Saturday, June 26, 2010

The End of the World As We Know It

I apologize for being so quiet the last month or so, but as the events in the Gulf of Mexico have unfolded I have found myself not only broken hearted but speechless as well. As the amount of oil that scientists estimate is spilling into the Gulf continues to grow larger, and the time it will take BP to stop it grows longer, the gut wrenching pictures of seabirds and turtles covered in oil have made me feel that perhaps everything we have been trying to do on our journey across America has been for naught.

With today’s revised estimate of the spillage now up to 60,000 barrels a day, it is possible that well over 100 million gallons of oil have already poured into the Gulf and the end is nowhere in sight. BP has said that they will soon be able to capture up to 28,000 barrels of oil per day, that is still less than half of the current estimate, but over 5 times as much oil as BP has admitted is destroying these precious waters. Barring some kind of miracle, or perhaps the use of nuclear weapons, oil will continue to flow until at least late August, and at the current rate at least 300, maybe 400 million gallons or more will soon be mixed with the clear blue waters in the Gulf and things there will never, ever be the same.

Whether you believe in Peak Oil (for more info click here) or not, there is virtually no one on this planet that doesn’t understand that sooner or later we will begin to run out of oil, and long before that day we will begin to run short of oil. While very few seem willing to admit it to themselves or say it out loud, the fact that we are drilling for oil over a mile beneath the sea, and over three miles below that to reach the oil, and stripping the forests of Canada bare to expose the oil sands so that we may continue our unsustainable and unjustifiable use of this finite resource shows just how desperate we already are.

The oil we squeeze from the sands requires more energy to produce than it generates. This is like putting $1.00 into your bank account and getting $.75 back. Not only would that be foolish, sooner or later you would run out of money. Many of the offshore wells like Deepwater Horizon will eventually produce oil that is much more expensive than the current price of oil will support. The oil companies know this, but they also know that sooner or later, the price of oil will rise to meet the dynamics of supply and demand and they are simply hedging their bets by drilling these wells in advance with the profits from some of the easy money wells around the world.

The worst part of all this is that our entire way of life, and all of our economies the world over, have since the first commercial oil well was drilled in 1859, become completely dependant on oil. Nearly everything we use as a modern society, from the obvious like the cars we drive and the gas and electricity that heats and lights our homes, to the less obvious like clothing, paints, medicines, cosmetics (for an astounding and more complete list click here ) is made from oil. More importantly nearly our entire food supply is dependent on the use of petrochemicals in every phase of its production from seed to market. In fact, the overpopulation of our planet today, is a direct result of the availability of cheap oil and resulting abundance of food that can then be transported over large distances. Just think about it, in 1859 a mere 150 years ago, virtually nothing on this planet was made from petroleum based oil. There was a large industry in whale oil, but the number of products made from that oil was relatively small, and by 1859, the world’s whale population was already declining from the uncontrolled slaughter of these magnificent creatures for commercial use. “Peak Whale” was reached in the mid-19th century, and just like Peak Oil, it eventually spelled the end of the industry. But we are talking about a time when the worldwide population was fairly stable at about 750 million souls. With the advent of chemical fertilizers and other dramatic changes made possible by the discovery of petroleum, the world’s population has skyrocketed to over 6.5 Billion in that same 150 years,

Can we sustain our current population without petroleum? The answer is a resounding NO and the evidence suggests that with the end of cheap oil, the population of this planet will again need to be reduced to the more sustainable number of 750 million or less (for more info click here). That means that unless we do something to change it, in the not too distant future whether through famine, war, or other manmade and natural disasters, about 6 billion of us will eventually be weeded out. This will be nature’s way of resetting the clock and dealing with an unsustainable population caused by the unsustainable availability of cheap oil. I believe it can happen to humans, it happens to other animal species all the time when they become overpopulated. The only thing that has both saved and doomed us so far is the readily available supply of oil.

