Monday, January 9, 2012

Musings: Reclaiming Life

The approximate time was last evening, and we were sitting on the beach, preparing to eat a picnic dinner, or more accurately, I already was; my friend was fiddling with a phone app, trying to figure out exactly where Mahina would rise.

“Don't worry about it,” I said. “I'm always perfectly situated, just intuitively. Look!”

And I pointed to the pale white orb ascending, directly in front of us, through the blue-pink smear that sits upon the horizon at sunset, and as it rose, it turned soft gold, then deep orange, and finally, white-gold, casting a shimmering path upon the sea.

The moon was only part of the show, though admittedly the most dramatic. Above us, Jupiter was reigning brightly over the sky, and beyond that, at the end of the arc, was Venus, slipping lower as the moon climbed higher.

Returning home, I flipped on the circuit breakers and the moon-planet glow was replaced by the blinking green numbers of the clock on the stove. I certainly hadn't missed that, with its constant reminder of the passing of time, when I “powered down” yesterday, and I hadn't missed the hum and chug of the fridge, though I did miss its cooling effect, which is why it had been turned back on earlier, before the food inside could go bad.

I've lived without refrigeration, and it can be done without a sense of great deprivation, it just requires a different way of eating, which isn't easily adapted to one day off.

I did feel a sense of giddy joy when I unplugged in the office — the wi-fi, the computer, the back up hard drive — and that told me something; namely, I might be happier if I spend less time working, or at least, the kind of working that keeps me hooked to the Internet.

I've got a smart phone, which I can tether to my laptop, which has a good battery supply, and so I can use my computer and access the Internet without being directly plugged in, and briefly yesterday, I did. But using batteries, whether they're charged by the sun or KIUC, isn't really “getting off the grid” because those batteries are shipped in here from someplace else and toxic substances are generated when they're produced and recycled, or tossed in the landfill. The same goes for wind and hydro turbines, solar panels, liquid propane and backup generators.

They've all got impacts, so ain't nobody truly pure or off the grid, which I define as the military-industrial-corporate complex, in their consumption of electricity.

But tethering the phone to the laptop was a bit more cumbersome than simply flipping the lid and letting wi-fi kick in, which made me stop and think, and that's a good thing, because breaking habits — addictions — is all about bringing unconscious behavior into consciousness.

And make no mistake, energy is an addiction. On Saturday night, thinking about the next day's “power down event,” my mind went through the same litany of excuses it drags out whenever it's told it cannot have something it wants: no one will know if you keep on doing it, what does it really matter, you're not hurting anyone.

Or as Neil Young sang, “Seemed like the easy thing/To let it go for one more day.”

So no, I didn't kick the habit, but I did think about ways I can reduce my electrical use, and the morality of doing so, even if I can afford to pay my KIUC bill. Overall, it was a good exercise in mindfulness, which I always welcome, and my garden benefitted greatly from the attentions I lavished upon it, rather than a keyboard and screen.

But beyond that, choosing to unplug for a day, as opposed to having the electricity go off, gave me an unexpected sense of freedom, of power, of reclaiming my life in some small way. And I got to thinking, so how much has electricity — all technology, really — functioned primarily to enslave us, to enmesh us in an artificial, manmade world (at the expense of the natural world), even as we worship it and the convenience it provides?


Anonymous said...

When you add "off the grid" to "no use of batteries/solar panels" you are really throwing yourself back 250 years.

Who wants to, really?

And, for those who do, WTF???

Anonymous said...

It's a hippy thing, don't try to understand it. Useless, same as it always was.

Anonymous said...

Ignoramus comments. See beyond your own ass and realize that we can't continue on this path of self destruction. Its not just alternative energy sources, its also a reduction in demand and usage. Our addiction to electronics has created a major disconnect between humans and the natural world, to the point of not seeing how our insatiable "needs" impact the environment. Our children are too obcessed w/ the latest techno gadgets to care about endangered birds or the loss of habitat for native plants or animals.

At this rate we'll civilize ourselves to death! The past and our ancestors had foresight and wisdom that we can learn from in our attempts to become sustainable.

Anonymous said...

Fine, based on American society, one of manifest destiny and the unfading belief of unlimited resources...the majority of Americans will continue on a power using (hungry) path.

