Monday, March 14, 2011

Maybe, for you - it's time to unplug.

Unplug what? Unplug - everything.

Yes, that's a drastic suggestion; but if you aren't feeling drastic today, you never will.

Nuclear power - is a thing of the past. But it's not going to die an easy death; the nuke profiteers will fight for their profits; which come, please note, never from actual profits made selling energy; but from subsidies paid by taxpayers. They fight to the death. Literally. So long as the deaths are not their own, they are already writing about how happy they are to see a few people die for their nukes. "Everything is dangerous!" they now cry; after paying expert pontificators for decades to pound home the idea that nukes are "totally safe!"

They're not; they never were, and those who said so (me, quietly, Nicole Foss with vast expertise) have been ignored (at best).

And let me say this, too - I'm of the opinion that safe nuclear power might have been a possibility, at one time. But at the outset, engineers who pushed for greater intrinsic safety were ignored because safer designs were also more expensive, up front. As recently as last week- while pushing "third generation" nuclear reactors, the industry once again chose to ignore- and ridicule- engineers pointing out safety flaws.

What's going on in Japan right now is much, much worse than the mainstream media is saying it is. That's partly because the news coming out of Japan is being specifically toned down to slow panic, and because the media feels compelled to repeat bs like "The outer building was destroyed in the explosion, and the inner concrete secondary containment vessel has collapsed - but the primary steel reactor vessel inside was not damaged, and there is no serious danger to the public at this time."

What leaks out, in dribs and drabs, are little bits of information like "we've found cesium outside"... and "US helicopter pilots flying 60 miles away were contaminated with radioactive particulate matter"...

The only way to get cesium outside is if the core of the reactor has melted, and the core is leaking incredibly hot vaporized metal into the outside world. No, it's not Chernobyl- but that really shouldn't comfort anyone. It's not Three Mile Island, either, it's vastly worse. (By far the best whole-problem analysis I've seen is from Nicole Foss, here.)

Public reaction against nuclear power is going to be huge. The push to develop nuclear anyway, will also be huge- and very powerful. In case you haven't noticed- powerful people are currently increasingly convinced they can and should ignore public wishes, "for our own good".

So. You feel you don't want any new nuclear power plants built around you? What can you do about it?

Yeah, sure; write to your Congress people. Call them. Go to the demonstrations; carry a sign. As all the public employees in Wisconsin will tell you - they're not listening much.
Something you could do- that would actually force them to pay at least a tiny bit of attention to you- is unplug. Quit using their electricity. Stop.

Yes; you could. I can tell you that with a little credibility; because I did; more than 30 years ago- and actually; for exactly this reason; nuclear power (as it exists) is an incredibly bad idea. It was the 3rd post I made on this blog. And I'm not dead, I've raised 2 children entirely this way, one of whom has moved back with his PhD in engineering to work with me, one of whom lights his house with LEDs; and am raising another.

Now; before you quit listening altogether, because 99% of you are thinking "sure, he could, but I really can't... just physically cannot." - you could actually make a difference if you just unplugged some of your "stuff".

Long ago, a very nice lady was writing on Dot Earth, Andy Revkin's blog on the NYT, and made the very common statement that "she'd really like to 'go solar', but she just couldn't afford it." Most people believe that, and repeat it so often it becomes "common knowledge", aka; "reality".

So I commented there that actually she could; anyone can; at any time. Here's how you go solar, on any budget. You go out and buy the solar system you can afford, no matter how small. Then- you only plug in the appliances that you have power for. If you don't have the power- then you can't use it. (A big part of why I have no refrigerator.) When you can afford more solar- you add it on. Then you can run more stuff. Not before. (And sure, solar is not the only game in town; just pay attention to the principle here.)

She did not, alas, go out and do as I suggested.

But just maybe- it's time for people to take that a bit more seriously.

So- if you find yourself concerned, and wanting to do something; think about actually, seriously and permanently, reducing your electricity consumption. That way; when the nuke pushers start saying "we must have them, or we will have no civilization"; they will have a little more trouble making that argument stick.

