One local food meal = one step toward reducing foreign oil dependence

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Community, Conservation, Consumption, Energy, Food and Drink, Local Economy, Locavore, Oklahoma City, Peak Oil, Resiliency, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainability, Sustainable OKC, Transition OKC | Posted on 14-04-2011

0

Slide14

A couple of weeks ago Transition OKC helped host a Local Food Meet and Greet. The Meet and Greet provided a host of folks passionate about growing a local food system the opportunity to network and get to know each other better. It was enthusiastically and well-attended, with more than 110 people coming on a sunny Saturday afternoon to IAO Gallery in Oklahoma City to nosh on locally produced food, wine and do a little “speed meeting.”

The event was organized by the “Going Locavore Group,” a loosely organized and growing grassroots coalition (or alliance) of several Oklahoma City organizations focused on catalyzing and transitioning our food system to a healthier, more sustainable and resilient one – and one strategy for doing so is to localize it. The team organizing the event was for the most part all-volunteer, and although we were scrambling up until the last minute to put all the details in place – we pulled it off – a total team effort if there ever was one. If you have any interest in networking with this group, or want more info, email us at localfoodokc@gmail.com

As one of the volunteers working on this event, part of my task was to put together a slide show about the reasons for transitioning to eating local food, and to provide a high-level overview of some of the initiatives in other states focused on growing regional and local food systems. As we researched, we discovered coalitions in New York City and Vermont have aggressive strategic plans for regional and localized food sheds and the body of work on this topic is growing exponentially — encouraging.

Above you’ll find one of the slides from the presentation and I’ll be sharing more of these in the coming days. Eventually will put the whole presentation online at ThinkLady and here on Fresh Greens as well Transition OKC’s website so if it is useful in any way to other local food efforts, it’s available for anyone to use and adapt.

In the meantime, given the high price of gas these days, the fact the era of cheap, easy-to-produce oil is over, and the growing production decline in one of the U.S.’s major suppliers of oil – Mexico — thought this slide might be a good one to start with. It illustrates one way we can begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports. Ebullient and grateful hat tip to Barbara Kingsolver and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, for helping us imagine a different way of eating in the world.

Imagine abundant local food. Imagine the jobs it will create and the ways it will strengthen our local economy. Envision the health it will bring to our school kids, our communities, the resilience it will give our communities. Imagine how much we can reduce our country’s oil addiction if we eat not just one, but two local food meals a week, three, five, etc. Imagine. And then try it. I think you’ll like it.

If you’d like info on how to get started eating locally head over to Transition OKC’s website where we have a page full of local food resources.

– post by Shauna Struby, this post originally appeared on ThinkLady 

Transition sweeps down the Oklahoma plains

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Christine Patton, Community, Education, Energy, Environment, Locavore, Oklahoma City, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainability, Transition Movement | Posted on 30-07-2010

0

logo with spaceTransition OKC, a project of Sustainable OKC, became the nation’s 27th official Transition initiative in May of 2009. The TOKC coordinating team took several months to lay the foundations of this project by discussing the “Transition Handbook,” hosting a Training for Transition, and setting principles, guidelines and a constitution in place (neatly stored in PVC-free binders, thanks to Shauna Struby). Once the team worked the consensus process and crafted a mission, vision, and goals, a tornado of creativity and energy was unleashed here on the Great Plains. Here’s the scoop! 

Going Locavore
Local food champions are very active here in Oklahoma City, but we don’t often have a chance to get together to discuss strategies, share updates and success stories, and plot ways to expand the local food market. Enter Transition OKC, which is now sponsoring Going Locavore happy hour potlucks so all these fabulous people can get together in the same room and share ideas. After one meeting and some intense brainstorming, the next meeting is slated to focus in on the most promising of the hundreds of ideas and start serving up some local food projects. Several members of the coordinating group are working on this project, but Christine Patton of the TOKC coordinating team has taken on the responsibility of pulling the meetings together for now. photo8

Sustainability Center
The indomitable Susie Shields, another TOKC coordinating team member, was so inspired by the "Hands" portion of Rob Hopkins’ “Transition Handbook,” she vowed to create a Sustainability Demonstration Community Center. She put together a diverse team of architects, sustainability pros, nonprofit, business and government folks to forge a way forward with this dream. Education and programming and site selection subcommittees are already hard at work brainstorming and researching.

Reskilling Videos
TOKC’s coordination team believes reskilling workshops (learning how to do things for ourselves again) are a fantastic way to help people transition. It’s learning valuable skills, education, sharing information on the challenges we face, networking, food and/or beer and wine – all rolled into one. Put all that learning on video and wow – that’s one way to spread reskilling beyond the 10 or 20 people that can make it to a workshop. Luckily Trey Parsons of Enersolve and Christine Patton, TOKC coordinating team members, are ready to take on the challenge of creating a set of short reskilling videos to share information about how to cook with local food, install a rainwater catchment system, weatherize a house, use a sun oven, grow a garden, make pesto and peach jam and sun-dried tomatoes, and more. Lots of excitement about this as it will give these two the chance to run around all over the metro area asking questions of interesting people and maybe learning a few things too.

Movie Night
Several TOKC team members – Vicki Rose, Marcy Roberts, and Susie Shields – are planning quarterly movies night at Oklahoma City University. Since movies raise awareness about environmental problems, economic crisis, our precarious energy situation, and climate change, they’re a great way to start a conversation and brainstorm on how to address the issues.

Permaculture Design Course
Randy Marks of Land+Form and Shauna Struby are in the early stages of working with Permaculture teachers to design a course for Oklahoma. Short courses on Permaculture design (Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human settlements) have photo1been held here in Oklahoma, but if people want the full course, they have to go out of state which makes the cost prohibitive for so many. By bringing a full-scale design course here, Randy and Shauna anticipate greater participation and lots more Transitioning. Interestingly enough, Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry just had a team train in Permaculture design before they headed to Afghanistan, and this helps folks here in Oklahoma make a connection to the potential of Permaculture design for our communities.

Wired and Connected
TOKC’s Going Local OKC website has been enhanced with new navigation, a new look and a lot of new content. Shauna, Trey and Christine redesigned it to be more user-friendly, timely and flexible. Plus, it needed to expand to be able to contain all the new info TOKC will be posting on various projects (see above), as well as the handy OKC Resource pages (six at last count). TOKC also ties continuously updated media, such as this collaborative Fresh Greens blog, Sustainable OKC Twitter feed, and the TOKC Facebook page, into the website. A big thank you to Transition OKC and Sustainable OKC volunteers for keeping the content fresh and updated.

Teaching and Listening 
One of the things TOKC often hears when out and about in Oklahoma City is there is a great need for more education and awareness about the challenges we face and possible solutions within the general population. TOKC has given many presentations and conducted workshops over the last few months and plans to not only continue with this work,but the project has made it a goal to increase the number of presentations as they go forward. Shauna, Marcy, Vicki, Adam and Christine are working together to make this happen. If you’d like to have TOKC make a presentation to your neighborhood, civic, church group or school, please email them at info@goinglocalokc.com.

But Wait, There’s More
Susie just created a Buy Fresh Buy Local Farmer’s Market guide and she and Marcy are working on a comprehensive eight-page "Big Book" guide to local food. Plus Transition OKC is planning to redesign printed materials such as brochures and offer a fall and winter gardening workshop.  photo2

So there you go. The whole TOKC coordinating team – Randy, Shauna, Christine, Vicki, Marcy, Susie, Trey, Adam, Jim, Chase and Joseph – have all been working hard. Whether you’re in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, you’re invited to join in the workshops, presentations, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter! They’ll be sharing what they’re doing here, reading all about what everyone else is up to, and sharing that too as they keep on sweeping down the plains.

– Inspired by a post written by Christine Patton, TOKC team member, on her blog at Peak Oil Hausfrau; tweaked and reposted with Christine’s permission on “Fresh Greens” by Shauna Lawyer Struby, TOKC team member

Doing the Right Thing

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Energy, Lindsay Vidrine | Posted on 01-06-2010

0

Like many of you, I've been keeping up with the various news angles and reports from the BP oil spill but a recent article in The Atlantic caught my eye for a different reason.

John Besh, the James Beard Award-winning chef of Restaurant August and five other restaurants in New Orleans, Louisiana, authored the article The BP Oil Spill…Destroying A Food Tradition which I thought was worth sharing.

I particularly appreciate his imperfect perspective on the energy industry as both a Louisiana-native who grew up with off-shore drilling as a way of life and serving as a paid endorser of cooking with propane, yet Besh has become an outspoken advocate for responsibility and solution-finding throughout this crisis. Advocating for doing the right thing and taking action not only because of the environmental impacts, but also because of the cultural ones.

Additional headlines about Obama's call for a tough investigation and possible criminal charges may be justified, but in the end will not correct the heartbreaking damage to the ecosystems and cultural traditions of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, BP disputes existence of underwater oil plumesas possibly another way to minimize the situation, but in the end I wish all of the time and energy being used to point fingers and dodge blame would be spent on finding solutions instead. As Besh puts it…

Those of us here are left with a seemingly insurmountable mess, with the richest wetlands of America and a culture to match hanging in the balance. Whoever is looking to assign blame—even to me, for taking money for promoting propane—is overlooking the plight of those fish, birds, and people who depend upon the salt marsh estuaries that give the Gulf of Mexico and much of America life. Our wetlands and culture are at stake! Now let us see what we are going to do about it.

None of us are perfect. We've all used oil-based products in our daily lives and will continue to do so at varying levels, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't pull together and demand solutions instead of getting wrapped up in the blame game. There will be a time for accountability, but first we need solve the tasks at hand.

Keep on reeling in the green world

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Current Affairs, Energy, Environment, Farming, Film, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Sustainability, Sustainable OKC, Transition Town | Posted on 11-09-2009

2

Sustainable OKC, the Cimarron Chapter of Sierra Club, and Slow Food OKC are sponsoring a film series, “Sustainability on Film,” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Wed., Sept 15 – Sun., Sept 20, with a panel discussion following the Sunday film.

The films highlight a complex array of the challenges facing us. Film Curator Brian Hearn describes the series:

As our economic, social and environmental activities become increasingly integrated on a global scale, the human species faces unprecedented challenges. In the wake of the groundbreaking documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” filmmakers have been examining the complex issues facing our species and planet: climate change, dwindling natural resources, population growth, economic crises and political conflict. Along the way humans are finding innovative, simple solutions from growing their own food, to green building, to developing new forms of renewable energy. These films explore how we meet our needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Films

Wed., Sept. 16 – “Fresh” & “Food for Thought”

Thurs., Sept. 17 – “The Great Squeeze: Surviving the Human Project” & “Greening in the Heartland”

Fri., Sept 18 – “The Greening of Southie” and “Food, Inc.”

Sat., Sept. 19 – “The Garden” and “No Impact Man

Sun., Sept. 20 – “Earth Days

Join us Sunday after the final screening for a panel discussion, “Sustainability in Oklahoma: Where Do We Go from Here?” with local experts on how Oklahomans are dealing with the global issue of sustainability. Panelists for the discussion following Sunday’s film:

Bruce Edwards, Director, Urban Harvest at the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank

Kenneth Fitzsimmons, architect, U.S. Green Building Council, Oklahoma Chapter

Stephanie Jordan, Sierra Club Conservation Committee / Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Oklahoma

Jim Roth, attorney and Chair of the Alternative “Green” Energy practice group, Phillips Murrah P.C.

Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainable OKC / Transition Town OKC

Jonathan Willner, Professor of Economics, Oklahoma City University

Complete listing of films, screening times and summaries of each film available here.

Awe Shucks: The Truth About Corn

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Energy, Food and Drink | Posted on 04-08-2009

5

by David Brooks


When was the last time you really gave some time to thinking about corn? Corn plays a huge role in our lives. When a joke is no good, we say it is corny. When a guy sees a good looking girl, she is referred to as being cornfed. When embarrassed we tend to respond with a quick "Aw shucks." At a Nebraska football game fans actually wear an ear of corn on their heads. Snooty people have even been accused of having a corncob up their (you get my drift).


We should give the lowly vegetable a little more respect, and here’s why:


  • One bushel of corn will sweeten 400 cans of pop
  • Corn is grown on every continent except Antarctica
  • Corn is an ingredient in over 3000 grocery items including: toothpaste, nylon, plastic, oil, saccharin, paint, soap, cereal, and margarine. It is the main ingredient in pet food.
  • Residents of Mexico eat an average of 400 lbs. of corn products per year.  Americans eat an average of 160 lbs. 
  • 50% of corn production world wide is for animal feed.   


Did you know that the average ear of corn has 600-800 kernels and is always arranged in an even number of rows. Most ears of corn have 16 rows. (Really, count them.) Actually, watermelons and cantaloupes always have an even number of stripes, too. There is one silk for each kernel of corn. A bushel of corn contains about 27,000 kernels. Of the 282 million metric tons of corn grown in the U.S. last year, over 55% was genetically modified.

A little more trivia about the wonderful vegetable we call corn:


  • The first breakfast cereal was Corn Flakes
  • Most cosmetics have ground corncobs as an ingredient. It is very absorbent and relatively dust free.
  • Toilet paper uses corn starch.
  • Toothpaste has Sorbitol, which is produced from corn sugar dextrose and is used as a bulking agent (so it stands up on your toothbrush).
  • Disposable diapers and feminine protection products use corn starch.
  • A few other items that use corn products are: mustard, batteries, beer, crayons, sheetrock, aluminum, and believe it or not the ceramic sleeve on a car;s spark plug has corn paste in it.


Corn is an amazing product. The next time you take an aspirin or caplet that is coated with a shiny finish, remember the shine comes from corn. Also, remember when you pull in to fill up your tank at the gas station that fuel containing 10% ethanol takes about 2 bushels of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol. It can take as much as 300 gallons of water to make one gallon of ethanol depending on where the corn is grown. Add onto that the extra fertilizers, herbicides and misused land it takes to make “cheap” fuel.


Last but not least the best selling food at the state fair? The CORNDOG.

Meandering thoughts from inside a heat wave

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Consumption, Energy, Environment, Nature, Robbie White, Sustainability | Posted on 24-07-2009

0

By Robbie White

I live in an historic neighborhood so I often think about our connection with those who lived before us in our home, of how things were “back then.” Our house was built in 1903. Most of our neighborhood came along in the decades around statehood. During this most recent heat wave my thoughts have wandered to how things were before air conditioning. 

I think of trying to sleep in a house with no relief form the heat. Then, I look at the lovely windows in my home. If those windows were opened, a nice cross breeze would cool each room of this house. A walk around the outside with this in mind reveals yet another reason for nurturing that huge pecan tree that has shaded the house for so many decades. In fact, most of our bedrooms are shaded in one way or another by trees or else they are on the north side. I wonder if this house had a sleeping porch screened from bugs but open on all sides. These days we have so many places to cool off on hot days — the library, a movie theater, church, the mall, and so on — but we still have to sleep at night. And I sleep better when it is cool. 

I recently read the book, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. Electric air is a new thing for the residents of the southern town. In one scene, the main character is trying to sleep in her parents’ plantation home, built in the late 19th century. She eventually ends up on the back porch remembering how many nights she slept on a cot out there in summer. In this and other stories of days before air conditioning, the heat becomes a force that shapes the lives in the narrative and illustrates how close those people lived to the natural world. 

My kids and I hid from the heat most days during the recent heat wave. We stayed inside where it was relatively cool. We watched movies, read books and worked around the house. We could be oblivious to the heat if we chose.

But with a sustainable lifestyle, you’re trying not to be oblivious. It’s easy to let the car idle in a heat wave because it is so hot, or to drive a car instead of bicycling on an errand. And you begin to see the challenge of stepping away from all that technology and of moving one step closer to the way things ought to be. 

How do you make your life more sustainable? In what ways are you closer to the natural world? Do you grow your own vegetables or have a compost bin or pile? Maybe you attended the local food fair at Harn Homestead last week? Or perhaps you support local farmers? Looking forward to your ideas. 

Let’s celebrate our choices together on Fresh Greens!

No-cost energy efficiency assistance program

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Community, Energy, Local News | Posted on 07-07-2009

0

by Christine Patton

Free energy efficiency upgrades for lower-income families and individuals are now available through a Weatherization Assessment Program sponsored by the Community Action Agency of Oklahoma City (CAA). This program is designed to lower your energy bills and improve your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. This is a time limited offer, so apply today!

How it Works: Call 232-0199 to apply for a free energy audit of your home. CAA will help you identify and install the most important energy efficient improvements (up to $7,000). For example, CAA will install extra insulation, new windows, new exterior doors, caulk, weather stripping, etc. They might even help you with a new refrigerator. You do not have to pay for these improvements – they are a free program sponsored by the United States stimulus package!

Who is Eligible:
1. You must reside in Oklahoma or Canadian County.
2. Your income must be less than 200% of the federal poverty level (Family of one cannot make over $21,660, Family of 2 cannot make over $29,140 and a family of four cannot make over $44,100: other income qualifiers available by calling CAA)
3. You do not have to own the home that is having the energy audit, as long as you fit the income qualifications and have the permission of your landlord.
4. Priority assistance is available for persons over 60, persons with disabilities, or households with children under 12.

This is a free program. Take advantage of this grant to help you live more economically and comfortably in your home! Call today and take advantage of this program (232-0199), or for more information about CAA check out www.caaofokc.org.

The myth of efficiency

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Energy, Farming, Peak Oil, Peak Oil Hausfrau | Posted on 26-05-2009

0

by Christine Patton

Along with freedom and progress, efficiency rounds out the triad of the most treasured ideals of our country. We like things to be “efficient,” without really knowing what it means. Americans tend to use the term efficiency as a code word for getting things done cheaply and conveniently. Take agriculture, for example. It certainly is an achievement to churn out food at prices that are far less than historical averages (by percentage of family budget spent on food). That frees up a lot of money for people to spend on other things – clothes, travel, books, furniture, whatever your desire might be.

But what makes efficiency? Is it clever management? The productivity of human resources? Economies of scale? Centralization? Better information and computer systems? The competition of markets?

Business people give credit to these innovations, and all of these attributes may contribute incrementally to the cheapness of our food, but these are just icing on the cake. The real underpinning of what we think of as efficiency is cheap energy – especially cheap oil.

Farms here in America have been consolidating for more than 50 years. The average size of a “farm” is now 459 acres. They are managed with the aid of GPS systems, barns of tractors, and miles of irrigation systems. The farms of today have replaced people, armed with knowledge of local conditions and crop varieties and supported by rainfall and rich topsoil, with machines fueled by gasoline and regular applications of chemicals created from fossil fuels.

Efficiency, in other words, means replacing energy from humans and animals and plants with the incredibly cheap, concentrated energy found in oil. It does not mean less waste (at least when measured in BTUs). Americans pride ourselves on our innovations, but we did not in fact create better, less wasteful farming systems – we just found ways to pour as much of this cheap energy into our farms as possible, without considering how long the resource would remain cheap.

Small farms are actually more productive and efficient than large farms. They produce more per acre.  However, while fuel is inexpensive, small farms cannot achieve the massive economies of scale enabled by the replacement of people with gigantic tractors and chemicals. Since a gallon of oil can replace the energy of hundreds of hours of human labor, at a fraction of the cost, it makes a whole lot of economic sense to use it in place of people.

Replacing man (and horse) with machines may seem efficient, but it is not the efficiency of nature, which uses every particle of matter and energy, including any waste produced. It is the economic efficiency of man, which inevitably generates pollution and destruction because the costs are not borne by the user, but by nature and by the community at large. What we call efficiency is simply the conversion of a fossil fuel inheritance millions of years in the making into cheap fuel and food for a few generations.

What we call efficiency is actually the height of inefficiency. The foundation of modern agriculture is mostly just the addition of more energy to the system, and any fool can do that. Our current food systems are only made possible by incredible wastefulness, ruination of natural systems, and unbridled use of our inheritance of fossil fuels. These are the costs that our economic accounting does not take into account.

How efficient will it be to manage a 1,000 acre farm when production of oil begins to decline? How efficient will it be to ship lettuce 1,500 miles when gas costs $6 a gallon? How efficient will it be to use 20 calories of fossil fuels to create one calorie of food? What will we be left with when the Age of Oil begins to wane? Eroded topsoil, depleted aquifers, and the loss of the valuable farming knowledge of entire generations of Americans.

Here in Oklahoma, we are lucky to have small farmers still holding on to their farms and activists dedicated to reviving our local, sustainable and organic foodsheds. We have the Oklahoma Food Co-operative, an Extension Service supportive of sustainable agriculture, Community Supported Agriculture shares, and several local farmer’s markets. Many of the people living here have memories of farms, of growing gardens and raising animals, and many continue to grow fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they live in the country or city. Here we are not far away from our food.  

As the price of fuel rises, the myth of efficiency will be exposed. We can choose to recognize that our ideal was an illusion, and rebuild our local food systems and economies now, or we can choose to be a deer in the headlights as the price of food rockets along with the price of fuel. We can use real design innovations, like permaculture and integrated pest management, which rely on careful observation and knowledge of the ecology, instead of the application of chemicals.  We don’t know when high gas prices will return, but oil has already demonstrated an ample capacity for volatility. Let’s prepare now, so that we won’t have to pay later.

A Quick Guide to Solar Cooking

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Energy, Food and Drink, Home and Garden | Posted on 30-03-2009

2

by Christine Patton

What is solar cooking?

You can use the free energy of the sun to bake and cook meals in a sun oven. The sun oven uses mirrored reflectors to concentrate heat in an insulated box. Temperatures in a sun oven can easily reach 350 degrees. On a sunny summer day in Oklahoma, you can cook your lunch, a loaf of bread, and dinner in your solar cooker! Best cooking times are between 9 am and 6 pm (summer) and 10 am to 2 pm (winter).

Garden trellis 019

What can I cook in a sun oven?

You can roast vegetables and cook fish, chicken, banana bread, muffins, cookies, manicotti, lasagna, quiche, casserole, rice, beans, eggs, potatoes, soups, chili, hot water for tea, etc. Some things cook faster than others, but many dishes can be cooked in 1-2 hours in the summer. You can also pasteurize water by boiling it in a sun oven.

What types of solar cookers are availale?

You can buy or make a solar cooker or sun oven. Different designs are available.

    * Global Sun Oven (Retail $225-$250)  **The GSO is my personal favorite.
    * Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven (Retail $220-$250)
    * Others ($100+)
    * Handmade Cookers (Plans available in Cooking with Sunshine & other books)

What do I need to cook with the sun?

   1. A purchased or handmade solar cooker/sun oven
   2. A spot receiving several continuous hours of sun between 9 am and 5 pm (summer)         or 10 am to 2 pm (winter)
   3. Oven gloves and sunglasses
   4. Dark colored pots or pans with dark-colored lids

What are the advantages of solar cooking?

   1. Solar cooking uses no fossil fuels or wood fuel. So it doesn’t pollute the air or                 contribute to global warming.
   2. Solar cooking doesn’t heat up your house in the summer.
   3. Solar cookers can be used during power outages.
   4. Solar cookers can be used at “off-grid” locations like campsites or homesteads.
   5. It cuts down on energy bills–from using less of the cooktop, oven, and A/C.

Infinity and Beyond

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Energy, Public Works, Shauna Lawyer Struby, State Government, Transition Town | Posted on 27-02-2009

0

by Shauna Lawyer Struby

I love Buzz Lightyear. His optimism in the face of reality (believing he can fly on pop-up wings), makes this diminutive Toy Story hero full of geeky bravura and sincerity incredibly endearing. But it is his mouse-sized roar of, “To infinity and beyond!” that makes him my way cool, sustainable hero.

You’ve probably noticed energy discussions are as ubiquitous as chewing gum these days. The growing awareness we’ve got to do something has folks from cowpokes to CEOs grappling with their “holy electricity switch” moment, that dark point in time they realize cheap, easy energy days are floating away like so many plastic Wal-Mart bags in a sweeping prairie wind.

But start talking about designing sustainable energy systems and things get considerably dicier. While just about everyone supports being energy independent, the notion that the equivalent of Star Trek’s dilithium crystals will be found to satisfy our energy addiction is so deeply embedded in our psyche that some of our elected leaders tend to grasp at any energy solution like desperate junkies in need of a fix. 

The recent deceptive blathering about nuclear power in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives is a perfect case in point. Two bills were approved by the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee Feb. 17 after nuclear energy advocates manipulated the fear factor that other energy sources alone such as solar, wind and geothermal, will not be enough to meet future power needs.

While there are many reasons nuclear energy is not a sustainable option (and reasons why other truly clean renewable energies like wind and solar are), one of the most under discussed reasons for axing nuclear energy out of any future energy mix is this — nuclear energy production is totally dependent on yet another finite resource — uranium. Dr. David Fleming, author of “The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy” estimates if the entire world’s electricity were generated by nuclear power, we’d have around three years of uranium left and writes:

“Shortages of uranium — and the lack of realistic alternatives — leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.”

Clearly nuclear energy is not a Buzz Lightyear, “infinity and beyond” option. And even more obviously, we need to dig deep into proposed energy solutions and thoroughly evaluate them with a stringent list of sustainable criteria.

A few thoughts on the criteria:

  • What is the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) for the resource? Energyreturnonenergyinvested_edited-1
  • What is the carbon footprint of the energy source? Carbonfootprintenergysources_edited-1
  • What is the water footprint of the energy source?
  • What is the waste footprint of the energy source?
  • With all environmental, waste, water, infrastructure and production costs factored in, how much does the energy cost per kilowatt hour?
  • Since taxpayers subsidize our energy systems, who will profit and how much, i.e. what are the CEO and executive staff salaries, perks and bonuses of the energy producing company, and what is the anticipated return to shareholders on new infrastructure?
  • Are the energy company’s middle and lower-level employees sustainably and equitably compensated with living wages and adequate benefits?
  • How will the proposed energy source impact the area where production is located, the people, non-human animals, eco-system and general environment?
  • What other factors do we need to be thinking about?

As Rob Hopkins notes in “The Transition Handbook” a future with less energy is inevitable. Richard Heinberg extensively covers many of the various pros and cons of a variety of energy sources in his latest Museletter, which beautifully illustrates the depths of the challenges facing us and the urgent need for massive energy conservation programs.

The Transition Movement, founded by Hopkins, takes these realities and helps us see them as opportunities for creatively rethinking how we live in the world and how we use energy, to envision something better, something hopeful, less toxic to ourselves, to our fellow species and congruent with this amazing planet we call home. The first Transition Town initiative in Oklahoma, Transition Town OKC, launched last month, aims to enhance opportunities for our communities to imagine, envision and implement this energy transition together, to capture the power of every person's creativity and move us together toward a positive future.

We know reducing energy consumption will go a long way toward solving the energy puzzle, as will investment in energy technology and clean, truly renewable energy resources, but every energy technology and resource needs adequate and thorough vetting using sustainable criteria. And that means thinking not just about the next 10, 20 or even 50 years, but in Buzz Lightyear speak, “To Infinity and beyond!”