Welcome to the Suburbanecogeek blog. This space is supposed to be where I define the purpose of this site. Simple. And yet, not. Maybe I should tell a story. I do that sometimes, like it or not.
In June of 2004, I was living the same life as everyone else in suburbia, working, raising kids and not really thinking about the future other than saving for retirement, when the kids will be leaving the house, things like that. I knew that the environment was important, I tried to recycle, I tried not to waste too much gas although my off-roading with the jeep a few times a year hardly counted as a green activity. I knew that oil would run out someday, but I figured that would be hundreds of years and really, why worry now?
There was an article in that month’s National Geographic that made some points that I just could not ignore any longer. The bold type on the front of the magazine said THE END OF CHEAP OIL! Sounds sensational but then many front page titles are. Grabs the attention. I read the article and it connected some dots for me in a way that demanded action. It is not just that oil is getting expensive. The problem is that demand is going up and production capacity is not. I had been building my own suspension parts for the jeep for a couple of years and had been aware that metal prices were going up dramatically because of the industrialization of China and India. It didn’t occur to me that they were going to be buying more oil soon, too. I also thought, “no problem, we’ll just use more efficient cars as the price of gas goes up”. BIG PROBLEM. It isn’t just gas. Anything made of plastic comes from oil. Look around you, dear reader, and see if you can spot anything that is not made with some oil. It IS plastics. It is in paint, flooring adhesives, wire insulation, synthetic fibers, darned near everything! Oil is what fertilizes our crops and transports them to market. And we are running out. It is true that there is more oil out there, in shale formations, tar sands. It is expensive and not all of it is extractable. We could burn coal for electricity and electrify just about everything. That is if we don’t mind ripping the tops off of more mountains and making sea levels rise even faster.
Holy Crap! This is a problem. We see the early signs of it now, but most likely in the coming decades, it will get worse. It occurred to me that, in June of ’07, I had knowledge of solutions to this problem. My grandfather was a plumber in Chicago and since the ’80s had not paid to heat his two story building because of the solar hot water panels he had built on his roof. I knew that electric cars had been built in the ’70s and that golf carts were just small versions of a car. I did some internet searching and I found that there were relatively cheap components out there that were much better than the old ones. CFL light bulbs were coming out and photovoltaic (solar electric) panels had been around for decades. I had some basic metal working skills and was thinking about learning to weld. I could figure out how to convert a car and there were books on the subject.
There was a society-wide problem. I had the means and the ability to solve it or at least my contribution to it. That essentially creates a moral imperative to act. At the very least, when my kids or grandkids are screwed, they can look back and know that I tried to fix it. The kids are learning how to conserve and build stuff, too.
Over the past 7 years I have read a lot, gotten help from some experts in welding, EV conversion and photovoltaic installation. I’ve built several kinds of machines to run on “green” forms of energy. One of the ways I’ve done all of this stuff is that I do it at home and have gotten the family involved to a degree. I’ve also stopped watching so much TV. I watch maybe an hour a day on the average now. I feel better and the accomplishments are so much more rewarding.
I read somewhere that changing to one CFL from and incandescent bulb can save 6 tons of coal over its lifetime. Think if everyone in the U.S. made a similar effort. Why don’t they?
I was talking to a guy on a jeep trip. He was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t put bigger tires on his jeep because no one made a particular part that would allow him to raise the suspension. (It’s a jeep thing, you don’t need to understand). I told him that it could simply be made with a little bending and welding. I will never forget his response, “I’m just a computer guy, I can’t do that”. I was surprised how that irritated me. I am a white-collar worker who had learned to weld and do metal work and here was this guy who was LIMITING HIMSELF with his own thoughts.
Change cannot occur without learning. At that point, I realized that self-defeating attitude is a big part of what is holding us back. ” I can’t do that.” “I’m not some eco geek”. Seven years ago I wasn’t either. I am not perfectly knowledgable today. There was no miraculous transformation, no graduation with a degree in green. It has been seven years and I am still learning all the time. It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard either. Most of it has been fun and some of it pretty cool. Best of all my kids not only respect me, they truly think that I am one of the smartest, coolest people they know. (no, seriously, they do.)
Which brings me back to what this blog is about. This is meant to be a narrative of one man’s pursuit of sustainability. I think that most who come here have a basic understanding of the need for sustainability, so I don’t intend on focusing on the why but more the how. Reality is not always wonderful success stories, it’s also about component failures, unintentionally setting things on fire, and waiting forever for that last critical part to arrive. This blog is about enjoying the successes, learning from the mistakes and overcoming the failures. It is about finding the courage to step outside of ones definition of one’s self and change habits and practices for the better. It’s about rejecting the current reality and substituting our own.