Thermodynamics

I got a letter yesterday, and while the content was important, I noticed something different about the envelope:

Freedom, forever? I am very afraid not.

It was the way the American flag and the words below it were crossed out.  We in America (‘merica!) seem to care so much about our freedom, but what “freedom” is really about is energy- the energy to put food on our tables, to stay warm, and also to have fun.  In essence- the energy to live.  Yet, when people talk about freedom in America, they rarely talk about energy, and when I think about our energy situation, it makes me think freedom is surely on the way out.

Some people who even like to talk about things like “sustainability” generally don’t get the picture about how much energy matters.  “Sustainability” is all the rage in the building design community, it’s even (slowly) taking hold here in western Montana- but it tends to result in wheatgrass fiber wall paneling and bamboo floors rather than energy conservation.

Sustainability is not about your wall finish, riding your bike to work, or your office-wide recycling program.  A fair look in the mirror: sustainability is also not about my patagonia clothesmy used Jetta TDI, or the fact that I don’t have kids to provide for.  Sustainability is about thermodynamics, plain and simple.  Thermo-what?  Thermodynamics- the science of energy.  It’s an abstraction, it can seem hard to understand, and it is such an essential part of our everyday life.  These things are all great, and in some small ways, parts of the solution- but really its going to take a lot more.

Buildings are an amazing opportunity- everyone uses them, they all have utility bills, and almost all of them could benefit from design and/or retrofit work that would make a significant difference in energy consumption.  If your utility bill isn’t zero (seriously!), then it needs work.  Am I an elitist?  Does it matter?  It doesn’t matter if we have 40 years of oil and coal left or 400 years.   We aren’t living right and each of us needs to play a part of changing that.  What do you want to know about energy?  How can we make energy consumption more visible?  What does a real plan for “freedom” look like?  I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or a politician.” (Miklos S Dora, paraphrasing Kenneth Boulding)

2 thoughts on “Thermodynamics

  1. Jess

    So are you defining freedom as lack of dependence on foreign energy supply, or non-renewable energy supply in general?

    Reply
    1. sticker1 Post author

      I am defining freedom as a lack of dependence on non-renewable energy sources, period. If we drill them our of our own backyard, that’s great, because then we will see the environmental consequences of that decision all the more quickly (perhaps convincing us that the true costs of fossil fuels are actually too high, which remain conveniently obscure at the moment). If we drill them out of someone else’s back yard, we’ll still run into the same problems regardless- we will run out of energy, and thus run out of freedom…

      Reply

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