The price lies

This week in class, we are reading about energy policy and how, in a democracy, policy has to appeal to the majority of people.  This causes a big problem when the majority of people don’t see there being an energy crisis – when we are having one.  And people want cheap gas so much they cannot see the cost.

We trust that there is a market reflecting supply and demand working in the background of our gas purchases.  Our gas prices have remained somewhat steady (or at least only tripled over the last ten years), therefore we must not be facing any shortages.  In reality, there is less and less oil available every day – it is a finite commodity – a fossil fuel.  And, that oil is more and more expensive to get to.  So, why don’t the prices we pay reflect that?

Lopsided subsidies.

Companies get paid ridiculous amounts from the federal government to drill and mine fossil fuels.  They get paid much less to harness cleaner or renewable energies.  (There’s this pesky myth about large solar subsidies circulating that is just plain false.)  They get paid to drill or not drill from their reserves.  They get paid for not shipping oil overseas to refine it and back to the US for sales (an inefficient process), they get paid for every step of the process.  Good Magazine created this image to illustrate the situation.

This graph is only partial, because it doesn’t contain the costs of maintaining our highway and road infrastructure – and doesn’t contain the military costs of assuring international supply.

Confused values

Low gas prices are considered patriotic, a virtue.  This Valentine’s Day, one man was considered a hero for founding a nonprofit with the intent of getting gas stations to sell gas for less – for $2.14 this holiday.  Never mind the fact that station owner’s profit is only pennies on the gallon.  Or that the $.80 per gallon difference may have made more sense being given to someone who truly needed it.  All that matters is low gas prices so we can continue to drive our cars as much as we want.

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Staying warm on a cold indoor day

I am one of those people who is always cold.  Especially in the winter, and especially after I cuddle down on my sofa in the evening.  My husband and I argue over the thermostat, and I am trying my best to find ways to not to crank up the dial.

1) Hot cocoa or hot tea – don’t even drink it, just hold it in your hands and don’t put it down. This is one of the few methods that work for fingers.

2) Cats – this is the other method that works for cold fingers.  You can substitute dog or rat or bunny – whatever warmblooded fuzzy animal you have on hand.

3) Shawls – I cannot go as far as a snuggie, but I have a pile of shawls to keep  my shoulders warm.

Trey is modelling this years fine wrap.

4) Heating pad or hot water bottle – toss it under a shawl or blanket and it works wonders.

5) Double-curtain your window – or use an insulated / thermal curtain.  Even double paned windows can often use some extra help on a cold day.

6) Check for drafts – walk around the room with incense or a candle to trace and the caulk areas where drafts are getting in.

7) Humidifier – dry house air really adds to the feeling of cold.  Raising the humidity level and add a few degrees to your experienced temperature (same as humidity on a summer day).

8) Plants – they also hold humidity, keep them watered so they don’t dry out.

9) Lap blankets – the more the merrier.  I sometimes have so many on my legs on the sofa that I can barely move (just like as a child in bed with all those blankets.)

10) I hate to push a brand – but – Smart Wool Socks.  Yes,  I love them.

11) Comparisons – slip on your shoes and do a quick lap around the outside of the house.  I guarantee the inside will fill much warmer.

12) Red hots candies – they may not work, but then you still have red hots candies.  Sympathetic magic.

Trading off my TV

We unplugged our TV a couple of years ago.  I wish I could say it was because of some mighty and noble reason, but really I just hated the cable company (Comcast is evil).  Since then I’ve been happier without the TV, but I have moments like today when I really want to turn something on just to watch.  I need some justification.

So – here goes – why it’s best to go without a TV – one item at a time.

1) Pro Wrestling – Go watch this at a bar.  First, your watching it with a crowd cheering things on – much more fun.  Second, the types of bars that put wrestling on the screen have the most interesting types of people in them.  (The first goes for most other sports, the second may just be wrestling.)

2) The Daily Show and Colbert Report are on line anyway, at any time I want to see them, with fewer commercials.

3) News – I really don’t miss CNN or Fox.  I especially don’t miss the coverage of Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga, and whatever woman just killed her baby.  Checking the news online lets me avoid those.

4) Soaps aren’t even on anymore.

5) Reality TV – none of us really ever needed to watch that in the first place.  The only ones I miss are Deadliest Catch and Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe – and I can get those at the library.

6) MTV and VH-1 don’t play music videos anymore, you can only get those online unless they are top-10 pop videos.

Places to go for TV:

1) Sports – bars

2) News – Dairy Queen, Super Gyros or any restaurant of that caliber.  It’s likely Fox or Headline News covering how a dingo ate someone’s baby.

3) HGTV– my doctor’s office.  They’ll never notice if someone is hanging out for an extra hour to learn about drywall.

4) Big events – Oscars, Superbowl – Someone is going to have a party and if not, cook food and take it over to a friends house, announcing that they are having the party.

5) Cat-sit (or dog-sit) for friends – they have TV.

Things I still miss:

Univision’s Sabado Gigante (sigh)

Needs and wants

In my next class, we are reading about the interaction between consumerism and energy use.   The first step is asking how do wants expand into needs?  In the developed world (and especially in America) we consume piles of stuff and explain most if it in terms of our needs.

Economist Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean who teaches at U.C. Berkeley. developed a list of basic needs for humans where ever they may be.  These needs are more complex, and more complexly specified than the more familial Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These needs are non-hierarchical and operate more as an interactive system.

Subsistence – Creation, health, food, shelter skills, work feedback

Protection – security, society

Affection – friendship, family, love

Understanding – curiosity, education

Participation – responsibilities, interaction, community

Leisure – play, fantasy, intimacy, privacy

Creation – skills, work, feedback

Identity – belonging, groups, recognition

Freedom – autonomy, rights, dissent

As humans, we are complex beings, and it only makes sense that our needs are complex.  However, these needs are not tied to consumption of goods.  And, no matter how much we wish it were so, we cannot purchase that many of them.

How are these achievable?  Through community, spirituality, family.  Through developing a rich inner life, and that is one of the hardest things to do.  These needed become a means as well as an end.  Through belonging to a group, I gain responsibilities and friendship.  Through developing skills, I gain autonomy and recognition.  Focus on any of the higher needs brings about the fulfillment of other needs.

After that, we need to do something even harder – translate these deeply personal needs into something that becomes valued by our greater society.  This chart below (from Wikipedia)  shows multiple way of achieving those needs.  Most do not involve things.  Those that do are not necessarily ownable things.  More importantly, many of the ways of achieving these needs involve more than one person.  And that is what we need – more than one person and that allows personal beliefs to jump forward and become societal values.