What Happened to Self Reliance?

How often do you hear the phrase "Self Reliance" these days? I never hear it.

Apparently being self-reliant is out of style. It seems that we the people have become a nation of consumers, and consumers are not self reliant. Oil producing countries, advertisers, government, political parties, and employers, to name a few, want us to be consumers and not self reliant. They want us to spend our money and depend on them for information, compensation, energy, food, entitlements, loans, tax breaks, etc. (Likewise, the United States government consumes more than its revenue; it depends on purchases of debt by China and other countries to fund the endless overspending.) But the really ugly skeleton in the closet is our dependence on fossil fuels.

Cutting back on our energy use is critical. Leadership in this realm has been mixed at best. Many of the celebrity Americans who promote energy conservation and alternative energy don't walk their talk. Al Gore and his huge mansion are a glaring example.

Blogger and writer John Michael Greer is preparing for a future where fossil fuels are very expensive and scarce; he intends to be self reliant. He writes extensively about why and how to conserve energy. Does he walk his talk? He recently reported:

I've never owned a cell phone, a car, a microwave, a television, or most of the other conveniences so many Americans think of as essential to life. I do own a computer — it's essential to the way I make my living — and my compromise there is that I don't buy new computers; I take the old ones that would otherwise end up in a landfill, and keep them out of the ecosystem. I still use a very modest amount of grid power — our power bills run in the $30-$40 a month range — since my wife and I bought a home of our own for the first time in 2009, and we haven't yet raised the money for an off-grid system (or for several other improvements I have on the list, such as solar water heaters and composting toilets). 

Some of my food comes from a backyard organic garden; much of the remainder is from the farmer's market in season; almost none is processed and packaged, though that's as much because I have a hard time choking down standard American food products as anything else. Organic wastes, almost without exception, go into the composter out back. I don't use mainstream medicine, though that's a complex issue in its own right — I've had too many family members killed or harmed by MDs to trust my health to them, among other things. (see Comments)

His sacrifices are rather shocking to most of us in America. It's easy to say he's weird and ignore the fact that he is much more self reliant than anyone we know.

Most of the poor in this country own a cell phone and a TV. (Government programs often pay for cells phones for the poor.) Many of these same people are unhealthy, in debt, and utterly dependent on someone else's money to pay for their lifestyle. They are not self reliant and never will be.

Why am I bringing this up? Dependence weakens individuals and countries – self reliance strengthens. The US needs to be stronger to weather the storms that loom on the horizon. What if… Iran and Israel go to war. Would Israel destroy Iran's oil wells? Would Iran destroy Saudi Arabia's oil wells? The price of oil could jump to $400 – $500 a barrel. Gas prices in the US could be $16 – $20 per gallon. Heating and cooling our homes could quadruple in price. How quickly could our government adapt? How would unprepared people adapt?

Maybe self-reliant people can teach us a thing or two. What do you think?

Barriers to Clean Energy in the US

This article from Grist describes why we are not adapting to the new energy realities and recommends some solutions. Excerpts below.

Link: New energy rules could unleash an economic boom and help quash climate change | By Timothy E. Wirth, Vinod Khosla, John D. Podesta | Grist | Soapbox | 22 May 2007.

Why aren’t we moving faster toward a clean energy future?

Huge society-wide change comes only when millions of consumers change their habits, and consumers will not change their energy habits until we reach the "crossover point" at which clean energy beats coal and oil on the basis of price, convenience, and availability.

Right now, most drivers cannot pull into a gas station and fill up with domestically produced biofuels. Most homeowners cannot choose wind- or solar-generated electricity to power their appliances. Going green too often costs more — in time or money.

Change won’t come until the price is right. That price is set by the market, the market is shaped by rules, and the rules favor fossil fuels.

If we want to change the future, we have to change the rules.

Rules matter. Rules define the character — and shape the future — of the society that makes them. Democracy’s distinguishing excellence lies in its ability to write the rules in a way that serves the common interest.

Good rules align the interests of individuals and corporations with the public interest, so that business can profit in ways that also make society richer and safer. This is the foundation of sound public policy. When high purpose is combined with the profit motive, the results can be astonishing. Time and again market capitalism, bounded by smart rules designed to serve the public interest, has delivered the desired result more cheaply, quickly, and easily than anyone thought possible.

Unfortunately, rules that are passed to advance the public interest can come, over time, to harm the public interest.

The rules we have now encourage the use of energy — especially oil and electricity. For most of the 20th century, this was smart policy. Electrification of the U.S. economy produced huge gains in productivity and quality of life. The increased mobility of people, goods, and services had similar benefits. Using more energy did not make us dependent on foreign oil. As late as 1940, the U.S. produced 63 percent of the world’s oil, compared to the 5 percent that came from the Middle East.

