Shopping Your Way Out Of Peak Oil

May 16, 2008 at 1:19 pm 8 comments

Peak Oil Shopping

This is a little story about shopping behavior in the age of peak oil.

The other day, my wife decided she wanted to go buy some stuff and I was dragged along kicking and screaming. We bickered about the usual things when it comes to buying “new” stuff – I brought up how we shouldn’t contribute to consumerism, and she countered with the fact that I can’t make the furniture she wants for our raging deck parties this summer. In other words – I lost.

Damn my inability to sustainably self-forge fixtures and furniture from the earth!

So we headed out in a rented FlexFuel truck (saving money at the pump by fueling up with E-85). Our trip started out by heading to the Rebuilding Center, a place in Portland where you can go shopping for all sorts of home goodies that have been reclaimed. This means you can buy pre-owned sinks, windows, doors – you name it.

The unfortunate part about shopping at second-hand stores is that you get whatever is there, in whatever condition it is in, and there is no guarantee of inventory in stock. It’s a mish-mash of potentially useful items, and while you can get lucky and find some gems, some of it looks like it is one-step ahead of a trip to the dump.

So then we went to the store she wanted to visit. It’s this little store you might have heard of called IKEA.

Peak Oil IKEA

I had never been to an IKEA, and I was amazed at the energy in the orgy of consumerism and Disneyland-like glee from shoppers of every ethnicity. At this store, home ideas are presented to you – not much thinking required!

I imagine whoever steals the IKEA layout and combines it with the Rebuilding Center to showcase reclaimed furniture will have a hit on their hands in the future as the economy continues to tank.

So after I put up a tantrum because I refused to participate in buying new fixtures from IKEA (even though they claim to use sustainable materials for some wood products), we left and headed home after grabbing some mulch from a local provider.

Then we decided to take a little field trip to Portland’s dumping station to get rid of things we couldn’t recycle, but that the city claims to recycle. Excellent, I thought. This could be a win-win.

Portland dump

Ugh. Have you been to your city dump lately? If I were mayor, I would suggest to each person living in the city to take a field trip to the dump, just to witness the ghastly amounts of waste that we generate. When you actually put yourself into the trash, you can feel your stomach turn at the notion of human stupidity.

How wasteful we are – shame on us all. But even if trash magically “goes away” to be placed in a landfill or even recycled, do we really need so much stuff? I am guilty as charged when it comes to materialism, but trying to find ways to change.

My question is – are enough humans willingly asking ourselves these questions, and do we have systems in place to radically alter our behavior before we completely decimate our planet? Will we be able to shop our way out of Peak Oil, even if we don’t buy anything new?

I would love to see the military retrofit our equipment be used for farming rather than securing oil to continue our wasteful lifestyles.


Entry filed under: Consumerism. Tags: , , .

Fuel For The Rich The USDA Wants Farmers To Grow Pot

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ben  |  May 17, 2008 at 7:47 am

    I’m wondering what the price of E-85 is there in Portland vs gasoline AND what the difference is in MPG of those two fuels on the truck you were driving.

    I’ve seen several times where it’s been proven (with current prices, even out in the cornbelt where E-85 is really cheap) that you don’t save money on E-85. Sure it costs less per gallon, but you actually get fewer miles per gallon. So in a “dollar per mile” calculation E-85 is a loser.

    For instance, check out this article from Consumer Reports:

    The Ethanol Myth

    Just curious.

  • 2. peakoilboy  |  May 17, 2008 at 9:15 am


    You can always check out to do the price check. Personally, I see it as saving America money every time someone fuels up with E-85 – that way we can grow the alternative fuel market and get away from oil.

    I can see you need to learn more about ethanol than you read in corporate media. Let me try and help you:

    Ethanol Myth #1: It Takes More Energy to Produce Ethanol than You Get from It!

    Most ethanol research over the past 25 years has been on the topic of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). Public discussion has been dominated by the American Petroleum Institute’s aggressive distribution of the work of Cornell professor David Pimentel and his numerous, deeply flawed studies. Pimentel stands virtually alone in portraying alcohol as having a negative EROEI—producing less energy than is used in its production.

    The most exhaustive study on ethanol’s EROEI, by Isaias de Carvalho Macedo, shows an alcohol energy return of more than eight units of output for every unit of input—and this study accounts for everything right down to smelting the ore to make the steel for tractors.

    But perhaps more important than EROEI is the energy return on fossil fuel input. Using this criterion, the energy returned from alcohol fuel per fossil energy input is much higher. In a system that supplies almost all of its energy from biomass, the ratio of return could be positive by hundreds to one.

    Ethanol Myth #2: There Isn’t Enough Land to Grow Crops for Both Food and Fuel!

    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. has 434,164,946 acres of “cropland”—land that is able to be worked in an industrial fashion (monoculture). This is the prime, level, and generally deep agricultural soil. In addition to cropland, the U.S. has 939,279,056 acres of “farmland.” This land is also good for agriculture, but it’s not as level and the soil not as deep. Additionally, there is a vast amount of acreage—swamps, arid or sloped land, even rivers, oceans, and ponds—that the USDA doesn’t count as cropland or farmland, but which is still suitable for growing specialized energy crops.

    Of its nearly half a billion acres of prime cropland, the U.S. uses only 72.1 million acres for corn in an average year. The land used for corn takes up only 16.6% of our prime cropland, and only 7.45% of our total agricultural land.

    Even if, for alcohol production, we used only what the USDA considers prime flat cropland, we would still have to produce only 368.5 gallons of alcohol per acre to meet 100% of the demand for transportation fuel at today’s levels. Corn could easily produce this level—and a wide variety of standard crops yield up to triple this. Plus, of course, the potential alcohol production from cellulose could dwarf all other crops.

