Category Archives: energy grid

Days 360-365: MLwC hits the Year End Mark

 So, I thought in honor of the project that has changed the way I think about driving–this grew-up-in-Southern-California-you’ll -take-my-car-from-my-cold-dead-hands girl–I thought I’d review some of the high points along the way.

bianchi bike

First, recollection of the project’s goal as I’ve stated it on the blog:

MLwC stands for My Life w Car, a year long project to think differently about alternate transportation options and related issues…like, jeez, I never knew how angry driving made me until I stopped. Nowdays, I mix it up: bike, bus, ped, and yes, I still drive…though nowhere near as much as I used to. I may ditch my car at the end of the year–I like to think it’s possible. But I’m spending the year figuring that question out. For now, it’s enough that I’ve changed my habits in a big way.

For the big question, will I ditch my car? No, it became clear about midway that it made no sense to ditch a perfectly good, fully paid for car that works fine and is not sooo old that it’s a polluting disaster. Flexcar is good if you don’t have a car. But I’ve managed to completely change my transportation habits to include bike, bus, walking, ride sharing in my normal activities, and drastically reduce my car use period. Good enough.

sr520.jpg

And now for some of the high points along the year where I had some clear and habit changing insights. Here are the posts I would send the interested reader to:

Day 95: Walking! The subject of walking instead of driving brought up a lot of feelings for readers and myself. Walking takes longer, but the calm and enjoyment one gets from it really resonated with people. I started walking more and found I loved the parenthetical space it created–when you’re walking, you’re just walking. Looking around, hearing birds, being part of your town–and slowing things down a lot. Maybe some can’t imagine slowing things down and to them I just say: too bad, your loss. You should try it, you might like it.

Day 99: I really started to understand how things would change if I changed my habitual approach to transportation. Also, I found that discussing the project with others opened up a lot of questions and interest with my circle of friends. I didn’t expect the kind of interest the MLwC project engendered.

Day 116-118: In the process of removing habitual driving from my life, I became aware of the connection between driving and CONSUMING! You get in the car and you go…to get stuff. The two–the need for stuff and the trek to get the stuff–are so intertwined it takes a real effort to untangle them. This realization led me to discover the San Francisco Compact–a group that is dedicated to not buying anything for a year. Amazing.

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Day 160: Continuing on the issue of consuming, I truly get it! Moving quickly, hopping in the car, is the quickest route to impulse buying possible. Making things easy is truly making things a lot worse in the whole big picture. Fast food, fast cars, fast this and fast that–I’m just not sure we’ve got the right goals in mind. I know this perspective makes me a bad capitalist, but hey.

Day 191-194: I’m starting to really understand how things have changed from the 50’s to now. Unbridled populations growth as a machine for consuming and using every resource that’s not nailed down. No wait, we’ll use the ones that are nailed down, too.

station wagon promo pic

Days 213-214: Considerations about the older car, the urge to have something new, new, new! And plus, I just love the title of the post: The discreet charm of the older car.

Days 218-221: this is an important post, one of those posts where I really get an insight into my mind. Bill McKibbon hits the nail on the head when he points out that more has not made us happier, it’s just made us anxious for More. And that mirrors my experience with driving precisely. And my driving is inextricably linked to my consuming.

Day 233-237: The Puget Sound region rejects a proposal to build more roads! This is a watershed moment in more than one way!

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Days 273-277: I took my car on a road trip, a rare experience. How rare? Well, I was completely unaware how expensive gas was, and I had a rude awakening that cars actually need oil now and then.

Days 241-243: One of my most favorite posts of all. This chronicles a trip I made to a day long meditation…and how crazy I made myself trying to get there on time in a traffic jam. I learned well the concept of “No Escape.” And I’ve thought of it often since this day. There a follow-up of this post here. This period was a real turning point in understanding the habit of driving, the real deep down problem of it.

Days 287-290: a plea to change your life and change the world. We can all make a difference. We must all make a difference.

Days 332-338: a video about the Story of Stuff. I just want to call this out because it’s excellent and Annie Leonard deserves traffic!

So this year comes to a close. I know not many folks will want to read all the stuff I’ve chronicled over the course of this year, but the upshot is: I’ve learned how to live differently. I’ve learned that I can learn to live differently.

The crowd roars

And because of this, my next target has already been selected: plastic bags and plastic containers. I’ll begin this project soon and have a killer kick-off post planned. Of course, the new post series title? MLwP.

Daily Stats: (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri)
Car: 63 miles
Bike:5.0
Ped: 5.5 miles
Bus:

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Days 267 & 268: MLwC and Good Carma

Pal Brian sent me a a link to a new site that’s getting some buzz. It’s Carma–Carbon Monitoring for Action, and it maps and rates carbon footprints of power plants and power companies by region and country, all over the world. It’s a deep site, with lots of drill down options so when you poke around, be sure to toy with the many options for viewing stats and facts.

Carma–Carbon Monitoring Map of the World

A world view shows Asia as producing the biggest carbon footprint in the world, in terms of power production, which isn’t surprising I guess when you consider the population density.

