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 30, 2010


18 November 2010

Water proved to be one of the easier tasks to accomplish during the project.  With my water budget at 15 gallons a day (calculated from average rainfall amounts and divided into # of residents in my house), I was able to stay within this water range fairly easily for the ffirst two months of the 100 days (August 15-Oct 15). 

By tracking all water use and measuring the flow rates of all water fixtures I was able to identify what daily uses were big water users and target those for saving water.  I calculated that before the project I used 54.4 gallons of water a day, and there were three primary suspects for this water over-use: showering (20 gallons), laundry (6 gallons) and toilet flushing (10 gallons).  All of the other uses (except dish washing) of water were under 1 gallon per day which didn't leave much room for changing habits.  Therefore, by focusing on how to decrease my water use for showering, laundry and toilet flushing alone I could significantly decrease my water use.

For showering, I took 1 gallon bucket showers.  I used a bucket and sponge standing in the bath tub and found that this was more than enough water to wash up every morning without washing my hair.  With pretty dry hair I could pretty easily get away with only washing it once a week, so Sunday's became the big 'wash day'.  Once a week I would heat 5 gallons of water using a solar camp bag and take a longer bucket shower to wash my hair.  I realized when changing my showering habits that taking a long morning shower was more of a ritual than serving a real important purpose.  Rinsing off with significantly less water did the trick just as well and saved 95% of the water. 

I changed my laundry habits from using 42 gallons/load in the washing machine to only about 12 in a 5 gallon bucket hand washing.  Hand washing allowed me to use about 1/2 the detergent I normally use as well.  My method was to fill the 5 gallon bucket with clothes and detergent, let it soak and then use my feet to stomp it.  I was surprised to see how dirty the water got even when my clothes didn't seem that dirty.  After the water was pretty dirty I would dump and refill the bucket with 2-3 gallons of water and squeeze and shake the clothes by hand to get the rest of the detergent out.  Lastly, I rinsed with another 3 gallons of water and hung clothes to dry in the bathtub.  Less convenient than throwing clothes in the washing machine? yes. But it was sort of a stress reliever and satisfying to actually see my clothes getting clean and knowing it was only using my energy. 

Lastly, toilet flushing uses 2.6 gallons of water per flush.  I cut this use by a gallon by putting a milk carton filed with water in my tank to lower the water level for each flush.  I estimated that before the project I flush about 5 times a day.  To cut down I fell back on an old saying, "If its yellow, let it mellow..." which went over fairly well with my roommates (they are doing it now too).  These changes reduced my toilet flushing water from 10 gallons down to only 3.2 (two flushes per day). 

However, as the weather changed, so did my priorities concerning water use.  While it was easy to shower with 1 gallon of water in warmer weather, I found myself spending the whole day cold after a cold morning rinsing.  I changed my showering habits to taking 3 minute showers twice a week.  I installed a cheap flow shut-off valve on the shower head which allowed me to turn off the water when I wasn't rinsing (and not have to run water again to get the right temperature back).  I also found that in cooler weather as I began preserving foods with less fresh produce available, I needed less water to rinse vegetables. 

Monday, November 29, 2010


17 November 2010

45% (19.15 gallons) of every barrel of oil (42 gallons) is gasoline.  This means that the petroleum created to run our cars is by far the largest single use in each barrel extracted from the earth.  While transportation isn't the biggest total energy user in our daily lives, it IS the biggest petroleum user. 

While I biked quite a bit before this project started, it makes a big difference to be riding every time you want to get around.  Without using cars and buses as back up transportation for cold or wet days, bicycle commuting takes on an entirely different face.  I think a lot harder about whether I really NEED to go somewhere, ended up staying home many days that I didn't have classes instead of going somewhere to work.  I started to modify my schedule so that I could ride around with other bikers and didn't have to bike alone (especially at night).  Unlike driving, the routes taken depend on the weather and the time of day.  While bike paths in Minneapolis are best during the day and during rush hours, well-lit main streets were a better option for late night rides home (even with traffic).  As soon as it gets snowy and icy, I had to factor in another 10 minutes of riding time.  Bicycle commuting changed the way I dressed.  While it is easy to bring a change of clothes, I was often only going somewhere for a few hours and it didn't seem worth it to carry.  Consequently, I pretty much wore the same few things for at least 2 months once the temperature started cooling off. 

