The Energy Revolution

By: Yaakov Lehman

 

The industrial revolution of the 19th century marked humanities transition from an organic energy based society- based on human, animal, and inanimate (wind, water, solar) power sources- to an advanced industrial society based primarily on fossil fuels. With great exertion, humans themselves are only capable of producing about 60 watts of energy and animals up to 700, while an automobile powered on petroleum effortlessly generates an average of 15,000 watts while driving on the freeway.[1] Our greatly increased capacity for harnessing energy has no doubt produced wonderful benefits for all mankind. Unfortunately, there are many negative effects of the energy revolution that we all also must share.
 
One of the most profound consequences of these drastic changes is heightened level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humans and animals are constantly putting CO2 into the atmosphere, as are automobiles and power plants. Yet, whereas the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was stable for thousands of years, in just the past 150 years it has jumped by over 25%![2] The current rate of carbon proliferation is alarmingly dangerous, and threatens to completely undermine the very conveniences that were made possible by the transition from organic to advanced energy sources.
 
These profound historical forces are far beyond the grasp of any single individual. Yet, we all bear the responsibility of making informed choices in our lives to help mitigate these problems. A great place to start is in greening our transportation habits. The transportation sector accounts for a full 1/3 of US carbon dioxide emissions.[3] Reforming our transportation is actually quite simple, and small steps prove to be very empowering. Here is a short list of actions you can take to green your personal transportation.
 
1. Use Public Transportation. If one in ten Americans used public transportation daily, we would decrease our reliance on foreign oil by 40%, greatly cutting CO2 emissions at the same time. The Internet is an amazing resource to obtain precise information about bus and train schedules. Riding a bus is also 26 times safer than driving a car.[4]
 
2. Exercise! One of the most dire consequences of living in a modern society is the greatly reduced amount of time humans spend exercising. Walking short distances to the market, shul, and friend’s houses can be a great way to the offset detrimental effects on the human body, as well as the environment caused by the use cars. Also consider bicycles, scooters, long (skate) boards, and other methods of sustainable personal transport.
 
3. Carpool. Send out emails, post memos, make announcements- anything you can do to encourage your workplace to start a carpooling program. Just as Pinchas swiftly took action when he saw other idly standing around, we too must be proactive in encouraging and implementing good behavior in our immediate environments.
 
4. CarShare. Instead of purchasing a new car, several companies offer services for sharing electric/hybrid cars such as FlexShare and ZipCar. When you buy a membership to one of their programs, you have instant access to cheap, sustainable transportation whenever you need it. The service is available in the following cities: Los Angeles; Gainesville; San Diego; Atlanta; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington; D.C; Boston; New York; Minneapolis; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Oakland; San Francisco; Toronto; London; Chicago; and Vancouver.
 
5. Telecommute. The technological revolution has also brought the amazing ability of communicating without commuting! With conference calling, video conferencing, online chat rooms, etc., we can conduct our worldwide business without leaving our homes or offices. If you are unfamiliar with these technologies, don’t hesitate to ask someone who is competent and can teach you these skills.
 
6. Offset your carbon emission. If circumstances require that you must embark on a long voyage, consider offsetting your carbon emissions with a company such as climate care. These companies calculate the amount of carbon dioxide that was emitted in your travels, and quantify that number into a dollar amount. Ex. Flying from Los Angeles to New York produces 1.09 tons of CO2/person. For around $17, you can offset this carbon proliferation, and the company will contribute that money towards developing renewable energy sources, increasing energy efficiency, or reforestation efforts.
 
7. Buy a Sustainable Vehicle. If you are considering buying a new car, buy a hybrid. The following companies now sell hybrid vehicles Ford, Nissan, Honda, Saturn, Lexus, Toyota, and Mercury. (http://www.automotive.com/new-cars/27/hybrid/index.html) Also, if you do not usually drive long distances, look into buying an electric vehicle. Learn more at: http://eaaev.org/
 
8. Drive Smart. Unnecessary acceleration, speeding, and jerky driving can greatly reduce the efficiency of your car. As these behaviors are also very dangerous, it makes much more sense to drive prudently.
 
9. Alternative Fuels. For the somewhat adventuresome, a regular diesel engine can be converted to run off of straight vegetable oil, which emits far less carbon than gasoline. You can it run either virgin vegetable oil (any household cooking oil) or wasted vegetable oil picked up from restaurants. Also, bio-diesel (vegetable oil which has been processed into diesel) can be put into any diesel engine, though finding a reliable source can sometimes be tricky. Check around your local area for bio-diesel co-ops, or retail distribution companies.http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_svo.html
 
10. Limit Air Conditioning Use. Air condition uses up a large amount of fuel, thus decreasing your fuel efficiency. For city driving, rolling the windows down instead of using AC is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Also, parking in the shade, and using a reflective windshield are all fairly simple ways to control the temperature in your car. Electric and solar powered fans, which require very little installation effort, are widely available for purchase.http://www.tradekey.com/ks-solar-fan/
 

References:

[1] Vaclav Smil. Energy in World History (1994)
[2] Nir Shaviv. “Carbon Dioxide of Solar Forcing” http://www.sciencebits.com/CO2orSolar
[4] Injury Facts, 2005-2006 Edition. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council, 2006
 
Originally posted in “On Eagles’ Wings” July 20th 2007.

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