Wake up calls… REVISITED!

Oil Spill water view“On a daily basis, as fears, far beyond our worst, align with the oozing and spreading reality of the dead and dying, we recognize our inadequacies…while our hearts break again and again… gradually understanding this new form of terrorism largely of our own  making.” ~Jack Costantino, Pres., TFU~

On October 17th, 1973, a mixed group of oil moguls called the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (aka OPEC) decided they would demonstrate their displeasure of US / Israeli foreign policy by turning off our share of their oil supply. American consumers awoke to virtually spontaneous and lengthy lines at their local gas stations, quickly escalating to frustration, anger and disbelief.

By January 1974, the price of a barrel of crude oil rose 388% from $3.00 to $11.65. When the embargo was lifted on March 3, 1974, the Dow Jones Average stood at approximately 852.

The irony is the quantity of oil provided by Middle Eastern and associated resources amounts to roughly 15% of our imports. If we were willing, as a collective, to perform the simple act of turning off lights and TVs in unoccupied rooms, we could literally dispense with OPEC’s oil. But because of our addiction to our conveniences, we can’t.

In fact, many American consumers may be unaware that the majority of our imported oil (approx. 40%) comes from the Athabasca range in northern Canada. The frightening reality for Canadians is that the extraction of this oil requires hundreds of millions of gallons of potable water and volatile chemicals to be pumped in to the oil-sand daily to bring it to the surface, polluting forever this once pristine natural resource.

Also… high on my personal irony scale is, at the end of the embargo, the reaction from abused, manipulated and disillusioned American consumers produced barely a whimper. No revolts, no boycotts and definitely no collective interest in replacing or conserving fossil fuel. Instead, we filled our tanks greedily, grateful to have a readily available supply unencumbered by restrictions of alternate days, odd and even license plate numbers, and five gallon limits.

On September 11, 2001…during a very pretty and peaceful pre-autumn morning, riding in our truck to a remodeling project in Morristown, NJ, my brother Sal and I chatted about our plan for the day’s work ahead, family, food and other trivial pursuits of the unencumbered mind. In the background, incessant chatter on our music station annoyingly interrupted our non-consequential ramblings with a persistent urgency. It took a few minutes to catch on.  When we arrived at the project, instead of removing old kitchen cabinets, we joined the owner of the home, collectively transfixed, and watched the second plane embed itself in the so-far untouched tower of the World Trade Center, extinguishing the lives of 3,000 unsuspecting workers and first responders. Included among the firemen was a long-time friend who worked with me summers while he was still in school.

And now approaching a decade afterward, with 4,000 deaths, 40,000 wounded and a million or more foreign casualties, the resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue albeit a recently proposed, but sketchy withdrawal on a fragile time table.

For me, connecting the dots of the current tragedy in the Gulf to past events requires a small leap of logic. Our recognized need for oil beyond our capacity to produce our own inspires some to adopt the “drill, baby, drill” attitude. Others on the green spectrum propose advancing and accelerating our development and use of alternative energy from solar, to wind to geo-thermal and expansion of nuclear power plants. In fact, some or all of these initiatives may be necessary over time, and hopefully in a proportion which allows for the graduated reduction of fossil fuel openly recognized as a depleting resource.

In Saudi Arabia, state-owned interests have launched their plan to access the desert’s intense and ever present vast supply of solar energy; transitioning away from oil as a primary sell-able energy commodity over the next 50 years already defined as the peak oil timetable for profitable production.

As always, we lag far behind others in any focused attempt to produce an alternative fuel supply. In Germany and other parts of Europe, alternative energy utility companies have been in continuous operation for over 25 years. During a month-long vacation to Ireland in 1975, I would have happily paid ten dollars for an ice cube while I wondered about meat hanging on hooks above a butcher’s head in the open space of local shops. It’s not that refrigeration hadn’t been invented yet, or air conditioning for that matter, but the use of these amenities (considered indispensible in the American market economy and psyche of entitlement), were used sparsely in favor of open windows and a culture of conservatism from small cars to warm drinks. An afternoon in a Dublin pub will communicate the message that no less stout is consumed at room temperature.

I’m in favor of alternative energy and built my first passive solar, earth bermed home in 1976 in Oxford, MS. However…aside from an extremely rudimentary shallow trench geo-thermal system, this home and others in Vermont and elsewhere utilize no active collection systems of any kind. Instead, the homes are designed to exploit available solar energy for heating along with the geo-thermal constant of a partially earth-wrapped exterior. In summer, pre-calculated overhang design controls solar penetration when it’s not desired. The TF and SIP-enclosed homes we build today parallel that philosophy of conservative consumption; utilizing fuel based energy only as a supplement to the home’s natural ability to require as much as 50% less heating and cooling.

I have always believed and I’m convinced now more than ever that among the strategies to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel energy of any description is to simply use less. Conservation is an actionable resource which is immediately available, at no cost. And yet its simplicity is defied and ignored by our apparent preference and willingness to sacrifice our children in oil wars, than to sacrifice a few conveniences or modify wasteful behavior in our own homes.

While BP and the federal government exhaust their own energy respectively avoiding and assigning blame, we’re treated to claims that there are no large enough oil tankers available to assist in storing oil which is being captured, thereby delaying the incremental increase of that collection process. WHAAAAAAAT!

On a daily basis, as fears, far beyond our worst, align with the oozing and spreading reality of the dead and dying, we recognize our inadequacies…while our hearts break again and again… gradually understanding this new form of terrorism largely of our own  making.

If we truly want to participate in a long-term solution to this problem, do the simple things…turn off lights and TVs in unoccupied rooms, encourage children to play outdoors unfettered by cables and cords, walk more, drive less, plant a tree…just a small one the kids can help with and tell them why it’s a good thing. And while we’re at it…we can beg their forgiveness for destroying a million exotic, beautiful, strange and yet to be discovered living things in nature that they and their children will never know.

~Jack Costantino~

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