Editor’s Note: Stranded Wind brings an intriguing voice, a passion, and interesting perspective to the discussion of the energy and environmental challenges before us. Working to foster innovative approaches, knitting together unusual teams, and bringing a nomad’s perspective to the table are among some of Strand Wind’s unusual and strong attributes. One initiative arena can be found at the website appropriately entitled StrandedWind. This essay is part Stranded Wind’s WalkAbout series.
Anyone who has the ability to have an internet access has a great many energyslaves at his or her disposal. Seriously, go take a look around your dwelling (you’re not surfing the at work, are you?). A vehicle of some sort, a furnace, an air conditioner, a hot water heater, an stove with oven, lights, entertainment equipment, a computer … starting to get the picture? I became peak oil aware almost a year ago and since then I’ve been mindful of what powers the various devices I use and I’ve made it a point to go into the great outdoors with as little as possible on me, staying a day at a time or more to get back in touch with what it means to live in a world made by hand.
I’ve been doing an extended, lower impact version of this in my time here at farmerchuck’s Revoluntionary War era farmhouse, where many of the modern conveniences simply aren’t present. We’ve been having a good bit of trouble both on the behavior front as well as the fuel supply front so I thought I’d delve into this area from the perspective of a rural smallholding.
There are a lot of things are here that require energy, but one of the kingpins runs on a local, renewable source: the mighty Central Boiler CL7260, churning out 175 degree water for heating, bathing, and dish washing. This one gets fed locally cut wood daily and checked whenever one of us passes by – I learned my lesson there last weekend, when I wanted to go out and found that chilly water was the best we’d have for several hours after it went out due to a load of wet, nasty pine being used the previous night.
Did you catch the handmaiden in this picture? Small, blue, pointed nozzle … this thing is a bear to light without the potent flames of the little propane torch that lives right outside the door.
We wouldn’t be getting all that far on the wood cutting front without these guys.
The big one is Chuck’s, the little one I brought with me. Chuck was quite relieved to see it … both of his smaller saws are in need of repair and it’s pretty easy to get yourself into a situation where you need to be “sawed out”. I got myself into that position with a tall pine and a playful breeze just a few days ago.
The look of fear in Chuck’s eyes was absolutely real two days ago, when he opened the case of the big saw to reattach the chain and a handful of pieces fell out. An hour later a new clutch was installed, pirated from a friend’s parts saw, but being without a saw and having wood heat is as serious as a dry tank in an oil fired house and we’re still getting frost up here.
Bringing wood in without the aid of the two donkeys out back who are still undergoing rehabilitation for their badly neglected hooves would be a back breaking full time job without this guy: A full tank costs around $35 and with that he’ll run for ten days doing farm duty and wood getting. Today he wears the SuperShovel™, which does a whole day of my stream clearing efforts in about ten minutes flat.
This house has no fewer than three generations of stoves available:
The Revolutionary War era main fireplace with beehive oven and large, swinging cast iron kettle holder in the side.
A nearly new 1908 Glenwood Modern stove that can take wood or coal. This is fed with charcoal briquettes when the need arises.
And the very height of modernity at only about fifty years old – a Glenwood propane powered stove.
Part of what Chuck does is help other people get themselves weaned from fuel oil and on to wood burning systems. The big truck with crane hauls furnaces and accessories where they need to go.
All of the other gadgets around here would probably be familiar to all Kossacks; a television that runs at times in the evenings, a wireless router, a few computers, and electric lights. We’re in closer touch with the link between energy and lifestyle, but everyone who is interested in policy had ought to get themselves there. Unplug for a day. Walk for a day. Start paying attention to what you do, how you do it, and how much of it simply evaporates when fossil fuels reach the point where they’re rationed for farming, police, fire, and ambulance service, a situation we’ll likely be facing during Obama’s first term in office.
Farmerchuck and I are both what would be called “peak oil aware”. I learned of the impending troubles by following Jerome a Paris’ links to The Oil Drum. The reading there is ponderous and technical, but I’ve been paying attention for about nine months now, and the events in the world validate the thinking; supergiant fields are dying, the oil companies’ profit spike has come and is slipping away just as quickly, and Energy Shortage tracks both fuel and electric shortages globally in a nicely visible fashion.
The electric shortages really scare me; go forth and read a bit on Olduvai Theory. Succinctly put, we can’t maintain civil society without stable electricity. We walked out of the Olduvai Gorge, as a species, about 800,000 generations ago, and as our electric grid collapses many parts of the world will slide right back into the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Every morning I get up, wrap a bit of a messenger line around myself in the form of the Stranded Wind Initiative, and fling myself into the void, hoping to land on the far side of this as yet theoretical disaster. If you didn’t go the the EnergyShortage.org link, do so now; places like Pakistan and South Africa are already under the gun due to power shortages and the effects are not pretty.
The goal is what those in the realm of computer operating systems development call “self hosting” – the ability to build the next generation of whatever using only resources found in the current generation. (If you want the latest FreeBSD system you can compile it and live install from the current version – you Windows victims, and victims you be, would not be familiar with this nicety). We want to draw power from wind, water, and sun. We need to do so using things that are locally made, as peak oil functionally means that the “energetic distance” between two points on earth is constantly increasing, and given the potential for cascading failures due to energy, economy, and environmental troubles we’d best get used to shopping close to home; imports from troubled areas will simply stop.
I wish I had a burst of sunshine and good news, but that is not the world in which we live. Things are dark, dangerous, decaying, and there is a lot more behind it than the stupidity of our neocon cabal. We’ve lost eight precious years to their foolish idea that we could simply steal to maintain a lifestyle that has drained hundreds of millions of years worth of sequestered liquid hydrocarbons in just one short century. We can’t afford to lose another eight due to a combination of misguided liberalism working in conjunction with the concept of the seven years of tribulations predicted in the Christian end of days myth, but that is exactly the scenario we’re marching into based on what I see in the world today.