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)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


2 November 2010

Yeah, eat.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found 212 environmental chemicals in people's blood or urine. While many of these are the result of breathing chemicals and rubbing them into our skin, some are actually intentionally eaten

One of the most widely used medications in the world, the main ingredient in aspirin is a petroleum-based synthetic ingredient called acetylsalicyclic acid. 
Some experts say that a woman can ingest up to four pounds of lipstick over the course of a lifetime.  Petrochemicals are very prevalent in cosmetics. Examples include lip gloss, which is commonly made from petroleum oil, and nail polish, which contains petroleum-derived solvents such as toluene. Many cosmetics on the market contain harmful phthalates. The Environmental Working Group’s interactive website lists cosmetics by brand name and the hazardous ingredients contained in them. Visit it at
"One of the greatest risks from using cosmetic and personal care products comes from the daily exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and cancer precursors.  Among the most widely used carcinogens are the coal-tar colors, listed on labels as FD&C and D&C colors.  Although the FDA maintains that the risk to humans is minimal, the World Health Organization considers every coal-tar color a probable carcinogen" ("Toxic Cosmetics: If Looks could Kill" by Bonnie Jenkins - Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin)

Chewing gum
While people have been chewing on resin from Mastic trees and a sap from a sapodilla tree to freshen their breathe since the ancient Greeks, for reasons of economy and quality many modern chewing gums use petroleum-based polymers instead of chicle. In other words, chewing gum users today are chewing a flavoured, synthetic rubber that is non biodegradable. (
from the Vegetarian Resource Group
Most chewing gums innocuously list "gum base" as one of their ingredients, masking the fact that petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, and latex (a possible allergen) may be among the components.

Triacetin is a petroleum based chemical used as a plasticizer for thin-film coating on the surface of many pills.

Artificial Flavors/Colors
To give just one example:
Yellow 5 (tartrazine)(E number E102 or C.I. 19140)
-a synthetic lemon yellow azo dye used as a food coloring
Food:-commonly found in: confectionery, cotton candy, soft drinks (Mountain Dew), energy drinks instant puddings, flavored corn chips (Doritos, Nachos, etc), cereals (corn flakes, muesli, etc.), cake mixes, pastries, custard powder, soups (particularly instant or “cube” soups), sauces, some rices (like paella, risotto, etc.), powdered drink mixes, sports drinks, ice cream, ice pops, candy, Peeps marshmallow treats, chewing gum, marzipan, jam, jelly, gelatins, marmalade, mustard, horseradish, yogurt, noodles such as Kraft Dinner, pickles and other pickled products, certain brands of fruit squash, fruit cordial, potato chips, Biscuits, and many convenience foods together with glycerin, lemon and honey products
Non-food products: soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, moisturizers, crayons, hand sanitizer and stamp dyes
Medications: vitamins, antacids, medicinal capsules
Alternatives: annatto, malt color or betacarotene

Mineral Oil-
A by-product of the distillation of petroleum.  Taken orally as a lubricative laxative to ease constipation.  Banned in Europe for the risk of absorption into internal tissues.  Mineral Oil is used in the food industry, particularly for candy to produce a glossy effect and to keep candy pieces from sticking to each other (swedish fish).  It is commonly as a preservative on cutting boards, salad bowls and utensils because it prevents water absorption.  It is also added to canned foods to preserve them in place of vegetable oil.  "Mineral oils" have been demonstrated in human tissues. While no demonstrable pathological consequences have occurred from the presence of such oils in human tissues resulting from ingestion, its storage is considered to be undesirable and exposure to mineral oils should be kept to a minimum." (

Many toothpastes include ingredients made from petroleum, such as artificial colors and mineral oil. Baking soda or natural toothpaste is a better choice.
Pthalates are a particular group of petrochemicals that are known to have endocrine disrupting properties. Pthalates are used to make rigid plastics soft and pliable and are also commonly added to cosmetics. Pthalates are linked to elevated rates of endocrine disruption and are possibly carcinogenic. A Centers for Disease Control report found alarming rates of pthalates in urine and blood samples. Some common pthalates and the items in which they are used include: Di-ethyl phthalate (DEP): Toothbrushes, auto parts, tools, toys, food packaging, insecticides, mosquito repellents, aspirin, and volatile components of cosmetics – perfumes, nail polishes, and hair sprays

