By Muriel Strand
Many people believe we must rebuild our infrastructure. Unfortunately, almost everyone believes we must rebuild our fossil fuel infrastructure—roads, bridges, dams, ports, rail, pipelines, etc. What we need instead is to rethink our relationship with energy and return to a human-scale infrastructure that puts our real needs first.
Many progressives believe that we can graft our fossil fuel lifestyles onto photovoltaics and windmills and just keep driving. But few in any political party want to admit how cheap fossil fuel energy is, and how much unnecessary energy lurks in our standard of living and our GDP. (Solar panels and windmills are nonrenewable harvesters of renewable energy because they require fossil fuels to manufacture.)
How cheap? A healthy adult can generate about 75 watts, such as on a bicycle generator. Thus it takes about 100 hours to generate the amount of energy available from a gallon of gasoline. Multiplying 100 hours times the minimum wage means that human power is now hundreds of times more expensive than fossil fuels.
Yet not all that long ago humans were able to survive and thrive with such expensive energy. We can do it again. We would be wise to rebuild the traditional local farming and food systems that make that possible.
We need to rebuild in re-localized ways, where everyone feeds their community locally. Urban dwellers can replace lawns and pavement with gardens for food and fiber. Rural farmers can restructure existing giant plantations back into villages and family-size farms.
Working people can be retrained to support ourselves directly, locally, with traditional trades and skills, as well as with indigenous methods of permaculture and regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture nurtures the soil and produces a balanced diet grown locally, a better alternative to food trucked hundreds of miles from monoculture farms. Only capitalists and commodity speculators profit from conventional fossil-fuel agriculture, addicted to diesel, genetically modified crops, poisonous pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.
Since fossil fuel energy is physical energy, rebuilding for our real physical needs—clean air and water, healthy food, cooking, comfy shelter, and plenty of sleep and exercise—is the first priority. We can continue to get our metaphysical needs from all our relations while we figure out how to afford ourselves without fossil fuels.
Muriel Strand is a member of Sacramento, (CA) Friends Meeting and is a student of mechanical engineering, economics, and nonviolence. You can read Muriel’s before-and-after comparison at bio-paradigm.blogspot.com.