Workout? Kind of.  There is so much starting and stopping that it isn't really much of a workout compared to the 30 minutes I would have spent on a treadmill.  Yes, obviously its better than sitting in a car and still is nice to get out and be outside for an hour or two a day.  I felt much more connected to the changing of seasons and it was really nice to watch the sun rise every morning while biking down the greenway. 

My conclusion: Biking is absolutely the best way to get around while the weather is good (or even decent).  For those brave and bad ass enough to keep going as the temp drops under 20 and the ground is covered in ice (as 1/3 of Minneapolis bikers do), I admire you, but would rather get on a bus December through mid March. 

Below is a graphic of the miles I biked each day for 100 days:  There starts to become a pretty clear pattern at the end of project when it starts getting colder I only bike to campus and back on days that I need to, whereas in the beginning of the project I was much more willing to run errands and take longer trips around the city. 

I biked a total of 1,150 miles in 100 days.  An average of 82 miles per week and 11.7 miles per day. 

My car gets 34 miles per gallons.  This means that if I would have driven this 1,150 miles I would have used 33.82 gallons of gasoline (about 3 trips to the gas station for me).  I didn't travel as much as I would have had I been driving.  Just to estimate what I may have used. I used to fill up my tank about every 3 weeks, so 4.6 fill ups of 12 gallons of gas would have been 56 gallons of gasoline.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


16 November 2010

For the last few posts I would like to think back and summarize how my life has changed during this project and what I have learned...

I'll begin with what was both the most difficult part of this project, and the most enjoyable- food. 

Looking back, having started the project in the middle of August it should have been REALLY easy to find local foods.  The middle of August in Minnesota is just about the peak of local food production, almost all vegetables can be found locally grown.  However, despite this plentiful bounty of local produce it was really difficult to get a handle on what things I could prepare with it using other ingredients (cheese, flour, oils, dairy....).  It took a while to seek out and find local milk, local flours in bulk, local butter in a compostable wrapping.  I compromised on the cheese, because although there are many local cheeses available they are all wrapped in plastic.  This became the only item I bought in packaging. 

After the first few weeks of the project I had figured out where to get most of the ingredients I needed for cooking locally and without packaging.  Many of the things I had a habit of cooking with however; olive oil, rice, avocados, soy sauce and many spices were no longer available.  I had to learn to cook many dishes that normally I wouldn't have prepared for myself.  Potatoes with mixed vegetables became a staple.  I learned to cook all bread products from scratch- loaves of bread each week, muffins, tortillas, crackers.  Made a lot of homemade pasta sauces and tried pizzas of all different kinds.  Below is a summary of many of the foods I made out of local ingredients during 100 days:

I had the idea to begin growing my own food indoors to have a food source after the growing season started to die down.  On day 1 of the project I planted a variety of of vegetables: tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, beans, onions, greens, and herbs to see what would grow with the available artificial light I had.  Having never grown a vegetable in my life I learned about gardening by watching my little sprouts slowly start to become recognizable vegetables.  I made plenty of mistakes growing the first few batches of seedlings and the grow table has gone through a few evolutions of goals.  My first idea was to have a variety of vegetables and keep whatever grew the best (not knowing if anything would have enough light to fruit).  After accidentally scalding the majority of my first seedlings (I left the plastic seed flat cover on too long), I began to reevaluated what kinds of plants would be most practical to my situation.  Because most vegetables are able to be stored (whether dried, frozen or canned), I decided to focus on growing what couldn't be stored very well-greens.  I started to grow a lot of microgreens which grow quickly and can be harvested after only about a month.  This was going fairly well until I was infested with aphids. My continuing battle with aphids was one I didn't know I was going to have to have with indoor plants.  While it was easy to pick the aphids off of most of the single plants, they were almost impossible to get rid of on the densely planted microgreens.  I ended up having to get rid of a lot of the greens and went back to focusing on growing some vegetables. 

Around day 85 I got my first flowers on vegetables and realized that without insects and wind to pollinate plants I would have to play the role that nature usually does.  After 90 days I finally have my first fruiting plants with a little bell pepper growing!  This is really exciting because I was starting to doubt that any vegetables would have enough light to produce fruit. 

