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)

Friday, October 1, 2010


28 September 2010

Germany's "grandfather of green building", Joachim Eble of Joachim Eble Architektur came to speak at the University of Minnesota today, I attended a brown-bag session with him which was a smaller group of people and allowed us to have more of a discussion than lecture.  My fellow architecture folks and I sat among a wide variety of people with different interests ranging from public policy and urban design, to people simply interested in starting to learn about sustainable urbanism. 

Many of the questions people were asking circled around the observation that many countries in Europe, including Germany have been able to integrate sustainable living into their urban communities in a way that is almost non-existent in the United States.  Residents come together in groups of families in Germany and create a kind of co-op housing situation in which they design their entire community from the ground up in order to live in a sustainable way.  Many people were asking, "how do we do that here?" and more pointedly, "how do we get people to be INTERESTED in doing that here."  Which eventually led to, "how can we get our government to pass laws to MAKE people do that here."  It really made me think about who it is that catalyzes change in society, a 'which comes first' scenario - is it the PEOPLE, or the GOVERNMENT who is responsible for making change.  WHO HAS POWER.

Eble (who talks really slowly and quietly) responded that "Every government is a mirror of the consciousness of society." To me that means, that, like most things, it isn't black and white.  Governments are made up of individuals as well, and individual change is the catalyst for any kind of change.  Governments need the push from people to make changes because ultimately, government can be seen as a our collective mind.  We are really responsible, in a way, for what everyone else thinks, and what we ourselves think.  And in that way, we are responsible for changes which need to be made and to reach some kind of collective decisions as a society. 

Personally, I don't think I have ever been that good at 'convincing' people of the importance of environmental issues.  It is easy for me to get frustrated with people who I don't think 'understand' the issues.  Too quickly, I jump to the conclusion that people are just ignorant, clinging to a way of life that is actually quite detrimental to themselves, as well as our environment.  However, a deeper look into the issue has revealed to me that we are really all fighting for the SAME thing.  We are all driven to act a certain way because a certain amount of FEAR we have of losing our WAY OF LIFE. 

One one side, there are the people unwilling to accept that humans are responsible for climate change, and, in the same category are those who understand this but are still unwilling to change their lifestyles in any way regardless.  Why are they unwilling to accept this? Even when climate change has been scientifically linked human behavior?  They are AFRAID, and rightly so, its kinda scary.  Can you really blame people though? As already outlined in this project, we are really DEPENDANT on resources (especially petroleum) to maintain our lives.  We actually DON'T KNOW how to live without this resource, we would have to re-learn-as I have begun to do- how to feed ourselves, collect water, get around, etc....There are many benefits in the end, but at least the transition can be very hard. Sometimes-lets face it- I am a hungry, tired, frustrated, surly, crabby bitch (which my friends can attest to).  Our natural tendency when we fear our lives (or quality of life) are in danger, is to defend it, AT ALL COSTS.  As humans, we have an amazing ability to justify our actions in the face of losing something we deeply value.  We will think of anything; "my husband needs to eat red meat every night to feel full, my wife won't sell her SUV because she feels unsafe on the road, I don't have time to use public transportation, I don't have time to cook myself a healthy meal" (Mark Bittmann at Healthy Food Healthy Lives 2010).  Unreasonable? Maybe. But people are afraid.

On the other side, until very recently, I didn't realize that my own motivations for trying to 'convince' people, and living life the way I do is also driven by FEAR.  What am I afraid of?  When I really think about it, I am also afraid, to lose my quality of life.  I am afraid that it will take our society and the world too long to make changes in our lives to make a difference, and we will reach a point of 'no return'.  I am afraid that people will cling so tightly to their over consumptive lifestyles that everyone-no matter how we have chosen individually to live-will ultimately be affected.  'Affected' is putting it too lightly, the downward spiral we are on has the potential to cause horrific distasters of mass starvation, water shortages, political unrest, unprecedented natural disasters, the list goes on.  Dramatic? Maybe.  But I'm afraid.

What I have realized is that if both sides are driven by fear (which is an irrational, unreasonable and dramatic emotion), we have almost NO chance at communicating effectively or resolving anything because we have made the issues personal.  When speaking to somebody from a place of fear, we are defending our survival.  We have to find a way to COLLECTIVELY open our minds, understand the fears within ourselves, and actually HEAR what people are trying to say to us.  Not their words, necessarily, but what they are afraid of, and how we can work together to eliminate those fears.

As Joachim Eble puts it "We have to learn to listen".

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