Friday, January 26, 2007

Solving the World's Problems

James and I have been spending one half day a week with my parents, learning from their life experience. The first week, we looked at slides from their trip to Mexico, where they had visited Mayan ruins and floated down an underground river through the limestone landscape. Then Dad took James out to the workshop to examine a removable stair railing that Dad was designing for the curling rink. There was a problem with the initial design, and James came up with a solution. Last week Dad brought his transit to town and helped James measure angles from our house to trees and other sun obstacles around the yard, so that we can estimate how much solar gain we would get from a greenhouse addition.

Today we had a lengthy discussion about energy in our lives: food energy and where it comes from; electricity and the whole chain back through coal and plants to the sun again; kinetic and potential energy and how the water gets up there behind the hydroelectric dams; heat energy and all the different ways it moves; renewable and non-renewable energy sources, and the way that distinction blurs when you consider different time scales and rates of use. James and Dad toured around my parents' house and examined the many different energy sources and forms in play there (active and passive solar, wood stove, propane backup heater, and the recently added ground-source heat pump - just to name a few) while Mom and I sat reading MacLean's and Jared Diamond's Collapse, respectively. Not surprisingly, when James and Dad returned from their explorations, we got talking about solving the world's problems.

We got wondering about the lack of individual action, and speculated that many people just don't want to face the realities. Why?
  • They are afraid that the world situation is terrible, and rather than face that fear, they just turn their attention somewhere else.
  • They don't want to know how much their own lifestyle would have to change to make a difference.
  • They are afraid that changing their own lifestyle would have little or no influence on others and on the overall picture, so rather than risking that disappointment, they just carry on as they are.
Some of these were hitting close to home; "they" was turning into "we." Mom thinks their house is too big; Dad notes that Mom doesn't want to leave part of it unheated. We got talking about how easily they could do that, and how easily I could save more energy around our own house here without going into the whole greenhouse renovation project.

Then we took in some food energy together, and James and I drove the four-wheel-drive pickup back to town.


Later I got to thinking that all three of the above probably apply to me to some extent, and maybe there are some other categories that fit me too.
  • I am afraid that political action can do very little unless the public support is there (at which point individual action should suffice), and rather than risking that disappointment, I retreat to my own little lifestyle improvements.
  • I am afraid that calling for change would bring criticism of my own imperfect life, so I keep quiet.
Now the lights are burning and the computer is churning late into the night. If only I could offset that energy use by capturing some of the wind energy that's making things rattle. Come to think of it, what is that creaking sound - so familiar that it's beneath my usual notice - and is there heat energy flowing out where the sound is coming in?

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