My new plan for the grow table is to make a habit of planting a few new vegetables every month, so I can have a continuous supply of at least some fresh produce.  Below is a timeline of the grow table over 100 days:

click to enlarge

Lastly, it was interesting to explore restaurants that advertised themselves as local food focused.  I found that there were many exceptions to their 'localness'.  While 'local' dishes are offered year-round, they are only truly local when the food is in season.  Many restaurants I ate at didn't offer many ( or any) local wine/beer, and all used olive oil instead of sunflower oil. 

I learned to can, dehydrate and blanch vegetables for preservation, and tested how long I could store potatoes, onions and garlic.  I ate only preserved foods for the last month and found that it would be really difficult to eat nothing 'fresh' for the 8 months of the year that fresh local produce is not available. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


15 November 2010

One of the interesting realizations I've had during this project is that we need to have different our attitudes about the various resources we use depending on our habits of use. 

I blogged earlier about identifying the big water users in your lifestyle and working to reduce them as the most effective way to reduce water use (and live within our water budgets "Don't sweat the small stuff-Water use" (  Electricity, however, seems to have the opposite story to tell.  While there are some very high-wattage appliances I use regularly, they are often the ones that only get used for a brief amount of time, so they don't end up being the main energy users.  On the other side, many of the seemingly small energy users (a single light bulb of only 60 watts, or even the fridge at 68 watts /hour) end up being big energy users because they are used almost all day.  The small stuff adds up, wattages need to be taken into account but the time-of-use is critical in electricity counts.

The following pie charts show a comparison of watts per hour of energy users vs watts per day:

 As you can see, the appliances with the highest  watts per hour (hair dryer, toaster oven, microwave) are very different from the appliances that actually contribute to most energy use as seen in the watts/day pie chart.  The biggest energy users when taking time of use into account end up being light bulbs (we have about 6 60 watt bulbs on most of the time), the refrigerator and the grow light.  Each of these energy users are have fairly small wattages compared to some appliances, but add up to a lot throughout a day of use.

This chart shows the two values next to each other- Watts per hour vs Watts per day.  The three biggest energy users are in the dashed boxes, notice how small the wattages/hr are compared to some other appliances that don't end up adding up to much!

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:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


11 November 2010

The graphic below is part 1 of a comparison of where the food I have been eating before and during this project is coming from.   While all the food I am eating is labeled as 'local' below shows the locations of creameries, flour mills, farms, and orchards which have provided me with 'local' food throughout the 100 days.  (click to enlarge)

The co-op defines 'local' as any product which
  • can be delivered to the store within a day of travel or
  • is produced in Minnesota or the bordering states.
While the majority of my food is coming from within about a 75 mile radius, there are a few notable exceptions.  I was actually fairly surprised after mapping this out visually with mileage radius lines by how spread out many of the foods I am eating are.  A 75 mile radius of food is still a very different scenario than local foods being sourced from within the boundaries of a community or metropolitan area. 

Here is a brief breakdown of where each 'staple' food I have been eating is coming from:

Whole Grain Milling
Located in Welcome, MN
120 miles away
Dakota Growers
Located in New Hope, MN and Carrington, ND
10 miles away

Cedar Summit Farm
Located in New Prague, MN
30 miles away
Garden's of Eagan (Our co-op owns this organic farm)
Located in Farmington, MN
30 miles away
Harmony Organics
Located in Morristown, MN
50 miles away
Hope Creamery
Hope, MN
70 miles away
Hoch Orchards
LaCrescent, MN
125 miles away

Driftless Organics
Soldier's Grove, WI
150 miles away

Hard cheese from Sartori Cheese
Located in Plymouth, WI
275 miles away

Slicing and Cheddar cheese from Widmer Cheese
Located in Theresa, WI
250 miles away

All of my food is coming from within a 300 miles radius.  While it's still better than the 1,500 mile radius that defines the average American dinner, it still isn't anything to be yelling about.  While my cheese and veggies aren't coming from California or Florida, they are still a stretch of the term 'local'.  However, any of these farms and businesses COULD be located around Minneapolis.  They aren't, simply because there still is not enough of a demand for it.  For most people, the motivation for buying local is to support local economies and eat fresher food. The scale of local foods operations cannot possibly compete with large-scale food production companies which distribute their products to stores all across the nation.  As out transportation fuel sources become increasingly expensive, however, the motivation could become more economically based. 

