Our first move in 18 years is complete. We’ve moved into a shabby rental house in a great neighborhood a couple blocks from campus. We’re moved in, but not settled in — that’ll take a while longer.
The neighborhood was developed in the 1920s and 1930s, so it predates car culture. There are no garages, except a few added after the houses were built. The streets are loaded with — and soon will be littered with — Audis, Volvos, and Beemers.
The houses predate the advent of modern “conveniences,” too. Life without toasters, blenders, microwave ovens, electric razors, hair dryers, curling irons, and electric alarm clocks means there’s one electrical outlet in nearly every room. But none in the bathrooms. And because the house dates to 1938, and hasn’t been cleaned or otherwise maintained since then, several of the outlets don’t work.
This is good preparation for our energy-deficient future.
And, while we’re on that subject, we spent last weekend working on the mud hut and selecting cabinets, counter tops, and tile. The colorist at the tile store — and it disturbed me to know about such a position, and that I conversed with the woman, more or less — kept talking about the beauty of tiles that come “from the Earth.” As if ripping slate, travertine, and limestone out of the ground to put on our walls is a good thing. But the dilemma is to choose between these natural materials and others that are ripped from the Earth: composites composed of oil and rendered “useful” via abundant infusion of fossil fuels.
Some people think, “It’s all good.” I’m more inclined to think, “It’s all bad.” And I’m an optimist.
I was made considerably less optimistic by reading Alan Weisman’s latest book, The World Without Us. This is a good book with a great idea, though I like it less than his earlier work, Gaviotas. Until I read the chapter about nuclear power plants, I thought the world’s species and cultures would be uniformly enriched by the ongoing collapse of American Empire. I thought peak oil might even save our species from extinction at our own hand. Now, though, I’m not so optimistic.
It seems that, in the absence of constant attention, the world’s 411 nuclear power plants pose a grave threat to every terrestrial species. Without somebody at the switch, and diesel-powered generators as backup systems, there is great risk they’ll melt down, triggering planetary nuclear Armageddon. Every terrestrial species faces extinction within a few short years after oil hits a few hundred dollars a barrel.
That’ll ruin my day.