Over all electric consumption is down, in the "developed world". Most of the world has excess generating capacity, right now. But; the pushers are already pushing; claiming it's desperately essential to have more. If, however, civilized people are simply doing with less; one way or another; and general consumption fails to rise- it will be hard to make that stick.

How many electric clocks do you have in your house? How many do you actually need?

Do clocks use a lot of power? Hell, no; but they are the perfect example of our habits, which have resulted in the endless growth in demand. No, the clock uses "almost nothing"- but how many clocks that no one ever looks at do you suppose are running right now in New York City? I'd have to guess hundreds of thousands, since nice clocks, and clock radios, and an extra clock radio for the den, and the one your uncle gave you for college that is running in the baby's room- are a favorite gift, which we cheerfully give and receive and - plug in, somewhere. And never look at.

Ok; only an example of consumption that happens below our radar- and which adds up, over our 100's of millions of people; so that we probably need one whole power plant in the USA - just to run clocks no one looks at. Another example - just the "standby" features of all our gizmos are estimated to add up to 108 Billion Kilowatt-hours per year, just in the USA. If my math is right, that's more than ten 1,000 Megawatt power plants.

And how about the kids' Wii, that's never unplugged. The extra old fridge still running in the garage, that keeps fish bait and beer cool in the summer; but runs all year?

Truthfully; the easiest way to tackle the problem, if you are one who wants to, is to just unplug everything. Then plug things back in- only when you find you need them.

There's a million ways to cut your use. Put motion detectors in each room that control room lights. Etc.

And for a few. Go ahead. Unplug permanently. Go off-grid.

There are millions in Japan who just went off grid; the hard way. And millions more are cutting back; the hard way. It could go better for your household if you were making your own choices; not having them imposed by forces beyond all control.


Andrea G. said...

Hi Greenpa,

Got any advice on solar & wind for those of us who rent?

Specifically, DH and I rent a house with several other people, and the landlady lives on the top floor. We're in a dense urban environment, but are lucky enough to have a reasonably-sized back yard. A typical building in this neighborhood has three floors, and most houses have one or more mature trees (generally mixed maple species) on the property. We were not permitted to attach a home weather station to the building. We may need to move at the end of this lease-year.

Sparkless said...

And I want to know what they were thinking putting nuclear power plants in an earthquake and tsnami zone? Ya sure they have backups, all of which failed!!! Stupid, stupid people.

I'm unplugging!

Lauren said...

Great post. Even though we are selling a few KWH per month back to the local utility, I want ahead and cleaned out a fridge I will unplug later today - one my honeycomb goes thru a freeze in the freezer to kill any wax moth larvae.

We've had our 7kwh system up since January 2010 and even though the utility co. still charges us almost $50 a month just for having the lines to our house, I'm very glad we got it. Just too hot here in South Texas to go thru the 105 degree summer days without A/C that being off-grid might entail. Of course, I could do it, and have, but for now I'll (while keeping cool!) blame other family members for the A/C addiction!

Crunchy Chicken said...

I returned to work today after a 6 month leave of absence. As much as I'd like to not work full-time, I'm beholden to it for a number of reasons.

I decided (have yet to talk to The Hank) that if I'm going to do something that I don't particularly enjoy and, while we are currently making excess money, we should use that money to get solar panels. Solar in Seattle is expensive and kind of dumb in many ways, but it's worth the long-term investment.

We'll need a new roof before that happens, but it's certainly in my game plan for the next few years - to unplug and get off the grid as much as possible.

"Going Greenpa" - we need bumperstickers.

Aimee said...

I am constantly trying to figure out how we use so much energy. We have all the standard appliances, but all are relatively new and supposedly high efficiency. I unplug the computer and the whole tv+ toys center every evening. Lights are the good kind and am always turning them
Off. I even keep things like the blender and the toaster unplugged, tho I doubt they pull energy when not in
Use. The only things that run all the time are furnace ( it's propane but uses electricity for the fan) the fridge and the chest freezer full of meat. However my husband's shop is on the prpeety. He is a mechanic and it's our income so we can't exactly eliminate it.