On the upside, I get to eat a buch of  super-tasty, local foods.  These businesses are often very small-scale, family run operations.  They take pride in the foods they are growing and making and you can tell by the taste.  It is interesting to go on the websites and read the stories of these businesses, they are often very transparent about their processes and growing methods. 

Some great websites on local foods in MN are here:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


10 November 2010

6 reasons camping is like living no oil (and the lessons I learned from sleeping in the dirt)

  1_You shower less

Camping may be many people's only experience going a week or more without showering-it was mine before this project. With no easy access to water/showers and the fact that you are going to get all sweaty and grimy every day just after you get up, whats the point?  I  haven't necessarily felt smelly or dirty taking quick showers twice a week during this project.  The harder part was just ditching the habit.  I had a firmly established morning ritual and routine which was ingrained into my head since sometime around 7th grade probably which included getting all wet every morning and then drying off again.  Don't get me wrong, when it's shower day I'm ready and its time, but getting another 20 min of sleep every morning and saving energy not having to dry my hair  has been a change that I could get used to.

2_Cooking dinner is an event

Camp dinners are a big deal.  Everyone is hungry,  there is only one stove and usually only one person has the food.  This means everyone has to work together, spend some time making a good meal.  The way food brings people together camping is a lot like how  it has during this project. I've adopted the habit of cooking for at least a couple people probably 50% of the nights of a typical week.  After all, if you're going to go to all that work, might as well be worth it to more people than yourself. 

3_When the sun goes down, it gets dark

I mean, there aren't any other options.  Headlamps are the original task lighting.  The fire or lamp on a picnic table becomes the gathering place because it is the only place people can see (and its warm).  Its harder to move around when the whole area (or house) isn't lit up.  You walk to the bathroom, you gotta take a candle (or a flashlight).  Areas with the most lighting (like our table with a bunch of candles on it) automatically become the places people go to. 

4_Water is precious

Whether it is because you're waiting for it to rain or just haven't filtered enough water, water scarcity is a real issue in both camping and trying to live within your water 'budget'.  Camping in the frozen meadows below Grand Teton where the water is either frozen or ICE cold is a real test of how badly you need/want it and an excellent exercise in conservation.  Camping taught me how to do dishes in a no-oil world.  Use leftover boiling water from cooking for hot wash water. Pour your rinse water and wash water into two basins (or use the biggest two pots that are dirty).  Do cleanest dishes first. No running water needed.  Why do we abandon these habits when we go back to our homes with running water?

5_Connection with the elements

You havn't truly expereinced snow until you have slept in it.  And on it.  And under it.  I'm not trying to promote this in any way, it was actually kind of miserable, but gave me a totally different perspective of the kind of weather we have here.  We've done a great job at protecting and isolating ourselves from the elements.  After all, that's how we survived.  However, the more isolated we become, the greater the sense of unfamiliarity and even fear comes from being out in the elements.  Winter biking is a good example of this.  There aren't many mornings that I look out the window and get excited to jump on my bike and avoid snow chunks.  Once I am out there riding however, I realize how worked up I got about something that really isn't that bad.

7_You dress for the weather

Dressing comfortably and warmly for biking in freezing temperatures takes priority over looking nice.  These are my sisters on a winter camping trip in northern MN, clearly, the same deal ;)

6_Cannot create any waste

When we go camping we make NO waste, we EAT our toilet paper.  Well, maybe not.  Regardless, it is easy to be aware of how much waste you are creating when you are on a backpacking trip and have to carry it with you the rest of the trip.  Having to collect all the waste I create (even after eliminating as much waste as possible) has been a reality check for me (especially now that I have almost 90 days worth).  We've gotten really good at packing food and avoiding packaging in these situation.  There is also more motivation to avoid dumping stuff when in a pristine wilderness.  However,  it doesn't matter whether you throw that candy bar wrapper down a glacier or in an urban street, its eventually going to end up in the same place.  Paying attention to some of the ways I found to reduce waste on backpacking trips was a good start for me when I started this project: Refill your water bottle, avoid individually wrapped items, and buy in bulk using reusable jars. Pack it in pack it out.  Or in the no oil case-don't make it at all. 