While every prophet, cult or religion that has ever predicted the “end of the world” have so far been wrong, I believe with certainty that what we are seeing now, and what we will be experiencing in the decades to come truly is “the end of the world as we know it”. That it would seem is not that hard to predict. Drilling deeper and deeper and turning the sands beneath our forests into garbage bags and lipstick will only prolong the agony. Unless we develop, and develop rather quickly new ways or rediscover old ways to do almost everything we do, we will eventually run out of both oil and time. The “tipping point” is coming. The prospect of the Gulf oil spill affecting not only the Gulf, but the global food chain and weather patterns is very real and we won’t know what has happened until the damage is done and it is already too late. This is the wake up call that we cannot afford to ignore, and yet I fear that most of us will simply roll over and hit the snooze button.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Racing into the Future

This is a very thoughtful and well done video from an unlikely source! Leilani M√ľnter is a professional race car driver and environmental activist. She holds a bachelors degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California San Diego. Leilani adopts an acre of rainforest for every race she runs and is a long time vegetarian and eco activist.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Nature’s Head Composting Toilet

Throughout our travels and from our website and blog, one of the most frequently asked questions is “How is your composting toilet working?” So by popular demand here is an update on the toilet!

It seems like the very thought of a composting toilet is both intriguing and intimidating to most people. All of us are used to the flush and go toilets (or is it go and flush?) we have used all of our lives and really don’t think that much about it. However with the increasing awareness that the availability of clean water (already an issue in many parts of the world), is going to become a global issue, and that the wisdom of using fresh clean drinking water to flush our waste seems doubtful, more and more people are becoming open to the idea of composting toilets.

For us and for all self-contained mobile travelers, there is also the issue of disposing of the nasty mixture that spews forth from the infamous “black tank”. As any one who has lived in RV or trailer will tell you, this is certainly one of the least enjoyable parts of the experience. While the Nature’s Head composting toilet is not without maintenance, it does a pretty nice job of separating the liquid and solid wastes, thereby making the job of maintenance and disposal much less disagreeable. Combined with the fact that you can feel good about conserving precious water resources, the upside of using a composting toilet far outweighs any discomfort you might have about dealing with your waste in a little more hands-on manner!

The first question most people ask is “does it smell?” The answer is definitely “No” Not only does it not smell (there is a slight but not unpleasant earthy odor when we add new peat moss), but there is a complete lack of the usual chemical odors associated with the conventional RV toilet much like you would find in an airplane toilet.

People also want to know we handle the waste. First of all, there are several different types of composting toilets. Some use heat to remove the liquid waste from the solid waste. This requires not only additional electrical energy, but also a larger tank as well as longer composting times. The Nature’s Head toilet cleverly separates the liquids from the solids, making the disposal of liquid waste as easy as emptying the tank, and the overall size of the toilet much more suitable for smaller living spaces like an RV or cabin. Both types of toilets have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the application. If you are considering a composting toilet for your home as opposed to an RV, boat, or cabin, I would look into some of the units designed for that application as the Nature’s Head is best suited to those other situations.

As for what we do with the waste, this depends on how much we are using it, and where we are. While traveling and using the toilet full time, the liquid waste needs to be emptied every three to four days. This is usually done in a pit toilet if we are at a campground. If we are boondocking, I do not have a problem with emptying the liquid waste directly into the woods. Just like the wildlife that lives there does, the liquid waste is natural and biodegradable. It is only when it is mixed with solid waste as in a conventional RV toilet that it becomes toxic. To insure that it is filtered by nature, we do not empty it near any bodies of water. If we are camped in the city, it goes down a conventional toilet, but this requires only one flush for three or four days of liquid waste giving the old adage “if it’s yellow let it mellow” a whole new time frame!

The solid waste is a little more complicated, but still way less annoying and toxic than having to empty the foul mixture that comes out of the conventional RV black tank. The Nature’s Head toilet works by composting the solid waste in a small tank containing peat moss. The peat moss acts as a medium to begin and maintain the composting action. There is a small handle that is used to stir the tank after each use. This stirring aerates the mixture, accelerates the composting and keeps it from becoming too dense. In addition there is a small fan that operates on the 12V system of the RV (ours is solar powered), and helps keep the mixture dry and odor free. When it is time to empty the toilet and renew the peat moss, it is a simple matter of removing the tank, dumping the compost, and adding new peat moss to start the process over again. As with the liquid waste if we are camping, the compost is easily disposed of down a pit toilet where it will rapidly finish decaying. In the woods, digging a small hole away from any water and covering it with dirt will do the job. And in the city, unless you are staying at a place where you can add it to someone’s non-vegetable compost pile, it usually ends up in the landfill where it will quickly and safely finish the process of decay.

As I said, becoming a little bit more involved with our waste is not something everyone may be comfortable with, but when you think about it, we should be! Just like everything else we do, from our electrical use, our water consumption, and our use of petrochemical products, all these things have an impact on our planet, and the more we understand, evaluate and reduce that impact, the better off we will all be.

For more info on the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet, visit their website at:
Nature's Head Composting Toilets