Plastic Wrapped food — An advertisement for the American Plastic Council calls plastic “an important part of your healthy diet,” noting, “ you could think of them as the sixth basic food group.” Yum! How true this is when you take into account the fact that plastics tend to migrate into food, especially meats, cheeses, and other fatty foods. More migration occurs if food is heated or microwaved in plastic containers. The safest bet is to avoid food sold or stored in plastic, especially plastic wraps, PVC, and polystyrene foam. Source:

Breast Milk
If breast milk from American women were bottled and sold commercially, it would be banned by the US Food and Drug Administration because it is contaminated with more than 100 industrial chemicals, including dioxins and pesticides. Despite the presence of toxic chemicals in human milk, breast feeding is a highly desirable practice. Breast feeding gives an infant immunity against gastrointestinal diseases and respiratory infections; it may also offer protection against food allergies. Furthermore, the alternatives (prepared formulas) are even less healthy. Source: Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News #193.

Meat and Dairy Products
Chemicals from the petroleum manufacturing process enter our bodies through the foods we eat, especially meat and dairy products. Chemicals such as pesticides and antibiotics tend to accumulate in milk and in animal flesh. Another way in which we ingest petrochemicals and dioxins is less obvious: The manufacture and incineration of PVC (polyvinylchloride, #3) creates and disperses dioxins into the air and water. From there, they enter the food chain and accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals.

some information found at:


1 November, 2010

Well the heat has been officially kicked on by landlord gods.  And, while I have been excited to once again live in a habitable environment, I have also been dreading this moment.  Space heating uses a LOT of energy, and while I wasn't sure until now how much exactly that was, I had a feeling that I might be in for some trouble.  We don't pay for our heating bill (luckily) but I was able to request the natural gas bills for the last year from my landlord.

The facts are these:

This statement reflects all natural gas use for our entire house; water heating and hydronic radiant heating (we have an electric stove so no gas included).  My house is a duplex with equal floor areas of 1,490 sf each, so dividing by 2 gives a rough total for our level.  As you can see, the gas is measured in 'therms' and there is a big difference in the winter months from the use in the summer.  In the warmer months, the only gas use is water heating, so this gives an accurate picture of how much energy is used to heat water- an average of 34 therms per month for the whole house, so 17 therms for our floor . While I need to include all of the floor area 1,490 sf in my 'energy budget' because I occupy most of this space, I can divide by three for the water heating portion and assume that I use an average of 5.6 therms per month.

By converting therms into kWh, I can compare space heating energy to the other quantities of energy that I am using.....moment of truth:

So our house heats for 6 months out of the year and uses an average of 2,818.37 kWh during these months.  January is the coldest month and uses 4,806.36 kWh.  This means that on an average heating day we use 93.95 kWh EACH DAY.  Water heating is year-round, and using average data from the 6 months of only water heating, the house uses 498.21 kWh each month.  This means my personal use is one-third of that at 124.55 kWh each month, or 16.6 kWh each day. 

Remembering back to my earlier graphs of energy use for various things, I've added space heating, water heating and the amount of energy it takes to clean water (1.8 watts/gallon according to a report- "Energy Use At Wisconsin's Drinking Water Faciltiies" Energy Center of Wisconsin (July 2003). 

click to enlarge

As you can see, space heating trumps all other energy use (of the energy users I have identified so far).  Water cleaning is shortly after.  Space heating every week is 7.5 times the energy required for transportation.  704 kWh are required for average heating throughout the winter, which is 93.95 kWh each day.  My energy budget is 12 kWh per day (the amount of energy we can capture on our roof divided by 2 apartments).  Clearly, the energy required for heating requires a much different strategy.  Like....not living in Minnesota? 

Ok, without jumping to conclusions, there more efficient ways of heating spaces.  Passive solar homes come to mind, where heat from the sun is absorbed and trapped inside building materials with sufficient thermal mass.  Super-insulated homes such as the Passive House ( also have the opporunitity to greater reduce heating energy by reducing the amount of heat lost through wall systems. 

My first reaction to these numbers was to feel like nothing I have been doing up to this point has really made any difference.  In comparison to how much energy is required simply to heat my space, all of the other energy users COMBINED don't even add up to half.  However, there are other major energy users which are not yet represented on my graph.  The amount of energy required to eat food from all over the country and world versus eating locally is a big one that I havn't pinned down yet.  

My advisor mentioned a while back that many people on raw or vegan diets who want to eat local foods year round have relocated to places where this kind of lifestyle can be accomodated (like california where things GROW).  I would speculate that in a post-cheap oil world, we may find ourselves in a position where we are re-evaluating where we have chosen to live- and the price we will pay both economically and energy-wise to accomodate living here.