But the world is very different today. Geologists estimate that the Middle East has over 60 percent of the world’s oil reserves, the U.S. just three. And carbon dioxide emissions from our power plants and vehicles are wrecking the world’s climate. The rules need to change.

The rules today give oil and gas companies — the most profitable industry in the history of the world — billions of dollars in tax breaks and research subsidies. The rules do not factor in the indirect costs of oil — the cost of protecting oil supply lines to the Middle East, the cost of oil price shocks that lead to recessions, and the cost of intensified storms that make coastal property uninsurable. Insurers have priced insurance in Florida so high that the state has stepped in and pledged tens of billions of dollars in public money if a major hurricane strikes — despite the fact that neither the state’s catastrophe fund nor the state-chartered insurance company has anywhere near enough money to pay the claims.

The rules perpetuate our energy habits. Auto companies sell cars that get as little as 13 miles per gallon — something they could never do in Europe, Japan, or even China. Utility companies make more money when their customers waste energy and less when they save it. Developers build with energy-inefficient materials because they don’t have to pay the utility bills. And power plants use the atmosphere as a free garbage dump for their global-warming emissions.

We need new rules that will make the best choice for the country also the best choice for consumers.

Here are five more rule changes that would reduce emissions, give consumers new choices, launch new businesses, and accelerate the profitable transition to new energy technologies:

  • Put a price on carbon.
  • Set "carbon efficiency" standards for vehicles.
  • Make energy efficiency the business of utilities.
  • Modernize the electric power grid to be more efficient and better deliver clean energy.
  • Increase government support for clean energy.

via Clean Break

Conservation Saves Energy

The Christian Science Monitor provides some great advice for saving energy in your home.

Link: Surprise: Not-so-glamorous conservation works best | csmonitor.com

When high school science teacher Ray Janke bought a home in Chicopee, Mass., he decided to see how much he could save on his electric bill.

He exchanged incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, put switches and surge protectors on his electronic equipment to reduce the "phantom load" – the trickle consumption even when electronic equipment is off – and bought energy-efficient appliances.

Two things happened: He saw a two-thirds reduction in his electric bill, and he found himself under audit by Mass Electric. The company thought he’d tampered with his meter. "They couldn’t believe I was using so little," he says.

Mr. Janke had hit on what experts say is perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective place to reduce one’s energy consumption: home.

Moving closer to public transportation or riding a bike instead of driving is not an option for many, but changing incandescent bulbs for fluorescent and buying more efficient appliances is not only possible, it quickly pays for itself with savings.

The No. 1 contributor of carbon emissions worldwide is the US. It is responsible for 22 percent of the world’s annual emissions. In second place, China produces 17 percent, while Russia at No. 3, contributes 6 percent. By another measure, of the top five producers (responsible for more than half of global emissions), the US is by far the highest per capita contributor – 20 metric tons per person per year compared with China’s 3.6 metric tons. (Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.)

The best place to start is to reduce electricity consumption. Power plants lose two-thirds of their energy in waste heat. For every one unit of electricity your space heater consumes, for example, two units have been lost at the power plant. This inefficiency is reflected in electricity’s cost to consumers. Even though more American homes use more natural gas than anything else, homeowners spend more than twice as much on electricity – $100 billion annually compared with $47 billion. Not only is electricity more expensive, but because of its inherent inefficiency, it contributes 21 percent more CO2 annually than does transportation.

Cutting back on electricity used for lighting (9 percent of residential usage nationwide) presents the quickest savings-to-effort ratio. The EPA estimates that changing only 25 percent of your home’s bulbs can cut a lighting bill in half. Incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of their energy as heat, and compact fluorescents, which can be up to five times more efficient, last years longer as well.

Second stop, kitchen appliances, which consume 27 percent of the average US household’s electricity. More than half of that goes to your refrigerator. So "any fridge over 10 years old is worth changing," says Henry Gifford, a New York-based mechanical system designer. "And no, don’t put it in the basement and plug it in and leave it there." Get rid of it.

For the reasons mentioned above, using electricity for water and space heating, which accounts for 19 percent of home electrical use nationwide, should be avoided. "One of the worst things you can do with electricity is use it to make heat," says Alexander MacFarlane, director of green building technical services at the New York-based Community Environmental Center, a consulting company in energy efficiency.

Ideally, all appliances should be exchanged for those bearing the EPA’s Energy Star seal. Plugging electronics into power strips, which can then be turned off, will decrease "phantom loads" and further increase savings. (Transformers inside electrical equipment convert your wall socket’s alternating current to the direct current electrical devices use to function. Even in "off" position, they often continue to draw small amounts of electricity.)

via The Energy Blog