Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where do we get our oil?

The U.S. produces 4.9 million barrels of oil per day and imports 9.7 million barrels of crude oil per day, with an additional 3.1 million barrels of other petroleum products per day for a net total import of 11.1 million barrels of petroleum per day (Source: EIA) - about 57% -69% of our petroleum use (percentages vary depending on source).

Where is it all coming from (2008 totals)?

Canada ranks first at 2.5 MMBO/D
Saudi Arabia is second at 1.5 MMBO/D
Mexico is third with 1.3 MMBO/D
Venezuela is fourth with 1.2 MMBO/D
Nigeria ranks fifth at 988 thousand BO/D

Next are Iraq, Algeria, Angola, and Russia.

It's nice we have such good friends! Unfortunately, one of our friends has a little problem - their oil supply appears to have peaked and is falling faster than a nasty curveball. Alas, this country gets nearly 40% of their government's national budget from their oil revenues, which are falling at such a quick rate they have to revise estimates downward almost monthly.

What is this country? Why, it's Mexico, our neighbor to the South. Their exports for the first half of 2009 fell 14.8% compared to the first half of 2008 (according to the Oil and Gas Journal), caused mainly by the collapse of the Cantarell oil field, which also happens to be the third largest oil field in the world. Hmm... output from our third highest source of oil imports is declining at a rate of almost 15% per year?

Yes, indeed, and according to the Mexican Secretary of Energy Mexico (via report from Clifford J. Wirth) is projected to stop exporting petroleum entirely by 2015. Being as resilient and non-oil dependent as we are, I imagine that losing 10% of our oil imports will cause us no issues. Surely 1.3 million barrels of oil a day can be found just lying around somewhere!

I also suppose that eliminating 40% of Mexico's budget will cause no civil unrest, searches for alternate sources of income (cocaine? marijuana? opium?), gang activity, or waves of economic refugees. After all, Mexico has never had such problems before...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A fate worse than death

I sometimes think that I left my lucrative career at Deloitte because I was scheduled to give a speech to the NRA (National Restaurant Association) in Las Vegas. It was very convenient how I resigned only a few weeks before I actually gave the speech. My stomach acid content improved remarkably after that.

Being in Transition Town has definitely been pushing my comfort zones and broadening my skill horizons. Over the past four or five months, my Co-Chair and I have given many tag team talks with our nifty PowerPoint presentation. Where one stops, the other picks up. In between talking, we have time to plan our next bit and therefore, little content is missed, although our enthusiasm often carries us over our alloted timeframe.

But today... today I had to dip my toe in the brave new world of panel speaking. The forum, which was titled Clean Energy and the Community, was sponsored by the American Lung Association. The panelists were myself, a representative from the Sierra Club, a physician specializing in lung disorders (lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, asthma), and of course, a manager from Chesapeake Energy.

I say "of course" because I'm not sure I've ever seen a public event in Oklahoma City that didn't somehow have Chesapeake as a sponsor. Anyway, my fellow panelist actually seemed very supportive of our transition efforts, despite the fact that our goal is to transition away from a fossil fuel based economy. I imagine he knows that there will be enough business for Chesapeake for decades to come, regardless of what we do... and they are positioning Cheseapeake as a friend of clean energy and a supporter of green initiatives. Well enough - TTOKC isn't an adversarial, us vs. them type of organization anyway. We are all about cooperation and inclusiveness, to the point of ludicrosity.

When I was approached to serve on the panel I was told there would be about 200 people at the event. Heck, how can I pass that kind of opportunity up?? But the reality was about 25 people were there. Fortunately one person from TTOKC and one person from the Oklahoma Sustainability Network were there, so there were a few friendly faces in the audience.

I was slated to speak last, but ended up having to speak first, a position that I despise with a fierceness bordering on mania. I somehow got through the 10 minute speech, noticing that I skipped several of my best bits and phrases, but managing to include the key pieces of info, including our Neighborhood Bash we're sponsoring in two months. After the panel was over, two of the audience members and one fellow panelist complimented my humble effort, but gotta take that with a grain of salt. After all, who's going to come up and say, "Wow, you really crashed and burned, lady!"

I shouldn't tell you this, but I wrote four drafts of the speech and practiced for three hours. I also read a book on public speaking and got a haircut. Originally I was going to lead with "Hi, my name is X and I have a problem - I'm addicted to oil." Attention getting, right? But I chickened out - so maybe next time.

This time I chose the more innocuous but still fairly entertaining "If you ever watch Bear Grylls, you'll learn that a human can go three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three minutes without air" (a reference to our sponsor the ALA). And then I mentioned the fact that we have a long way to go to clean up our air pollution, considering that all Oklahoma counties recieved a grade of "D" or "F" in the last ALA report card on ozone pollution. BTW, I have to say that it was nice to partner with a health organization in this way - they are very supportive of clean energy, even if I was talking more about the human energy of communities rather than the technology type of clean energy.