Closer to home, the midwest and east coast of the United States has the biggest carbon footprint. And even closer to home, the Seattle area has a tidy little zero for carbon footprint. However, if you dig even deeper into the stats, you’ll find very specific information on power plants within the zone. For example, if you look below, you’ll see that most of the plants in the Seattle area are green or at least yellow, but interestingly, our own University of Washington is red, meaning they have a significant carbon footprint:

Carma–Carbon Monitoring Map of the World

Another really great aspect of the site is its social network–it automatically picks up conversations and news stories through RSS and posts them on the site, but it also has engaged a LOT of conversation on the site itself, with everything from scholarly inquiry and feedback, to more pedestrian interest.

The site is very new and will undoubtedly be changing constantly as it has the resources to grow and evolve, in response to demands and questions. A cool thing about the project is its focus on actionable information. It’s a resource for change (nudge to the University of Washington Enviro-watchers…)

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri)
Car: 5.5
Bike: 0
Ped: 4
Bus: 15

Day 139: MLwC and the long, hot days of summer

In Seattle, unlike a lot of places, we don’t usually get a whole lot of really, really hot summer weather. I grew up in S. California and know (and have missed) truly long hot summer days.

But the last few years, it does seem that we’re getting more of those long, hot summer days and often, even though it’s cold and rainy for much of the year and people go a little cabin-crazy around February, you hear a lot of grumbling among natives about when the rain and clouds will return. Can’t please everyone, it seems.

This last winter was, well, treacherous. Mind you, for the most part all we usually deal with is lots of rain and Seasonal Affect Disorder. Last winter we had record breaking amounts of rain and wind like you wouldn’t believe–this is not hurricane country by any stretch and yet we had hurricane force storms roll through large swaths of the region. The biggest storm is now known as The Hanukkah Hurricane, for its timing right on the holiday.

Why do I mention this? Because a lot of trees fell during that storm, which was bad enough–I mean, a LOT of trees. Power was out for a couple of weeks in many areas, roads were blocked. This is an area with a lot of urban trees…though less than we used to have.

Because a lot of trees fell and did a lot of property damage, the following months were marked by the daily cacophony of chain saws and chippers. Not just to handle the fallen trees, but to take down the remaining trees around houses. There are several houses just in our neighborhood with huge (I mean huge) trunks in the lots where once were mighty and beautiful evergreens and pines.

Now, when the hot weather has hit, these houses no longer have any shade at all and the sun is hitting full force, causing the house and gardens to heat up. Result: much more dependence on air conditioning and watering to maintain the status quo. (I’m not even going to get into the loss of habitat resulting from the urban clear-cutting).

wilsons_warbler pic

Do I blame people for being nervous about trees around their house? No, I don’t. I’m a little nervous myself–our house is surrounded on all sides by madronas, cedars, pines and we watch them with real trepidation when the winds hit–which interestingly is much more than ever before. I recall reading in The Weather Makers that one of the impacts of global climate change will be an increase in extremes–bigger winds, bigger droughts, bigger rains–in all the places that used to have “normal” amount of same.

The point is, we live in a systems based world. You do one thing and it has an impact over here, over there, and in places you can’t even predict. Because of that, yes, our choices matter.

Trees have always been a source of natural air conditioning and protection for homes. Sometimes that protection can turn into a liability. Many of the more knowledgeable people I’ve talked to have suggested that hard-core pruning, thinning out of volunteers and the like will make the existing trees stronger and less likely to fall. Degradation of soil, lack of care, removal of necessary understory brush will cause the trees to be weakened. We sort of live in a magic world where all things– trees, animals, weather, people– are seen as objects to be used as we wish, rather than as a healthy systemic environment requires.

So, here’s to a long, cool drink this afternoon in the hammock. Shade–sure, it’s old fashioned, but it works.

Daily stats: (Tuesday)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Bus: 0
Ped: 0
It was a lot-of-deskwork-day.

Day 97: MLwC & SP, baby, SP!

Solar Power!

solar2.jpg

We’re considering installing solar energy modules on our roof–nothing I would ever have expected to consider here in the mostly soggy northwest, but the technology has improved so much that it’s becoming a viable option.

Here’s an article about a standard installation; it describes the process of installing these new super thin and unobtrusive modules on your roof. The article also discusses the outlay of cash, and the homeowner’s reasons for going ahead and doing it.

The outlay of cash, by the way, is offset by massive tax deductions–both federal, and likely, local (nod to Senator Cantwell). Then, if you’ve got it set up right, and you continue your energy efficient ways, there’s a very good chance you can put excess energy back into the grid–making your meter run backwards, in effect–and actually make money on the deal. This made headlines during the rolling brown outs of the Enron age in California and highlighted an attractive plus to the alternate energy source. This chart shows the rapid increase of alternative energy into the grid during that time (2001-02):

Solar energy on the grid

So, here in Seattle, we’ve got a small start up company that installs these systems. We’re going to have them out to evaluate our house and see if we might be able to install a system, cost, long term picture, etc. They charge $80 for the evaluation but they’re a small shop and the evaluation is extensive, about a half day’s work with a written plan afterwards. We haven’t sched’d the eval yet, but we’re getting ready to.

I mean, you know it’s coming. It’s just a matter of time.

🙂

Daily stats (Wednesday)

Car: 0
Bike: 0
Foot: 3.5 walk/run
Bus: 0
Internet: 4 countries and many states.