Anonymous said...

I'm in total agreement GreenPa! A couple of years ago, I did a bill test where for a whole billing cycle (we get our bills each quarter) I turned everything off unless I was actually using it. For a single person, my usual bill went down $60 for the quarter. That was amazing. This is now my habit, power gets turned on only when I use it. My big idea is that every home has a kill switch at the front door that turns off everything except the fridge. (Here in the tropics, my food left out will start to go off in 30 mins so the fridge is a must-have.)

tickmeister said...

OK, here is a dumb question. Why do we freak out about possible deaths from power plant accidents and care not the least about 35,000 deaths per year in the US alone from use of automobiles? If a nuclear plant blew up and killed that many people once per year, we would be insane to keep running them. Are any of you who are in the "no nuke" camp also "no cars" believers? I know nuclear waste lasts practically forever, but 100 people in the US died today in auto accidents. Why aren't we shutting down the auto industry?

Eric the Red said...

Tickmeister - very valid point! I think that it has something to do with the American idea of personal freedom - a car (nominally) gives me the freedom to move about as I desire. And, when you add in the legal intoxicants and distractions now available as part of that personal freedom - well, we all know how this one can end.

Kind of like - you can pull my gun from my cold, dead fingers.


Spice said...


Greenpa and I aren't exactly in the "No Car" camp, although we have slowly been moving toward it.

We find ourselves driving less and less and requiring at least 3 things before even going into town. (i.e. a doctor's appointment, and a trip to the grocery and an imminent need for hinges for the chicken coop)

We also drive slower than average. We drive between 45 and 50 MPH on our country roads. Slower when we're alone on the road and a little faster, but not the speed limit on the highway to Rochester or the Twin Cities. Mostly this is for gas consumption, but also for safety.

I am working on getting us horse power for local excursions!

Bachar Farms said...

Wow! Greenpa just found our blog! Really amazing read. You just sparked the desire to unplug everything in the house and only "re-plug" that which we truly need. Otherwise leave it unplugged. Look forward to reading more.

Anonymous said...

glad to read the no-electricty challenge. Last month, the power company said i used 212 kwh electricity, but i am scratching my head trying to figure out what is consuming it. my appliances are energy star models. i went to michael bluejay's site to find some answers, but i still have no clear understanding of what, beyond the fridge, a few loads of laundry, gas fired furnace, compact fluorescent lighting, a 27" imac computer, a small radio and occassional stereo -- and just me in the house, plus a visiting cat.... could account for an over $40. bill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog. We got rid of our dishwasher, fridge, and dryer today. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm mostly unplugged. Unfortunately,it is due to financial reasons, so I can't even feel noble about it. I have not used a refrigerator since February (it broke and I can't afford to get it either fixed or replaced), no heat since February (really expensive), no stove since March (ran out of propane), and I generally only use electricity when I have to. I turn the hot water heater off at the circuit breaker and turn it on about 30 minutes before I'm going to use it if it's been more than 24 hours.

I can't hang clothes outside because of community rules; if I violate them, I have big problems so they dry inside on hangers.

Solar power, wind power etc. are wonderful ideas but Home Owners Associations and local codes can prevent the most committed person from implementing them. I guess, if you're really committed, you'll find a way to move.

What I miss with no fridge is a good salad. I'm one person and fresh produce simply does not hold up well. I am forced into being as frugal as possible and I simply can't afford to give away or throw away food...and produce is so very expensive now. I do have a small chest freezer. I fill ice cube trays and put the ice in a small cooler which would hold a 12 pack of soda.

I have none of the expensive electronic toys that can be left plugged in, so that's not a problem.

Some days I feel really deprived, mostly because I didn't make the choice to live this way. On other days, I'm a bit more philosophical about it and do just fine. I think overall though, this (reduced energy use) is a good thing. Keep up the good work. I've subscribed to you.