Thursday, March 13, 2008

'Tis a Gift to be Disillusioned

My intention with this blog has been to write about life on the farm, and so you’ve had tutorials on making cheese and butchering hogs, descriptions trying to capture what it is like to milk a cow every morning and every evening for five years, vignettes of what is happening at various times of the year, and a slew of whatever life on the farm had me thinking about that day. This still seems a little off subject but it is what I’m thinking about.

There is no green energy.

Ok. Get that? Energy is not green. None of it. Technologies that use energy are not green.

I first think of my midwife who not only protested nuclear energy when that was the popular thing to do, she got thrown in jail for it, and then wrote a book about being thrown in jail for it. But nuclear energy may come the closest to being green. Not that there aren’t serious drawbacks to it -- there are and they are obvious. We have NFS in these parts, having some pretty serious “hot” spills and keeping silent about it

Wind energy isn’t green, just ask the Kennedy’s. Or the folks fighting to keep turbines off the ridges of the mountains in NC. Seriously. Do you want it in your backyard, and do you know anything at all about the drawbacks of it? The noise? The death? What about the fact that a wind turbine doesn’t produce as much energy in its lifetime as it consumes in its birth?

They just flooded the Grand Canyon trying to mitigate a few of the deleterious effects of damming the great river to produce hydroelectric. I have a thing for the Grand Canyon. I hiked across her and rafted through her some years ago and it is was magnificent. Absolutely magnificent. Then, after I’d spent a month being in all these places, on the three day drive home I read Abby’s The Monkey Wrench Gang and knew something about what he was talking about.

I also live in a place with TVA dams, in a place where they confiscated people’s homes and farms and businesses and in one case an entire town and I’ll tell you, more than fifty years later people are still sore about it. And Aswan Dam in Egypt has just about killed the fertile Nile Valley.

I don’t want to go through every possible alternative energy, or all the boondoggles like ethanol and hybrids and hydrogen either. But I could.

And I live with coal and coal fired electric plants and strip mining and mountain top removal, so I know about that too. First hand, not in theory.

There is no green energy.

Except that of muscle and most efficiently of human muscle work. It is green to work, it is freeing to work, it is sustaining to work.


Teri said...

And unfortunately, nuclear is the only thing that will come close to providing what we need. If the Europeans and Japanese can use it, what is the hangup with us? We're not in the Three Mile Island generation of reactors any more.

I see way too many people out there bitching about energy issues and they live in houses full of devices that use electricity. There was a blog article kicking around about a guy that ran just his bedroom completely off solar. I thought that was very cool, someone actually showing that you can do something about generating your own energy on a personal level. (Doesn't work for us unfortunately, out here in the land of clouds and rain.)

I think the other thing for me, having lived a lot without the stuff, is that folks don't truly appreciate what a time saving device electricity is. There are so many of our tasks on the place that would be easier to do with electricity (containing goats comes to mind.)There are no easy solutions but we'd better get in gear and start doing something to fix the problem.

CG said...

Well, I think it is all in using less. A lot less. Energy that is. Solar won't hack it because while it might produce enough to run a bedroom, it won't run people's kitchens or laundry rooms, and there are huge pollution issues in its manufacture. And the key is also that we can all use a lot less, me included and I already use 90% less than the average Joe. But I think the rub is that to use significantly less will only come with collapse, and if we used that much less would itself cause collapse itself. But touting hybrid cars or alternative energies as "solutions", well, nothing NOTHING replaces fossil fuel. And fossil fuel has peaked. And the collapse of the dollar and the stock market and the housing market are all related, and prepare, as Warren Buffet said, for recession turning to depression. And it is better to have a plan. I'm stocking even more than usual.

Anonymous said...

It's just not very popular these days to work.(I mean by that, real, before sun up to after sun down, dog tired, can't hardly staighten out your back, blistered hands, kinda work).

Screaming Jesus said...

I have to admit that you have opened my eyes a bit here - I really didn't think about "alternative" energy in a negative way.

You, my friend doth rock.

CG said...

how can you not love someone called "screaming jesus"? How?

And kmoo, you are so right.

And there are so many other interesting things. Like I have opined that people will starve to death just because there is not food in the drive thru, but it turns out there is really something called "appetite fatigue" (or something like that) that causes some people to refuse to eat rather than to eat what is they are not used to *unto starvation*.

So I think people will say, "I can't eat that" and they will say "You can't expect me to WORK" unto death.

Ren said...

Dh and I were talking about "alternative" energies the other day and how all of them use fossil fuel to create. The only thing I can think of that is a good alternative, if we can find the right property is Hydroelectric. I know some of the equipment would be fossil fuel based, but I think we could do the repairs ourselves and even build something decent.

It wouldn't run the household we have today. We're in the weaning process though. Not sure how well we're doing at it.:)

But I did buy some bees tonight. And that felt good. Nothing to do with energy....but it made me happy.

CG said...

oh yeah, you can do some small scale hydroelectric but remember it takes quiet the fall to produce much. And a LOT of know how. We have a friend who is into the engineering of it but remember to do the math!

Also remember that, while our back creek could probably usually be hydroelectric productive, during the drought it would not have produced ANY. Nada.

Anonymous said...


Whatever you do, do the math. A home hydroelectric generator (a Pelton wheel, for example) to light ONE compact florescent light at 30 watts requires a head of water 35 feet high and a flow rate of 14 gallons per minute. The formula is almost (but not quite) algebraic. That is, if your water source only falls 3.5 feet, you need 140 gallons/min for the same power. But a turbine that can make use of 140 gallons per minute is huge! That's why most practical hydroelectric goes for high head and lower flow, the turbine can be smaller.

This also assumes no line loss from the creekside generator to the house. Such generators produce low voltage DC, and the power diminishes rapidly if transfered any distance at all. To make up for this, it is converted to higher voltage AC, and that process loses a quarter to a third of the energy.

I know it's a romantic notion to imagine all one's electric power coming from one's own generator down by the creek, but do the cold, hard math involved and get a 'sense of proportion' as to what you can actually expect.

Ren said...

Wow. That does make it sound pretty unrealistic. I guess it could be ok as an "extra" that you didn't depend upon.

The more you look at it all, the more non-electric seems to make sense. But dang, I LIKE electricity.:)

CG said...

oh, I like it too. And two things: I don't think it makes much sense (unless you're Amish) to live off the grid unless you really DO live off the grid (waaaay out), and I don't think we'll actually have to live completely without electricity, it just might not be 24/7 electricity in the quantities we're used to. Again, think third world. That's my usual model. Oh, they are having food riots in the third world now. Just sayin'.

Chile said...

I concur that human power is definitely the green way to go, but as Teri mentioned, it is time-consuming. We've been working to switch to more manual labor and I've been surprised at how some days disappear without having seemed to accomplish much. My time reference is still centered around how long it used to take when I used electric or gas power to do the job. One thing that may help us is trying to be smart about using human power. Getting the grain grinder set up to be pedal-powered saves time and physical energy to do the same work. We'll set up the old washer we got on pedal power, too. And there are many other jobs that can be eased with the use of a stationary bike.

CG said...

I think your paradigm still needs to be changed, in that, no, I don't think things "take longer" necessarily. Especially if you count in your time to earn the money to power them. Wear fewer clothes and wash less is an obvious change to make. And don't forget, you have to factor in the energy consumption of the devices to use "pedal power". Although I don't think grinding grain or washing clothes are the big energy hogs -- it is more like driving and drying those clothes. I swear I don't see why anyone HAS a dryer!