An interesting exercise would be to carry around all the waste you create in a day.  At the end of the day, take an inventory of what was; organics, recyclables and trash.  If you eliminate some of the waste you create, try to find an alternative.  For example, ask if a restaurant can put your take-out in a container that you bring.

Monday, November 15, 2010


9 November 2010

The time has come, snow is here.  What was predicted to be a few inches that melts on the ground turned into about 3 of snow that definitely isn't going anywhere, complete with a Snow Emergency Day.  While it is nice not to be driving around in the craziness of the first snow (there was something like 1000 accidents), I'm not sure biking is a whole lot safer (although definitely faster) in these conditions. 

snow bike!

more bikes in the snow

The City of Minneapolis has a page on their website specifically dedicated to winter biking  What may surprise summer bikers is that 50 of the 60 miles of bike trails throughout the city get plowed just like city streets.  According to some friends that are hardcore winter bikers, the bike trails are usually the first to get plowed.  As it should be :)

The last two winter's I've lived in this ice-box of a city before this project I would bike until the end of October, and have never felt the need to tempt fate on a bicycle when it's icy and freezing outside.  However, the more I meet people who bike almost all year round, the more it seems like a possibility even in Minnesota (if you have the right equipment and clothes). Census data shows 4,800 residents of Minneapolis regularly commute to work on a bicycle. The number for the entire metro is 9,700 bikers. A local group called Transit for Livable Communities estimates one-third of those biking enthusiasts continue commuting to work during the winter.

A couple of bullet points from Shaun Murphy of the Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs: -- Minneapolis has 4,800 residents (2.5% of all workers) who regularly commute to work by bicycle, while the entire metro has 9,700 bike commuters (0.8% of all workers). So 50% of the regular bike commuters live in Minneapolis. [Source: Census data] -- Don Pflaum (City Bicycle Coordinator) estimates that about 15,000 bicyclers are seen each day during the warmer months in Minneapolis. [Source: Minneapolis Public Works estimate]

Here is a funny video of winter bikers: represents bikers all over the country who bike through the winter.  Who are these people? In their own words:

"Most of us are just ordinary folks, who get this addiction to bicycles that simply will not live within the bounds of a summer.  Others just don't want to spend the cash for a car and all the costs that come with motor vehicles.  Some of us have serious personal commitments to being car-free, others have temporary problems of liquidity, and others of us just like cycling way more than any rational person should."

Cheers winter bikers, I'll join you for at least the next week.

I"ll leave you with this warm SF critical mass vid:

*Minneapolis bikers:
Use 311. If you see a bicycle-related problem which involves plowing, shoveling, signing, or another traffic concern, call 311. The City relies on the public to flag problems. If you live outside of Minneapolis, call 612-673-3000   A Minneapolis bikeway maintenance responsibility list is available for more direct call routing.


8 November 2010

I biked 10 miles to get more potting soil the other day (local potting soil mixes sold at Interior Gardens in NE), and it got me thinking about running errands by bicycle (and how strange it was to bike 10 miles to get dirt).

There are a lot of ways to carry stuff on a bike. I see many people using burley trailers (with or without children inside), but without forking out the couple hundred bucks for one of those here is a great list of DIY bike trailers from

Some load carrying alternatives to trailers:

Here are some examples of people carrying ridiculous amounts of stuff on bicycles:

plumber with an xtracycle

people moving using bikes
And finally, lets not forget that bicycles and walking are major forms of transportation all around the world.  Next time you think you need to drive your car to run those errands, consider this, (from

this guy is carrying a washing machine


7 November 2010

Daylight Saving Time means a lot more to me this year than it has before.  Before DST, the sun was barely up when I was hoping on my bike in the morning, and I would spend at least the first 15-20 min riding in the dark.  Although the sun set 'later' before, I am usually coming home late at night anyway.  Starting today, I get daylight in the morning and can ride at least half of my commute in the light! 

The reason behind Daylight Saving Time is all about energy;

"In general, energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up.  Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. In the average home, 25 percent of all electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs VCRs and stereos.  A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home.  By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.

Studies done in the 1970's by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Savings Time " (

The time for DST has gone through many changes over the years.   When President Reagan changed DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April in 1986 it is estimated to save nationwide about 300,000 barrels of oil each year. 

