It has become clear to me over the past year that we must wean ourselves away from fossil fuels: oil, natural gas and coal. Not maybe, not eventually, not little by little. Extracting these fuels and burning them have become so drastically damaging. We gotta cut way back — now. I’ve asked myself: How can I, an urban woman living in an industrialized country, pull back from this stuff?
I decided to start with our home. Our furnace and our clothes dryer are powered by natural gas. This fall I set our thermostat lower than ever, at 65 degrees. It feels cool in the house, but if I wear one extra layer, like a sweatshirt, I am fine. I’ve wondered if we tend to turn our heat up so high in the fall in order to dispel the deep chill that has gathered in our rooms, not realizing that once it is gone a cool temperature is not hard to take. (An added bonus: lower temps encourage great overnight snuggling.)
Since May we have used our clothes dryer only a handful of times. Instead we hang our stuff on the line. Several years ago I bought one of those contraptions that look like an umbrella turned inside out. It can hold two full loads of laundry. You might say our dryer is solar powered, wind powered. And I never get tired of that fresh air/laundry smell clothes have when handled this way.
It is mid-October, and this year I am still hanging my clothes out, even if it means I need to wear gloves. What with the low sun angle and the cooler temperatures, it takes longer for clothes to dry, but so what? I don’t want to go back to using the dryer, so I’ve ordered a big wooden drying rack for when temperatures drop below freezing.
I know the pleasure of having your clothes all warm and fluffy and wrinkle-free from the dryer. Admittedly, air-drying takes a little getting used to. You make a sacrifice, but a tiny one. If you take the stuff out of the washer as soon as the cycle is done, snap the wrinkles out of each article before you hang it up, and put T-shirts on hangers, everything comes out just fine.
And you save money. I just opened our gas bill for the period running from mid-September to mid-October. The amount due is $23.46.
Besides seriously reducing the amount of natural gas we burn, I’m assessing how we use electricity. A lot of the electric power delivered to the Twin Cities is produced at coal-fired plants. I am mindful of keeping lights turned off in rooms we aren’t using. I have the computer and T.V. plugged into power strips so we can shut down the power that otherwise flows to them even when they are turned off.
For several years we have been paying Xcel Energy a bit extra for their alternative energy program, but today I went online and signed up to have 100 percent of our electricity matched through Windsource. It says in their online materials that this will cost about $10 extra per month for the average customer.
You pay Xcel to generate as much electricity through wind power as you use in your home each month. The program helps increase renewable energy production in Minnesota, to put it in their terms.
Wind power is not perfect. Turbines kill birds, and they sometimes bother people. They make noise, and they change the look of the land. Shadows they cast strike some as creepy. And large-scale energy projects are by their nature inefficient. You lose a lot of fizzle sending it long distances over wires. But producing wind power does not release CO2 into the atmosphere, so, given the global climate crisis, I am all for it.
Home solar installation seems like the only sane solution in the end, but we haven’t made progress on it at my house yet. Large trees in neighbors’ yards limit sun exposure to our roof. Perhaps the trees aren’t a deal breaker. Perhaps we could pay to have them trimmed. But we also have a daughter in college, and the price of solar has looked daunting.
So we may be a lot like you. We are worried about how it will be for our kids and all future generations. (My niece, a college freshman, is taking a class called “Global Meltdowns: Climate, Finance, and Energy.”) We feel an urgency to make significant changes. We are taking a hard look at what has gotten in the way of doing so in the past.
A line from a poem sticks with me. The voice of the poem is the children of the future. What they ask us is this: “What did you do when you knew?”
Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center.