Richard Heinberg shows in a new article that the global energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources is still going much too slowly to save us from our own bad habits.
Locally, though, i’m happy to report that we at gnusystems have powered nearly all of our transportation this spring with solar energy. We’ve been charging the BatBolt, our electric car, with our solar panels, adding up to 30 km of range every sunny day. For more details, have a look at the video introduction to EV driving (mostly for rural drivers) I posted on Youtube. Considering your transport options in the near future? EVs can be an important part of the transition, and not as expensive as you might think.
Halfway through the winter here in the northern hemisphere – a very mild one here, so far.
Our electric car, the BatBolt, has performed very well this winter, although a full charge only gives us about 280 km of range, as opposed to 400 or so in the summer. So we decided to risk a trip to Toronto, over 500 km away. We had to stop twice on the way down, and on the way back, to quick-charge the batteries, which took an hour or more each time. We have apps to find those DC charging stations along the route, but they are still few and far between in northern Ontario, so we were lucky that they were all working and available when we needed them – thanks mostly to Petro-Canada for installing them along the trans-Canada highway. Lucky also that we had good travelling weather, that all the fast charging was free, and that we could plug in the BatBolt for slow-charging at the Airbnb the whole time we were there.
What drew us to the big city was an appearance, and a virtual reality installation conceived, by Laurie Anderson at the Royal Ontario Museum. VR is a new experience for me, although the kind of movies we play in HD at home could be described as “virtual realities” to the extent that the viewer gets immersed in them. What’s different about “real” VR is that you can direct your attention anywhere in the full sphere that you are virtually inside of, and you have some control over your virtual movements within that sphere. Or as Laurie put it in her talk about it, you can fly. Your body and its movements are visually integrated with the work of art, instead of being forgotten as they are when you’re watching a movie on a screen and that’s where all the movement is.
Was that experience worth the risk of a 500-km trip in January? The dominant petro-culture takes the privilege of travelling like this for granted, but that’s part of the fossil foolery behind the current climate emergency, so it’s not something i take lightly. Being able to do it without burning any fossil fuels made a big difference, though. Since our three-day trip included a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario and lots of time with Pam’s brother Tom, along with some extra perks, we really appreciated the privilege. Cruising along the six-lane highway into the city, watching the commuter traffic crawl out of it while we listen and laugh to Crazy Town podcasts, felt right somehow. After all, there’s no telling how long this kind of show will go on. This reality is not virtual, but it sure is temporary. No matter what the groundhog says.
William Rees, co-inventor of the ecological footprint concept, recently published an article entitled ‘Don’t call me a pessimist on climate change, I am a realist.’ He outlines all the reasons why it is unlikely that humanity will achieve the transition to a just, healthy and sustainable way of occupying our planet. I’m inclined to agree with him on that. So i hope readers don’t think i’m an optimist on climate change just because i’m writing about ‘the transition’ and doing what little i can to further it. I’m not an optimist on living forever, either, but that only encourages me to live more deeply the little time i have.
The same applies to human civilization, as far as i’m concerned. If we are in the process of destroying ourselves, i’d really like to understand what it is about human-nature relations that pushes us in that direction. If we are in the process of making the transition to a civilization that respects the nature of ecosystems, i’d like to understand that too. Or at least contribute to somebody else’s understanding by reporting on our local experiments.
One of those is our Chevy Bolt EV. Electric cars face special challenges in winter, because cold batteries don’t operate as efficiently. We do have an enclosed garage, but it’s not heated. The manual for ours recommends keeping it plugged in when temperatures fall below freezing. We can’t do that because we’re off the power grid and keeping the car plugged in would very quickly drain the batteries that power the whole house. To give you a rough idea, we need about 5 kilowatt-hours per day to power the household – more in the November-to-February stretch because the nights are longer. On an uncloudy day we can draw that much from the sun in 3 hours or less; but uncloudy days are rare this time of year, and 5 kwh will only power the car for about half an hour’s driving.
Of course we can’t just let the car sit unused for weeks at a time either. Since the cold weather started, Pam has been out driving three or four times a week. One weekly trip includes a charging session using the Level 2 charger we installed at our on-grid place in Little Current (15 km from home). She’s found that we can save energy by using the heated driver’s seat and steering wheel rather than heating the whole interior of the car. Of course we need the windshield defroster occasionally – but not very often (unless there’s too much conversation going on among passengers and driver!). Anyway, the risks of relying on an EV in winter are greatly outweighed by the benefits of low maintenance, zero emissions and very low “fuel” costs. We’ll see what happens when the temperature drops to -25 C.
I think it’s about time i repurposed this blog, from mainly theoretical to something more practical.
The question on my mind now is how we humans can make the transition to a more ecologically sound civilization, one that values all the inhabitants of Planet Earth and not just our species. The transition needs to happen at every level, from local to global, and it needs to happen fast. According to the IPCC, we have only about a decade to avert runaway global heating which will make life difficult, if not impossible, for most of us. Humans will have to radically transform the dominant culture of consumptive capitalism, or else the present climate emergency will become an irreversible catastrophe. The situation is already dire for many millions of humans and other earthlings, and will get worse before it gets better – how do we cope with that?
None of us really knows much about the answers to these questions. We have a general idea of what needs to be done and have the technology to do it, but the entrenched resistance to such radical changes is still a major obstacle. Maybe an ongoing conversation about the transition will allow for us to learn from each other’s experiments and experiences, and i hope this blog can contribute something to that. I’d like to turn the blog into something more like a forum that will make it easier for others to contribute, so please let me know if you’re interested in doing that! I’m looking into the WordPress options to open it up to more discussion.
Now for the local news. Yesterday my wife Pam and i took a carload of friends from Manitoulin to Sudbury, the first time we’ve done that with the Chevrolet Bolt EV we bought a few months ago. And another first: we used fast DC chargers in both Sudbury and Espanola to power the trip back to Manitoulin. These were recently installed at Petro-Canada stations, and more of them are going in across the country, according to Petro-Canada. It’s good to see that at least one oil company is actually helping out with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles – especially considering how much oil money is going into desperate atttempts to delay the transition.
Our Bolt EV is an experiment in managing our energy consumption, which has been a priority for Pam and me (and gnusystems) for many years. Our home is off the electrical grid and mostly solar-powered now (though we are still partly reliant on propane). I’ll be reporting and commenting on this as we head into our first winter of relying on an EV for transportation. But there’s much more to report on, so i hope you readers will “stay tuned” and share some of your own transitional thoughts.