The best part of the whole ordeal (which I mean in the best possible way - thanks ALA for inviting us!) was spending time afterwards chatting with the other panelists, particularly the Sierra Club lobbyist, who had a lot of interesting things to say. There was also free wine and brownies at the reception. Perhaps I do prefer public speaking to death.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swamp world

Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived a race of lizard-like creatures on a swamp world that revolved around a nearby star. This world was hot, wet, steaming and green. Much of it was sea, but the land that existed was mostly covered in marshes or swamps or tropical forests. The lizard creatures dominated in every aspect - the sea, the land, the sky. There were many different kinds of reptiles, ranging from quick and sleek to huge and powerful, but all were tough and suited to the swampy climate.

They had ruled the planet for millions of years. It seemed that the planet had been especially created for them to dominate it, with their lizard skins, their powerful bodies, and their wrenching jaws. The lizard creatures could never imagine a time when they would not be the supreme creature on Swamp World.

But then something happened. The lizard creatures didn't comprehend the change, but over time Swamp World became less.... well, swampy. Was it that asteroid? Was it the locking up of vast amounts of carbon deep in the earth's crust? Did the Earth's poles change? The reptiles didn't know, but nevertheless they were severely impacted by the changes.

Temperatures cooled and the seas receded as the oceans were locked up in ice caps at the poles. Despite all their power, their toughness, their ubiquitous presence, the lizards began to die out. Many survived - but mostly only the small reptiles. The largest ones could not adapt to this new world where they no longer dominated, this world that no longer suited them so perfectly.

As the climate cooled, other species were able to compete with the lizards. They filled the gaps that the reptiles once had monopolized. The world now was much more hospitable to their smaller bodies, opposable thumbs, social and communication skills, and tool-making abilities.

And now, swamp world is no longer recognizeable. It became a beautiful planet with a variety of climates - icy poles, wind-swept tundras, breathtaking mountains, gorgeous coral reefs, temperate forests, tropical paradises. We have no memory of that long distant past, when the world was an inhospitable place for us, where we would have been only a tiny snack for those lizard kings.

But just as long ago, the climate changed and eliminated much of the habitat of the reptiles, reducing them from the dominant life-form to a much smaller creature living in the niches of the planet, our climate is mutating once again; growing warmer and wetter, melting ice caps and swelling tides, with ever more violent and unpredictable weather.

Who knows what will emerge to take advantage of this new climate, this new planet being birthed before our very eyes?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Apple o' my eye

My first apple harvest! In 2006, I planted two semi-dwarf trees in our backyard - an Enterprise and a Liberty. Unfortunately, although I selected a pretty good site, I didn't do a great job of planting the trees. I blame the fact that I ordered eight saplings and had to plant them all in the same day. I'm not sure which tree is which, and one of them is leaning about 30 degrees North. Despite the neglect, I harvested six lovely apples this year, all that was left after the birds and squirrels got (more than) their fair share.

I selected apple trees to plant because the fruit can be stored without processing (in cold storage) and because supposedly it is one of the more pest-resistant fruits in Oklahoma (peaches and plums get infested with buggies - still edible, but I have to discard about 30% of every peach). The Liberty and Enterprise apple varieties are disease resistant and were also recommended by the OSU extension fact sheet.

My husband, two-year old son and I shared two apples today and, may I say, they were some of the most delicious apples I have ever eaten. The funny thing is that they would never be picked up in a grocery store because they have all sorts of funny little warts and growths and things that would put off your average suburban shopper. Nevertheless, my fears that I had gotten a shoddy deal from Burnt Ridge Nursery were put to rest with the first bites.

Coincidentally, I've been reading about apples in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. He describes the apple as THE key fruit in settler America. To the settlers, the apple symbolized not only civilization, but also sweetness and sociability. Sweetness because sugar and honey were not all that common on the frontier (cane sugar often was shunned for it's association with plantation slavery), so apples were the sweetest edible item a settler could usually hope to encounter (and afford), and sociability because many, if not most, of the apples were transformed into that lovely drink, hard cider. Versatile!
Unfortunately, like many of the other of our food crops, the genetic diversity of the apple is dwindling. According to Pollan, most of the apples we eat today, including favorites like Fuji and Gala, are simply crosses of only five of the sweetest and most consistent apples - Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, McIntosh, and Cox's Orange Pippin. Thousands of apple varieties, slowly (or not so slowly!) being reduced to only five! So if you plan to plant an apple tree, you might consider something different or particularly suited to your area.

As the trees grow larger, I hope to keep more of the harvest, both from sheer numerical growth of apple yield and from figuring out some way to protect the fruits. Over the last few years we have not bothered protecting our two peach trees from four-legged and flighty friends, as there are too many peaches for us to even harvest. I hope the same will be true of our apple harvest, but if not there are several ways that I have read to protect the apples: 1. Drape the tree with netting, 2. Hang reflective bird deterrants and 3. Bag each apple individually.

How are your backyard orchards growing? Any suggestions for the best ways you've protected your apple harvest?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Painting holiday

32 doors, 13 drawer fronts and 19 drawers to prime and paint. See you in a few days!