 calories worth of energy to bike 12 miles (typical distance biking). I converted my kWh per day amounts to calories to see how many calories you would need to run a car going the same distance:

1 kWh = 3,600,000 J
There are 4.18 J per calorie so,
1 kWh= 861,000 calories

In a day I commute 12 miles I use 13.176 kWh:

13.176 kWh x 861,000 calories/kWh = 11,344,536 calories that my car uses in a typical day of commuting, versus 500 on my bike.  So I am using 0.000044% of the energy my car uses by biking my commute (and I have pretty good gas mileage -33 mpg).  Whoa.

To make an even more ridiculous comparison, I calculated how many 'mpg' my bike gets from the energy I have to consume in calories to move myself:

1 gallon of gas = 132 MJ
4.18 J in one calorie (4.18 J x 500 calories = 2090 J)
2090 J/132,000,000 J = 0.00001583 gallons in 12 miles of biking

(mpg) (0.0000158 gallons used) = 12 miles

My bike gets 759,493.67 MPG.  Yeah, thats right, try to manufacture THAT Toyota.

midtown greenway