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, November 22, 2010


14 November 2010

I'm finally getting flowers on my bell peppers and jalapeno plants!  Being that my plants are growing inside, however, means that there are no insects to pollinate the flowers into fruit-bearing plants.  This is a problem that greenhouses run into because of the lack of insects, as well as some small city gardens where the insect population isn't in full swing. 

There are two kinds of pollinating plants; " those that produce male and female blossoms, and those that only produce one type of flower. The former include plants such as zucchini and squash, cucumber, and watermelon. In the latter category are eggplant and bean. These are called "perfect", "bisexual" or "complete" flowers because everything is contained within each bloom. Hand-pollinating is not difficult for either type of plant, but the approach is different"

The good news is pollination is fairly simple to simulate.  One of the easiest ways is to introduce ventilation fans which allow the pollen to circulate from flower to flower.  In the same way, shaking the plants which flower buds gently will allow pollen to fall.  If this doesn't work, however, you can pollinate by hand using a small paintbrush or q-tip. 

With plants that produce male and female blossoms, the females can be identified by a tiny vegetable bud growing at the base of the flower.  To pollinate this type of plant, snip a few of the male blossoms off of the stem, remove the petals, and shake pollen into the female flowers.  For plants whose buds have both male and female parts, I used a Q tip to transfer pollen from the male 'stigmas' onto the single female 'anther' in the center. 

My understanding is that the blossoms will close up when pollinated and begin to grow the fruit.  If the flowers are not closed up after a day or so, try pollinating them again. 

Good luck little peppers!

bell pepper flower

green bean flower


Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life,
life without work,
life for free. 

The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident.

In this sense, oil is a fairy tale and like every fairy tale,

a bit of a lie.

Ryszard Kapuscinski (quoted in Crude by Sonia Shah)

deepwater horizon 4.20.2010


12 November 2010

One of the people to blame for me doing this project is Colin Beavan, writer of the book No Impact Man, and movie of the same name  A writer in New York City, Colin drags his wife Michelle and baby girl along as he attempts to change their lifestyles to be as 'no impact' as possible for one year. 

In phases (an idea in retrospect that I would have copied), the Beavan family focus on changing the following aspects of their lives one at a time: Consumption, Trash, Transportation, Food, Energy, Water and Giving Back.

For one year, they don't buy anything new except food, eliminate trash as much as possible by composting and shopping at farmer's markets, get around only by bicycle and scooter, eat locally, turn off their electricity (including heat and refrigeration) and try to find ways to improve their environment both environmentally and socially. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, I saw the movie last summer when brainstorming ideas for my thesis project and was immediately brainwashed.  There are some really beautiful moments of their family becoming closer and learning about what they really need while doing the experiment that are captured in the movie.  What could be looked at as drudgery and sacrifice they find ways to use their situation to their advantage, kicking a TV habit, losing weight, spending more time together, and reducing their desire for material things.

Although I got a lot of my ideas of how to frame my project from watching the Beavan's experience, I thought it would be more relevant to give the project a scenario that would give me clear 'criteria' or 'rules'.  Although I focused initially on '100 days without oil', it has morphed into more of '100 days living within an energy, food and water balance'. 

YES! Magazine has asked me to participate in (and blog about) doing Colin's one-week No Impact Man Experiment  This is basically a one-week trial of what his family did for a year.  Each day is a focus on a new aspect of the project.  Hundreds of people across the country and world sign up to try the experiment which is held a couple times a year, and write about their experiences. 

While I have some criticisms No Impact Man after doing my own version, it will be interesting to compare our methods.  No Impact Man is an expereiment admittedly driven by guilt.  The subtitle of his book is: Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who attempts to Save the Plant and the Discoveries he makes about our Way of Life in the process.  While guilt is certainly a motivator for people, it isn't really a sustainable motivator.  I outlined the motivation for my experiment to be one of understanding how to survive in a post-cheap oil world.  By eliminating the 'guilt' or 'choice' factor, I am allowed to focus more on how we will make these changes, but have realized at the end of this project that it does all come down to our choices, and addressing that is extermely important. 

Colin's experiment seems to more vaguely define what 'no impact' is, allowing himself to pick and choose what aspects of his life me would like to change.  At the same time, they radically change some aspects of their life by not using any electricity.  Because we will never have NO energy, I feel that it is more relevant to play out a scenario of what may be happening in our futures.  Our projects are similar in that, neither one of us is trying to say that we WILL live this way at some point or even SHOULD live this way.  It is more of a test of our dependencies on systems that we were born into and didn't necessarily choose.  By taking many of the luxuries we have (because of energy resources of oil and coal) away for a while, we are allowed to see our attachment to them.

While his family goes back to their 'old' habits of living in some ways at the end of the project, they keep many of the changes and promote their experiment through their testimonials that their experience made them happier and healthier, gave them more time and saved them money. 

Needless to say, I haven't necessarily come to all the same conclusions. 

Starting Jan 3rd, however, I'll give No Impact Man a chance, for anyone who wants to join along, here is a link to the experiment: