Local Energy

I’m writing much of this content as I mass transit from the north side of Chicago to the far south side. Four days a week, I take two trains and a bus to get to work for roughly an hour and a half each way. About a third of that time is spent standing and waiting for the next bus or train, specifically if I don’t leave during rush hour times. Time on the vehicles is spent standing, sitting, reading, writing, filling out (and being frustrated at) Sudoku puzzles, staring blankly off into space. Texting, calling, checking Facebook on my not-quite-smart phone. Closing my eyes and nodding off for five minute intervals.

I’m surrounded by a few hundred men and women and youth who are in similar predicaments – few traveling as far as me, but most traveling miles upon miles upon miles. And yet, outside of biking or walking, we are taking the most fuel-efficient mode to our far-flung jobs.

'Locomotives over the ash pit at the roundhouse and coaling station at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad yards, Chicago, Ill. (LOC)' photo (c) 1939, The Library of Congress - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

Now, notice I didn’t say it is an energy-efficient mode. That’s because it doesn’t seem to save much energy over using a fuel-efficient car* – although trains in particular use electricity, so they don’t use up the oil supply.

Working so far from our homes is just not sustainable for a multitude of reasons:

  • The tremendous toll on our environment, 
  • The cost of our health as a result of environmental hazards as well as so much immobility
  • The limited supply of oil
  • The depleting nature of coal
  • The devastating usage of nuclear power
  • The evisceration of families
  • The amount of financial resources used by poor families
  • Time wastage

The connections between these (and other) factors has huge implications in terms of overall health of planet, body (sitting around for so long can do things to ya), soul, community. We are disembodied from our selves and our homes.

But even all transit is just one part of a larger, completely messed-up way of approaching life that enriches the globalization forces (multi-national corps) and depletes the rest of us.

We fly apples from South America where they’re grown to Asia where they’re packed in plastic and then to North America where they’re consumed. We spend several hours a day standing or driving in lines, wasting time and gas, to go to those grocery stores where we buy pre-packaged, highly processed and rarely, actually fresh foods and drinks (if we can call them that) that are made using tons and tons of non-renewable energy. Our televisions and computers and other toys that we use to distract us from the mendacity and meaninglessness of our days are also produced from and by massive, massive quantities of energy. Not to mention our clothes. All of which are, of course, manufactured in different countries – sometimes piecemeal – and shipped thousands upon thousands of miles to ports which take them on freight trains and then on .

Lack of adequate weather-proofing means that we use even more power.

And then there’s the razing and destroying of old property to make way for new property – both of which use (waste) tremendous energy.

And how are these things powered? Dangerous coal, nuclear power, and oil.

Need we remind anybody of the toxic danger of oil?

To live locally is to reduce the waste in air, water, land pollution that is killing our children, that is making us unhealthier as it is also damaging our food supply. Simply having better fuel economy, although it is a step in the right direction, is not nearly enough. We need to rethink how we live and the space in which we live.

Which is to say, we need to begin the process of living locally as organic grassroot communities.

Dare to dream with me. What can we become if we live and commute locally?

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*Buses are only more fuel efficient than cars when the car is single-passenger. And then only by 20%.

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