Should follow in the example of other world countries in conscientious use of our resources, yes.

Joan is still a hippie and most people still don't listen to them.

Joan Conrow said...

Both the words "hip" and "hep" came from African American culture and denote "awareness".[1]

So, OK, if that's the case, go ahead and call me a hippie. I'll proudly let my freak flag fly!

Anonymous said...

"At this rate we'll civilize ourselves to death!"
We won't survive the volcanoes to do that...

Anonymous said...

The best we'll do is perfect solar and wind and ocean sources of electricity.

But we WILL NOT reduce our use substantially, nor our need/desire for what technology provides us.

There's no going back to the early 19th century.

Anonymous said...

Midwest refuge from CO hanging on to pipe dreams at the edge of western civilization!

Anonymous said...

Since when is CO part of the midwest?

At any rate, western civilization rules!!

Beats the fuck out of eastern civilization.

Anonymous said...

"So, OK, if that's the case, go ahead and call me a hippie. I'll proudly let my freak flag fly!"


Anonymous said...

Maybe all of us born in the 50's have attitudes that you identify as "hippie" . It's a spirit that needs rekindling.
Conserving is really not that hard, or undesirable. One can live in a big greedy house that's unsustainable or a small, efficient house, it's not a hippie principle it's a consciousness one. Along with an ego one.

It's easy to hang your clothes dry, easy to buy efficient appliances, easy to reduce your purchases, reuse from others , and recycle the rest. Be a conscious human, it's not really that radical, not really "hippie".

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were born in 1949. We are in our 12th year of retirement on the Big Island

We have all Energy Star appliances, including our 82" and 67" TV's and hot tub. We have an 1800 sf home with a detached large garage and 850 sf rec room/ guest quarters upstairs, which has the pool table, smaller big screen tv and draft beer system.

We brew our own beer (5 tap draft system using a modified chest freezer) and bake our own bread products. Go through 25 lbs of flour/month. Haven't bought these items commercially in years.

We have net metering. Still on the grid but generating enough solar power to reduce our monthly bill to near zero without the additional bother of batteries and backup generators. We use abut 16 KWH/day.

We have a Jeep Cherokee 4WD and a Honda Civic. Between the two of them we log about 800 Honda miles and 50 Jeep miles per month.

We just bought a magnetic induction stove with convection oven...the most energy efficient form of electric cooking there is.

Over the 11 years here in Hawaii we've found our monthly shopping is pretty much restricted to Costco (most food comes from there...we have a 15 cf chest freezer), Safeway, KTA, Wal-Mart, Longs Drugs (great liqueur deals)and Home Depot and Lowes for "home project" stuff.

We live a reasonably conservative lifestyle, our total annual cost of living this lifestyle is under $16K/yr. Social Security is $28.5K/yr.

We're extremely happy without going to extremes.

Anonymous said...

"Off the grid"..."no batteries or solar panels"...early-middle 19th century lifestyle...

As apparently idyllic a fantasy that in a world with no non-bio-degradable items, etc, what would be some of the real ramifications?

1 - no internet, computers, tv, radio, modern forms of transportation. We'd have sailing vessels and horse-drawn wagons. Maybe steam engines to up the ante a little, if your fantasy would allow.

2 - no refrigeration. This would lead to the death of all diabetes sufferers since insulin requires refrigeration.

3 - mass starvation of even more of the 7 billion on the planet due to non-modern-mechanized food production and distribution.

4 - millions of other medical patients dieing due to the lack of drugs and equipment that keeps them alive.

5 - a general reduction in both population and average life span.

6 - no elimination, if not an increase, in the economic and social class system...possibly a return to child labor. The rich will still get richer and the poor will still get poorer. Nothing ever changes in this regard.

etc etc

No one wants to go back to "the old days" and even if some natural or man-made catastrophic caused it, mankind would just begin the upward climb again and, sooner or later, achieve the equivalent of our 21st century lifestyle in whatever century that happened for them.

Human nature expressed in the out-workings of civilizations cannot be modified or stopped. Sooner or later it all leads to the same thing.

Anonymous said...

"a general reduction in both population and average life span."

Now you're talking.