The time was changed again to start on the second Sunday in March and was extended to end on the first Sunday in November starting in 2007, which it is still at today.

Although the days will continue to have less daylight until the darkest day (Dec 21), my mornings are a little easier, and I use less light in the am.  Biking around in the daylight feels a lot safer, whether or not it actually is.  In general, I feel much more connected to the seasonal changes and when it gets dark now.  Although lights are a small part of my energy budget (especially now that the heat is on), it makes a big difference for biking around, and brings the morning temperature up above freezing :)


6 November 2010

After eighty-four days, I have my first grow-table harvest!  Yeah, its only cilantro, but you can't get that at any grocery store these days so it feels like a big deal :)

Some 'minnesota-in-the-winter-fajitas' were made with it:

_homemade tortillas
_stock of frozen bell peppers
_stored onions (they are starting to rot)
_hot peppers (dried)
_tomatoes (found local ones again at the grocery)
_sour cream

By direct-sowing seed, the plants I have started over the last few weeks have been growing WAY faster than the ones I started as small transplants at the beginning of the project.  After only 1 month I have an 6" high tomato:

and a crazy green bean:

Some of the veggies planted at the beginning of the project (jalapeno and bell peppers) got transplanted into 10" diameter pots which should be big enough to hold them for the rest of their life.  I'm testing two bell peppers to see how they do in different sized pots.  They were both planted at the same time.  Greens and herbs can be grown in the 6" diameter pots, but vegetables should ideally be put in 10-12" ones.  It is still yet to be seen if the plants have enough light to eventually fruit, finger's crossed for that.This jalapeno has buds starting on it:

jalapeno (planted 8/15)

The romaine I started on August 15th is probably ready to harvest as well:

Here is a shot of the whole garden as it is now.  I especially like these shots because you can see the snow in the background. Having never grown a plant in my LIFE before this project, I'm feeling pretty good about being able to grow them in the snow :). 

Friday, November 12, 2010


5 November 2010

"The highway network is one of the most significant achievements in the history of the civil engineering field.  Perceived as an imperative measure for the development of a robust economy, the highway network has become a primary mode of transportation and driver of the economy in the United States" (Energy Consumption of Asphalt and Reinforced Concrete pavement materials and Construction, Zapata and Gambatese, 2005).  nearly 83% of all roads and streets in the United States are of flexible type (asphalt wearing surface), 7% are of rigid type (Portland cement concrete with or without a bituminous wearing surface) and approximately 10% are of composite type (bituminous surface on PCC base) (Zapata and Gambatese 1). 

Humans have been using bitumen (the glue component of asphalt) since at least 3000 BC for small waterproofing tasks.  It was harvested from places where petroleum had seeped to the surface.  By 2500 BC it was being used to provide an impervious surface from which water could be collected.  (Ways of the World: A History of the World's Roads and of the Vehicles That Used Them, M.G. Lay, pg 50).  It is mentioned in the Bible as being used for waterproofing Noah's Ark, "Make yourself an ark...and cover it inside and out with pitch" and for building the Tower of Babylon.  (Gen 6:14 as mentioned in Ways of the World pg 50). Asphalt has been around for a long time, but only since the early 1900's has the production of asphalt exploded to the level we use it today.

Asphalt is the 'bottom of the barrel' product from the distillation and fractioning of crude oil, and accounts for 0.95% of each barrel of oil (42 gallons in a barrel).  80% of this asphalt is being consumed in the United States for asphalt-concrete road pavings.   Roofing Shingles account for most of the remaining 15% of asphalt, with a little being used for waterproofing of other objects.  Asphalt used for roads is composed of 5 percent asphalt cement and 95 percent aggregates (stone, sand and gravel).   The process of manufacturing this product requires a huge amount of heating energy in order to mix the aggregates and keep it in a liquefied state while storing, resulting in 4,000 mixing plants in the U.S. 

While the Energy Information Administration reports that cement production ranks seventh among the most energy-intensive manufacturing industries (EIA 2002) in term of energy use per dollar of output, it is also the most widely recycled material.  According to the Federal Highway Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 80% of asphalt removed each year is reused as part of new roads.  

