Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jeffrey Free Luers: Taking Power

—By Jeffrey Free Luers – January 13, 2009

Alongside protecting the wild and fostering respect for our planet, one of the tenets of this movement is creating a sustainable future for our communities. In doing so, we must develop communities that have the ability to provide food, water, sanitation, resources and energy in a decentralized and autonomous manner.

We use energy everyday. It is easy to dismiss our use of electricity with romantic notions of primitivism or dismantling the capitalist system by dismantling the electric grid. But, these thoughts do not reflect the reality that over a third of all energy use in this country is residential.

Residential buildings alone consume 35% of all electricity in the U.S.(1). Of that, water heaters account for 15-30% of a households total energy consumption (2). Then there is lighting, computers, and appliances that consume energy even when not in use.

Even if people were willing to stop using computers and the internet, willing to stop taking hot showers, or cooking on a stove, and willing to start washing clothes by hand – something I highly doubt, considering dedicated and hardline radicals have failed to make these changes – we would still need a source of energy.

Consider this, if people did not have gas or electricity to cook with, the world would be forced to resort to cooking fires. If you think that’s better than using electricity, imagine the entire city of Los Angeles cooking with fire 3 meals a day, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and particulate matter into the air. Not to mention the havoc and destruction the consumption of fire wood would have on the Angeles National Forest and other forested areas. And what about other community necessities that need electricity to function like hospitals?

As a movement we made mistakes romanticizing militant direct action without developing a structure to support prisoners and militant actions. We paid for that mistake with long prison sentences and traitors in our ranks. If we fail to develop a localized sustainable energy source, our failure could cost human lives.

In developed countries such as the U.S., solar power, though expensive, represents one of the greenest alternative energy sources. In fact, by covering an area 291×291 square miles with solar cells, we could supply all of the world’s present energy needs (3). That represents just 0.15% of the Earth’s land mass. Because of the versatility of photovoltaic cells, solar collection can be as simple as wiring buildings and houses for solar power with excess power being fed back into the community.

Again, while individual cost is prohibitive, corporations and local governments can be pressured to help fund solar conversion. Especially if they realize that doing so can save their community millions of dollars a year and put them on the path to energy self-reliance.

Likewise, wind power has the potential to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. In order to generate the same amount of electricity as a single megawatt wind turbine for 20 years, 26,000 tons of coal or 87,000 barrels of oil would have to be burned (4). A single one megawatt wind turbine displaces 2,000 tons of CO2 each year (based on current average U.S. utility mix) (5).

Moreover, wind power is a relatively cheap source of do it yourself electricity. While a fair amount of mechanical skill and knowledge of electrical systems is required to build a turbine, small scale turbines can be designed from recycled bicycle parts and neodymium magnets scavenged from computer hard drives for under $50 (6). Like photovoltaic systems, wind turbines can be attached to buildings or homes. They can also be placed in community gardens or other accessible areas.

In areas where wind or solar are not an option, electricity may be produced from biomass. Unfortunately, biomass can be a source of severe air pollution if not processed carefully. However, an area of promise is methane digester systems that break down animal or human waste into useable methane – a natural byproduct of decomposition. While methane is a greenhouse gas 20-times more potent than CO2, when it is burned to create electricity it breaks down into CO2 in levels lower than coal.

While methane’s release of CO2 is less than desired, through the natural breakdown of waste, methane would be produced and released. By harnessing this methane for electricity it can then broken down into a less potent greenhouse gas. The use of biomass may therefore be an effective and environmentally friendly way of treating raw sewage as opposed to the water intensive method currently used.

By failing to work toward alternative energy methods in our communities we are virtually guaranteeing the continued use of fossil fuels and rising global temperature. We also continue to allow energy giants to make decisions for us.

Aside from initial investments and hard work, solar, wind and biomass energy is free. Governments do not control the sun, wind, or how much we shit. While some may argue that embracing alternative energy is a compromise that we shouldn’t make, these same people continue to use electricity. By not developing alternative energy in our own backyards, we are just allowing energy giants to conduct business as usual.

Certainly, we need to reduce our use of energy. The best way to do that is to stop using appliances we don?t need, and unplug the ones we do when we aren’t using them. But, like it or not, since humans first used fire, we haven’t stopped – electricity is an extension of that. The sort of thing we can do is to create the cleanest, safest, sustainable, local applications of electricity production as possible. We, literally, need to take power out of government and corporate hands and put it in our own.


(1) U.S. Dept. of Energy, Office of Building Technology and Community Programs. RTS Core Databook. U.S. Dept. of Energy, 2000. Charts I. 1.2 and I. 1.3.

(2) David Johnston and Scott Gibson, Green From the Ground Up. The Taunton Press. 2008. Pg. 156.

(3) Bjorn Lomborg. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pg. 131.

(4) and (5) David Johnston and Kim Master, Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time. New Society Publishers. 2004. Pg. 85.

(6) Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living. South End Press. 2008. Pg. 163.

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