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)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


18 August 2010

miles biked- 12
water used- 5.95 gallons (9.05 surplus)

day 4 seed flat
This morning I woke up to find my seeds are already sprouting!  After only 4 days!  So far, I see basil, tomatillo, edamame and cucumber sprouts.  Throughout the day, the spouts were literally growing before my eyes!  There is hope.

basil babies!
On the topic of food, I am fairly certain I live in the PERFECT location to be doing this project. I live within yelling distance of two great food resources: three blocks from the Wedge Grocery Co-op and 1 block away from Eco-Politan  (raw foods).  I was able to meet with Marcos Lopez-Carlson at the Wedge before starting this project and he helped me outline what foods would be available and meet my criteria.  Marcos explained that I was lucky to be doing this project in August because almost everything which grows locally can be found in August at farmer's markets and at the Wedge.  I made a list today of what I saw at the Wedge, it became clear that I need to find out when the END of the growing season for many of these foods is, to avoid a total and unexpected dry out of food supply. 
cucumber baby!
baby tomotillos!

Here is what I found today that was local and organic:

_Bell Peppers
_Gypsy peppers
_Yellow squash
_Portabella Mush
_Maybe Syrup
_lots of greens
_really expensive blueberries

_lots of variety of bread flours
_sunflower seeds
_rye grain
_hulled spelt kernels
_hard wheat berries
_rolled rye

Basically the only bulk items which are local are grains and oats.  To be honest, I don't even know where to start with most of the grains. I guess I should start making bread. The company which supplies most of the grains is Whole Grain Milling.

While this company grows some of their products locally: Oats, Hi Lysine Corn, Buckwheat, Yellow and White Popcorn, Spelt and Soybeans, the rest arrives as raw ingredients which are processed locally and distributed.  Because the concern for most people who are motivated to buy local products is to support the local economy, the Wedge's definition of 'local' reflects that.  Any company which receives raw ingredients and processes them locally can be called 'local'.  This means that even companies like Peace Coffee are defined as local.  Peace Coffee is likely the most environmentally responsible choice for coffee's in the Twin CIties because they receive green beans and do all the processing and packaging locally, meaning the product does not have to be shipped around the country to various processing and packaging plants. However, in the context of my project (in which local means minimizing transportation as much as possible) the definition doesn't necessarily apply.  This means that I need to look into each company and find out where they are sourcing their product from.  Fortunately, this is made really easy with the Wedge's website, it is amazing and totally great how transparent they have made the information about where food comes from.  

My compost bin is molding, I'm going to guess this is a normal thing to be happening?  Because the food is rotting to turn into compost?  I shake the container up everyday and add some newspaper shreds, any advice on this?

Still working out my electricity budget, mostly because I got an answer that I can't accept haha.  I spoke with Jamie Borell at Innovative Power System's in St.Paul and based on my 1790 sq ft roof he had the following advice:

"Ballpark, cocktail napkin-drawn numbers:

You can fit 6kW on the roof or (30) 200-watt solar modules, producing 600kWh/ month or 7,200kWh/ year. This solar electricity offsets 900 pounds of CO2 per month or 10,800 pounds of CO2/ year and is the equivalent of planting 720 trees"

If I'm doing the math right, it sounds like 20 kWh a day total, divided by 6 residents is 3.33 kWh/day as an energy budget.

To give you an idea of what the breakdown of electrical use I have recorded so far is:

Daily these items use:
Grow Light - 175 watts/hr (8 hours a day) = 1400 watts or 1.4 kWh
Refrigerator - 68 watts/hr (24 hours a day) = 1634.4 watts or 1.634 kWh
Computer - 27 watts/hr (8 hours a day) = 216 watts or .216 kWh

As you can see, I already log a total of 3.25 kWh/day using only the essential things.  I haven't turned on a light in four days (except for the occasional forgetful light switching) and haven't been using my stereo or TV.  I have yet to calculate the energy used from my electric stove (which is a lot), and heating is obviously not accounted for yet. uh oh.

me in the dark :/
I haven't quite adapted to the darkness thing yet, and I have to admit that I have been using my headlamp to find things.  I wonder how hard it would be to make an solar powered LED headlamp.... Candles are difficult and annoying to carry around.  I can waste A LOT of time trying to do things without ample lighting.  Luckily, when using my computer I don't need any extra light, so my schedule has shifted somewhat to doing all the tasks I need light for during the day and working more on my computer at night.  A friend had a suggestion that I change my schedule to wake up earlier when the sun comes up to maximize the amount of daylight I have.  I am surprised every morning how much easier it is to do everything with LIGHT.  Note to self: do the dishes before it gets dark.  Oh my gosh, the things we don't appreciate.  I am looking around for any place locally that sells soy wax (suggestions?)  I can't make regular candles (paraffin wax) because paraffin is a by-product of crude oil.  Soy wax candles are supposed to burn cleaner (clearly) and last longer, we shall see...