What will happen when oil is no longer cheap enough to use so extensively for road paving?  It may be recycled for a while until it is unusable, but ultimately, we will have to find alternatives.  Concrete roads are one that has also been in service for a long time, but today is not predominately used.  The following graphic depicts an energy analysis of the asphalt throughout it's lifecycle and compares this with concrete roads.  Information for graphic interpretation found in (Energy Consumption of Asphalt and Reinforced Concrete pavement materials and Construction, Zapata and Gambatese, 2005).

click to enlarge

There do exist some alternatives asphalt which can be made from non-petroleum based resources such as sugar, molasses and rice, corn and potato starches.  It can also be made from distillation of waste motor oils which would otherwise be burned or dumped into land fills.  These products are typically lighter colored, which result in roads with less heat from solar radiation reducing potential heat island effect. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


4 November 2010

One of the things I really love about having the grow table in my living room is watching the plants go to sleep when the grow light turns off for the night.  The sun is going down here at 5:00 now and the grow light is on until 7, so it is the last light the plants see every night.  Almost immediately after it turns off, the green bush been plant I started 2 weeks ago (which is HUGE by the way) starts going to sleep.  No longer needing to hold its leaves up to capture light, it bends them down like it is folding its arms and curling up for sleep.  When I get up in the morning it it has spread it's leaves up ready to catch the light of the next day :)




3 November 2010

While earlier I looked at how the energy efficiency of driving a car compares to bike commuting, it is interesting to look at all forms of transportation and their efficiency.

We all hear about how much fuel it takes to fly, but is it really that bad compared to driving a truck/SUV or a regular car?  A Boeing 747 travels at 560 miles per hour and uses 3,200 US gallons of fuel per hour.  This is 5.7 gallons per mile, or 0.18 miles per gallon. 
(Tennekes, Henk. The Simple Science of Flight: From Insects to Jumbo Jets, MIT Press, 2009
Converting into gallons per mile allows us to then compare the 'passanger gallons per mile', which is a more fair comparison for transport modes that carry more than one person.  A 747 can seat up to 400 people, I used 350 in my comparison. 

A fully loaded subcompact car with 40 miles per gallon (good gas mileage) gets 0.025 gallons per mile (inverse of mpg).  With four people in the car it gets 0.006 gallons per passenger mile, however, it is more rare that people are driving with 4 people, with only two the gallons per passenger mile comes in at 0.012.  The plane with 350 people gets 0.016 gallons per passenger mile.  Pretty close.  So it depends on how many people your family is trucking out to Florida, but if you are comparing just driving vs flying, flying is actually a more efficient use of energy. 

As for buses, according to this article a typical Transit Bus is 40' and can hold 42 passengers.  Miles per gallon for a conventional diesel bus is 5.1 mpg and 9.3 for a hybrid electric bus  ("Performance and Fuel Economy Comparitive Analysis of Conventional, Hybrid, and Fuel Cell Heavy-Duty Transit Buses" By V. Dawood and A. Emadi, Grainger Power Electron. & Motor Drives Lab., Illinois Inst. of Technol., Chicago, IL, USA ).  With around 40 passengers the conventional bus gets a gallons per passenger mile of 0.0049, and 0.0026 for a hybrid bus.  So the conventional bus is
5.1 times more energy efficient than driving your car alone, and the hybrid bus is 9.6 times more efficient.

As for those people driving personal light pickup trucks and SUVs, these vehicles are over twice as inefficient than ANOTHER OTHER MODE OF TRANSPORTATION OUT THERE  gallons/passenger mile count is 0.055, 2.2 times worse than a subcompact car and 11.2 times less energy efficient than riding on a conventional bus. 

As for biking and walking, they have no competition.  As mentioned in my previous post, biking (calculating human calorie energy expended) is equivalent to 759,493.7 miles per gallon and walking (burning 100 calories an hour) is equivalent to 314,782.17 miles per gallon.  Biking is 19,230.8 times more efficient than driving your subcompact car and walking is 7,886.4 times more efficient.  Walking burns about 60 more calories per hour than biking making it less 'energy efficinet', but as my roommate pointed out looking at these numbers, when it comes to your own energy, suddenly energy expenditure looks like a good thing.  After all, its renewable :) Eat a sandwich. 

The following graphs show the sequence of information translated from the 'Transportation Energy Data Book' put out by the US Department of Energy, Issue 29). 

