Friday, April 29, 2005

"Mendocino" cardigan in Peruvian Collection alpaca. Design from Pacific Coast Highway by Alice Starmore. Just finished. Posted by Hello

And that's all the knitting news for now.

Turning to the voluntary simplicity section of this blog, the topic foremost on my mind in recent weeks is peak oil. Probably most of you are familiar with this phenom, which is not about the end of oil but rather the end of cheap oil. If this term is new to you, I urge you to get acquainted with it as soon as possible. There are dozens of websites and I won't recommend any in particular at the moment; a simple google search will keep you busy for hours.

Well, actually, start with this recent article by James Howard Kunstler that was published in Rolling Stone. It's getting a lot of attention. Perhaps it's a bit alarmist, but if you check around the internet a bit, you'll find equally alarming reports from the likes of Goldman Sachs and T. Boone Pickens, as well as Bush energy advisor Matthew Simmons.

So what are you doing to prepare for a future of rising energy prices? If (or, more likely, when) gas hits $3/gallon, what will the impact be on your life? What about $4/gallon? Or $5/gallon?

It's easy for me to say, "Hey, I rarely drive, and our one family car gets about 30mpg, so why should I worry?" But energy costs impact almost everything. So while I'm not sweating bullets at the gas pump, and I'm not a big shopper or consumer of imported goods, I'm quite concerned about keeping food on the table and a reasonable level of comfort in our house. I don't feel entirely secure about food because we don't have a place to grow our own, but I'm happy we're at least long-time members in a local CSA.

The house is a bigger concern. Recently I had a friend, who is an expert on alternative energy, do an audit. The bad news is that our walls are basically paper -- R3 -- as the blown-in insulation has all settled. Our attic also needs more insulation. The good news is that despite the draftiness of our 115-year-old house, we don't have a huge problem. My friend was shocked that we manage to heat our house in frosty northern Michigan for about $850/year. Apparently our habits have reduced our heating bills by at least half of what they should be. We turn the heat all the way down at night and sleep under thick down comforters. We also turn the heat off when we leave the house for more than a few hours. And we keep the heat set to a level (our thermostat isn't accurate, so I can't be more specific) that is comfortable with those thick wool sweaters (Ha! There was more knitting content after all! Knitting pays for itself by lowering our heat bills!) My friend told me that only about 1 person in 100 is willing to turn back the thermostat (surely he exaggerates!) Our furnace and hot water operate on natural gas.

Our electricity bills are also fairly reasonable at about $35/month. The refrigerator is our biggest electric drain, and we have a modest one without an automatic ice maker or any special features. We don't have a hot tub, and we use compact fluorescents in most of our light fixtures. We also don't have, or need, air conditioning.

Still, I don't want to kick in another $1000/year or so if energy prices double, so I have to figure out how we can be even more efficient. My friend recommended doubling our attic insulation, replacing the weather stripping on our doors, installing storms on the windows that don't currently have them, and consider putting window quilts in the bedrooms. He says just the attic insulation alone will probably drop $200/year off our heat bill.

My other focus of action is volunteering with our local currency initiative, Bay Bucks. While the link to surviving in a post-peak oil era may not seem obvious at first, I believe that community-building activities will prove crucial. The communities that are most self-reliant will be those that can best adapt.