17 August 2010

miles biked - 26
water - 7.5125 gallons used (7.4875 surplus)

So....I've been taking some pretty primitive showers lately and needed some water conservation advice, luckily, I had some excellent resources for conserving water yesterday in Graceville.  The couple who was the driving force behind initiating the greenhouse project (Bill and Carol Sutkus) lived for 21 years on a farm in NY without running water.  They wanted to raise their children 'off the land' connecting them to where our resources come from.  Living this long off the water grid eliminated any "need" they had for running water, and their family found ways to maintain their quality of life with the water they could carry from their well.  They told me they would carry a 10 gallon bucket about 3 times a day from the well and pour it into a large open cistern inside the house.  Whenever water was needed, it was scooped out with a cup or large ladle into whatever container was needed. 

Another resource was one of my committee members, Virajita Singh.  She grew up in Mumbai where water conservation was a part of almost everyone's culture.  The tradition, and the way she grew up was to bucket shower, and she has raised her two boys to bucket shower as well.  Virajita and her son Madhav explained to me that even though they have a shower in their house they still bucket shower because that is their habit.  They use about a 5 gallon bucket (which stays in the bathtub) and fill it with tap water which they then use a cup to dump over their heads to shower.  I asked them how you shower with one hand, and Madhav says "Its very easy!" 

However, its tough to break habits. Every morning a fill my rain barrel up with my 15 gallon "water quota".  Every time I need water for something I fill a certain container with the amount of water needed (record it) and carry it to wherever I am using it.  However, I have found myself turning on the tap ALL THE TIME without realizing it.  Usually, at some point using the water I notice that I have the tap on instead of using water from the rain barrel.  Like everywhere in the world, our spaces reflect our use of resources, for water-its in the bathroom. A typical American bathroom evolved out of having running tap water; we have a space for the toilet, a tap for the sink and two taps for the shower and tub faucets.  As soon as I have stopped using running water I've realize how inefficient the space really is to bring in water in different containers.  I have to carry my gallon bucket into the shower, bring another bucket and place it near the sink to wash my hands.  I've gotten in the habit of doing all my washing in the tub because it is the biggest space to put a bucket.  I stand in the tub with clothes on and wash my face at night, I stand in the tub to wash my hands.  Ideally, I think the whole bathroom would be tiled with a drain near the center, allowing containers of water to be placed in certain places and then dumped on the floor. 

Another interesting thing to consider is that 3.25 billion people in the world live without running water.  Water vessels and containers for carrying, drinking and storing are part of thousands of different cultures around the world.  A container that the Eames studied was the Indian "lota".

Charles Eames was fascinated by the Lota and considered it significant because it has become, over its evolution, exactly right. The design of the lota addresses the need of retrieving, carrying, storing, and pouring water. In his The India Report, he expressed a great admiration for the Lota and had the following to say about its design:

“ Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the Lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful. The village women have a process which, with the use of tamarind and ash, each day turns this brass into gold. But how would one go about designing a Lota? First one would have to shut out all preconceived ideas on the subject and then begin to consider factor after factor:

The optimum amount of liquid to be fetched, carried, poured and stored in a prescribed set of circumstances.

The size and strength and gender of the hands (if hands) that would manipulate it.

The way it is to be transported – head, hip, hand, basket or cart.

The balance, the center of gravity, when empty, when full, its balance when rotated for pouring.

The fluid dynamics of the problem not only when pouring but when filling and cleaning, and under the complicated motions of head carrying – slow and fast.

Its sculpture as it fits the palm of the hand, the curve of the hip.

Its sculpture as compliment to the rhythmic motion of walking or a static post at the well.

The relation of opening to volume in terms of storage uses – and objects other than liquid.

The size of the opening and inner contour in terms of cleaning.

The texture inside and out in terms of cleaning and feeling.

Heat transfer – can it be grasped if the liquid is hot?

How pleasant does it feel, eyes closed, eyes open?

How pleasant does it sound, when it strikes another vessel, is set down on ground or stone, empty or full – or being poured into?

What is the possible material?

What is its cost in terms of working?

What is its cost in terms of ultimate service?

What kind of an investment does the material provide as product, as salvage?

How will the material affect the contents, etc., etc.?

How will it look as the sun reflects off its surface?

How does it feel to possess it, to sell it, to give it ? "

(Eames' India Report. National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India. Retrieved on 2007-03-22.)

I tried to think of what container in American culture most resembles the lota:

This illustration shows what my "water infrastructure" is currently made up of:

Lastly I'd like to address I comment made to a friend that my project was "too extreme".  Maybe I need to clarify the intention of the project a little bit better.  I'm not jumping to the conclusion that people need to live this way or that people would live this way without oil.  It is fairly difficult to imagine how our world, and the intricate framework of connections that creates our way of life, would be affected and disrupted by the loss of our primary source of energy-oil.  Local sources will appear to help with many of the things that I will be doing on my own during this project, making things much easier.  There will be benefits and sacrifices in the course of the project, influencing my life positively and negatively.  The intention of the project is to explore and identify everywhere oil exists in our society, modify my life to avoid oil use as much as possible and create a hypothesis of what a post-cheap oil world might look like in my specific location of the country.   As the elimination of cheap oil is a crisis that I will face in my lifetime, I believe that its extremely important to identify what parts of our lives will be affected and begin redesigning the way we live to accommodate a dramatic shift in our lifestyles.
Over and out.