Hiram College

When I was a child, my mom used to sing an Indonesian song for me. The title of the song is “Ibu Pertiwi,” which roughly translates as “Mother Earth.” I remember the song’s lyrics:

Look at the sorrowful, disheartening Mother Earth. Her tears are flowing as she is reminiscing over her lost diamonds. Forests, mountain, paddy fields, oceans are her wealth. Now she is crying in pain, sighing and pleading for her children to take care of her treasures.

As a little girl, I knew nothing about the hidden messages behind those words. I only knew that the song has a plethora of interpretation. However, as I learn more about the environment, I realize that the song is a reminder of how humans exploit natural resources.

One of the many cases I’ve studied is on the topic of oil spillage and its danger. Oil spills are defined as man-made disasters since they are by-products of human activity in which oil is leaked from ships, shore facilities, equipment breakdowns, pipelines, offshore platforms, tankers, automobiles, boats, industrial plants and machinery. But isn’t it frightening when such large amounts of non-renewable energy that we rely on much too heavily just float away, unusable?

How do oil spills start in the first place? They commence when humans begin to rely too much on oil. Why do humans need oil and seem to be addicted to it? The answer is short: almost all of our activities are highly dependent on oil.

So is there a good reason to refrain from doing those activities even if we really want to do them?  We can approach this question with a cost-benefit analysis (a real one that considers all kinds of costs over the long term) and find out whether or not it is advantageous to take steps to reduce oil consumption and resolve the issue of oil spills and prevent the similar incidents from happening in the future.  It is.

One (of many) reason is that we are now facing “peak oil”–when maximum production capacity for oil is reached and then begins to decline.  U.S. oil production peaked in the 1970s; world production is likely peaking now.  Oil prices are now at an all time high and the cost of producing oil has increased. Oil production capacity may yet increase, but the output of oil production may not rise. Oil wells are going dry daily, reserves are becoming harder and more costly to access, and  require increasingly dangerous methods of extraction. The demand of oil will outstrip its production. We have already exhausted the easiest way to get oil and are left spending more energy, money and lives to go further afield to get what is left.

With the escalation in oil price and the increase of oil consumption (particularly from transportation sector), we will be forced to move on to using renewable alternative energy such as bioethanol, biodiesel, wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy, tidal wave energy, wind power, nuclear power or even a fusion/combination of several forms of energy.

What does peak oil mean for our daily lives? It means that we need to think about sustainable initiatives–those that meet the needs of today’s generation without jeopardizing or sacrificing the ability of future generations to fulfill their own needs. One way to reach sustainability is by improving the efficiency of energy.  As we strive to improve energy efficiency, we simultaneously reduce the amount of energy that turns into unusable heat and pollution.

We must also focus on energy conservation. How do we do it? Below is a brief list of some ideas for enhancing energy conservation and efficiency at home.

1)    Get a Home Energy Audit Assessment  (This has been done at Hiram’s TREE House.)

Building analysts help homeowners examine site conditions and local climate, check cooling equipment, check appliances and home electronics, assess the efficiency of lighting and day-lighting, space heating, air sealing, air leakages, roofs, windows, doors and any other mechanical devices that expel air and is potential for making combustion, such as clothes dryer. The physical inspection of the furnace, insulation, water tanks, building materials and constructions will sometimes be conducted too.

The advantages of the home energy audit are tremendous:  it ensures that the home operates safely, it documents the home’s current energy effectiveness, and it reduces maintenance costs in the present and future. The ultimate goal is create a more comfortable and healthier home. It can even improve the building’s durability.

2)    Create a “bright room” program. In the evening when each of the family members return home, encourage them to stay in a room together rather than doing things alone in their own separate rooms. Lighting only one room will need less energy compared to or instead of lighting several rooms simultaneously at the same time.

3)    Embrace natural light. In the afternoon, try to use sunlight instead of artificial lighting.

4)    Turn off the light when nobody is inside of the room.

5)    To utilize less electricity, try to use ceiling fans instead of air conditioner.

6)    Do not leave photocopier, printer, computer and television on a standby mode when no one uses them. Shut them down completely.

7)    Buy rechargeable batteries instead of throw-away batteries.

8)    Set your clothes-washer to the cold-water setting.

9)    Minimize the use of hair dryer. Dry hair with towel.

10) Buy fresh local foods instead of frozen and imported products. Frozen and imported foods are very energy-intensive and have longer energy miles when they are being produced.

11) Explore alternative solar water-heating systems.  

12) Come to a free household energy workshop at Hiram on Saturday, Nov 16 10-11:30 (in the Kennedy Center, Dix Dining Room).

I know it can be difficult to alter our habits, but if we want to preserve our own lives and not be helpless in the face of oil scarcity/crisis, then we have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

My childhood song, which I mentioned earlier in this article, has a second finishing stanza, which is

Look, Mother Earth, we are coming to show our dedication and to make you happy and to ease your suffering. We are still loyal and will give our time to preserve your most cherished possessions.

It is full of the evocation of optimism, but unless we attempt to make our contribution (as individuals and groups), the song will remain a wishful song. I sure hope that one day, I will be able to sing that part of the song without feeling ashamed, without being upset, discouraged or embarrassed of how the sentiment does not ring true. I will be able to sing it passionately, knowing that someday it will be the truth and that I am capable of doing a significant project to make the planet a better place.