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.

Monday, November 8, 2010


31 October 2010

I got a start on figuring out exactly how much petroleum depletion will affect water use and availability today reading Yes! Magazine's issue 54 "Water Solutions Issue".   Sandra Postel makes a good point in the article "Will There be Enough?" that will there is quite a bit of attention on fossil fuel depletion, water waste and contamination is a far more pressing problem:

"In answer to the climate crisis, the economy will need to move away from fossil fuels toward solar, wind and other non-carbon energy sources.  But there is no transitioning away from water.  Water has no substitutes. And unlike oil and coal, water is much more than  a commodity: It is the basis of life."

Also in the issue, they state that the average American household of four uses 400 gallons of water per day.  This isn't hard to believe once you start running the numbers on individual water uses each day.  For example, a household in Phoenix with a backyard pool loses 50 gallons a day to evaporation alone (if the pool is left uncovered as most are).  A single load of laundry is 40 gallons, and each family member's shower is around 20 gallons each morning.  A simple exercise of tracking water use throughout a day has gone a long way for my understanding of water use, and could make a big difference in watershed-wide water use and waste if more people understand how much water they are using for what. 

Domestic water use however, is only one slice of the pie of water use in the nation.  Minnesota uses 1,404 Billion Gallons of water each year.  Of this only 15% (217 billion gallons) is domestic water use.  The biggest user is power generation, at 60% of water use. "About 90 percent of US electricity comes from thermoelectric power: turning water into steam by burning coal, natural gas, or oil, or using the heat from nuclear reations."  A lot of water is required for the production of electricity, both in steam generation and for use in cooling machinery to prevent overheating. 


Ironically, not only is water needed to produce electricity, energy is also needed to transport the water from place to place.  1.6 kWh is needed to transport one cubic meter of water from the Colorado River to Southern California.  That equals 6 watts per gallon.  "the energy required to provide drinking water to a typical southern California home can rank third behind that required to run the air conditioner and refrigerator. An even more energy intensive method of 'producing water' is desalination.  To convert salt water to drinkable water takes 2 kWh per cubic meter or 7.6 watts/gallon.  While this might not seem like much, with 400 gallons used a day, at 6 watts per gallon that is a total of 2,400 watts or 2.4 kWh per day just for water transport. 

This all makes collecting water right where it is delivered to you via rainfall much more appealing.  Why not take advantage of the 'free' distribution processes of nature?  Collecting water on your roof is not only very clean (if filtered for sediments) but also uses NO energy to transport. 

While the 6 watt number is for southern California for the sake of comparison while I dig for Minnesota-specific numbers I would be using a total of 324 watts of energy every day to provide the 54 gallons/day I was using before this project.  During the project (if I were actually collecting the 15 gallons average rainfall from my roof) I am using no energy, and only 27% of the water. 

Even more shocking is the statistics outlined in Hoakstra and Chapagin’s article "Water footprints of nations, 2006".  "One cup of coffee requires for instance 1401 gallons of water in average, one hamburger 24,001 and one cotton T-shirt 20,001".  The 400 gallons of water used in an average household each day could be saved by skipping out on ONE quarter-pound hamburger. The following table of water use for various products is from Hoekstra and Chapagain’s article, found online here: http://www.waterfootprint. org/Reports/Hoakstra_ and_Chapagain _2006.pdf

Table 2 Global average virtualwater content of some selected products, per unit of product
Product Virtual water content (litres)

1 glass of beer (250 ml)                         75
1 glass of milk (200 ml)                           200
1 cup of coffee (125 ml)                          140
1 cup of tea (250 ml)                               35
1 slice of bread (30 g)                             40
1 slice of bread (30 g) with cheese(10 g) 90
1 potato (100 g)                                      25
1 apple (100 g)                                        70
1 cotton T-shirt (250 g)                            2000
1 sheet of A4-paper (80 g/m2)                10
1 glass of wine (125 ml)                           120
1 glass of apple juice (200 ml)                  190
1 glass of orange juice (200 ml)               170
1 egg (40 g)                                            135
1 hamburger (150 g)                               2400
1 tomato (70 g)                                         13
1 orange (100 g)                                      50
1 pair of shoes (bovine leather)   8000
1 microchip (2 g)                                    32