    Ethanol Myth #3: Ethanol’s an Ecological Nightmare!

    You’d be hard-pressed to find another route that so elegantly ties the solutions to the problems as does growing our own energy. Far from destroying the land and ecology, a permaculture ethanol solution will vastly improve soil fertility each year.

    The real ecological nightmare is industrial agriculture. Switching to organic-style crop rotation will cut energy use on farms by a third or more: no more petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer needs can be served either by applying the byproducts left over from the alcohol manufacturing process directly to the soil, or by first running the byproducts through animals as feed.

    Contrary to some current reports, when correctly produced, alcohol fuel is a elegant practical solution to climate change, peak oil, world hunger, spiraling food prices, pollution, tropical deforestation and worldwide rural unemployment. Alcohol-based energy is being used around the world to combat climate change as well as energy and food shortages.

    As was just reported today by AP sources: Oil prices shot to a new record near $127 a barrel Tuesday on concerns that Iran may consider cutting crude oil production. Gas prices, meanwhile, rose to a new record over $3.73 a gallon Tuesday, and their advance shows little sign of slowing with Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer driving season, just 10 days away.

    Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose as high as a record $126.98 a barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Tuesday before retreating to settle up $1.57 at $125.80.

    With this as well as climate change and global warming reports increasing weekly, isn’t it time we helped the world learn how we can easily be producing ethanol and other biofuels for transportation, heat and energy needs for 50 cents a gallon rather than paying $111+ a barrel or $4.00+ a gallon at the pump?

  • 3. bubbaa  |  May 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Just to be fair, there is much yet to be known, and ethanol in its current incarnation with its current processing, is not some magic pill that will make modern civilization ecological friendly, it at best will keep people motoring around and polluting, and overpopulating, and likely not changing their lifestyles much–and thats IF the distribution can be created for such a massive endeavor, or if these plants can be produced en masse without fears of “not in my backyard” and water problems.

    The truth from everything I have read is up for debate, and for every “Myth” there are reputable research articles that suggest its worth looking into, but by no means the answer to Oil in its current form. Once I see Ethanol Semi’s shipping all the shiny worthless shit around to folks so they can continue down the mindless path of conspicuous consumption—and ecological destruction, all the while feeling good that they are running their hybrid escalade on E85, getting 12mp/gallon…good times 🙂

    Here are a couple articles of interest, although I guess were stupid and uniformed per your past article–glad to know you have figured out all the answers–perhaps you should run for president instead of the this years plutocracy candidates.

  • 4. ben  |  May 21, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Actually, the only point that I addressed is fuel economy. With current gas-based engines you can’t realize the potential economy of ethanol. Thus, you get much lower mpg for E-85 than gasoline, especially when compared to what is theoretically possible if you had an engine designed from the start to run on ethanol-only. Unfortunately, that is a long way off.

    What I’m saying is that if you are getting 25 mpg with gasoline and paying $4/gal for gas you are paying 16 cents per mile. If, however, you are filling up with E-85, getting only 20 mpg, and paying “cheaper” $3.25 per gallon it is actually costing 16.25 cents per mile. Plus you have to fill up more often.

    Of course, I am pulling these number out of my ass. Reality might be better (or worse). Can you tell me what the cost of E-85 vs gasoline is in your area, and what the difference is in mpg of these fuels in your car? I’m just curious.

    By the way, I too have “Alcohol is a Gas!” — love it.


  • 5. bubbaa  |  May 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Hmmm the cost of E-85 in my area, lets see–good luck finding it. Moving all these new “alternatives” to the masses isn’t happening that quickly, meanwhile Oil hit 132$/pb today…and gas prices in my area went up 12cents today.

    It’s going to be a fun ride, even if alfafa ethanol can be created en masse and the distribution system created quickly at scale…it’s always rough see a system attempt to adjust last minute.

    Endemic to many of these problems “the tip of the iceburg” in its current form–is the system itself.

    My bet is the Govt will do more drilling (already happening–see Allegheny national forest–drilling for oil/gas, and other “nature preserves” ANWR etc will likely be drilled eventually) and some more “Stimulus” money will probably be approved–hell why not just run the economy/system on stimulus checks, fiat paper money is a great way to allow for greater disconnect from the cause-effect “no free ride” reality of nature…whereas here in Non-reality, bullshit said loudly, or my favorite repeated often enough becomes most people’s unreality.

    I think we may need a whisky economy for the next decade–to take the edge off, but I’ll be waiting for E85 and all the rest to save the day–so again people can buy their shiny shit, do no real work, and hope that other people will take care of them…I realize that people do believe in magic…let’s get people to start gardens en masse, I’ll be waiting to see that happen.

  • 6. ben  |  June 2, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Guess we’re not going to get a response on this one…

  • 7. freelearner  |  June 17, 2008 at 5:48 am

    If you make a habit of going to Craigslist very frequently (twice a day), and if you can borrow or rent a flatbed trailer, you can eventually get whatever you want used. It may take time, but sitting at home clicking the “furniture” tab is easier than visiting your reuse center.

    The farm + garden tab is nice, too. I got a cheap steel wheelbarrow and heirloom tomato seedlings (I killed my own seedlings, alas)… but I wasn’t quick enough to snap up the free canning jars. Some people make extra money by selling plants out of their yard via Craigslist, and it’s nice to support your neighbors. Also I have seen free chickens (males, though) and very cheap dwarf goats, like $40 for a goat. Used small farm equipment & tools, too… and in my area there’s a guy who sells small and very pretty chicken coops specifically designed not to upset one’s suburban neighbors. It’s a post peak oil goldmine, I tell you.

  • 8. Tolerantly  |  June 18, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Tolerantly.


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