What’s doing all the work? : Energy Matters in Oberlin

Posted by Cindy Frantz on February 10, 2012 in Energy Matters

Why would anyone want to read a column on Energy?  Well, because energy matters.  Let me demonstrate with a few common questions about life.

Q:  What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

A:  Alarm clock?  Coffee?  A two year old?  Whatever it is, it’s one of countless examples of energy at work. We use energy for everything we do, from dressing two year olds to making coffee to sending astronauts into space.  You are turning one form of energy into another when you haul yourself out of bed, and that’s just what the coffee maker is doing as well.  Energy matters because it’s a means to an end – pretty much every end we care about.

Q:  Why can’t I do it all?

A:  Because you only have so much energy.  This is true of the whole universe. There is a finite amount of total energy in it: what we have is what we got (physicists call this the Law of Conservation).  And not all the energy that exists is in a usable form.  Energy matters because we don’t have an endless supply; we need to be choosy about how we use it.

Q:  Why does my house/desk/car/body continue to fall apart, even though I keep trying to pick things up and put them back together again?

A:  You’re not alone.  It’s the Law of Entropy in action.  Every time we change energy from one form to another (when we pick up the clutter and put it back on the shelf) we lose a little bit of usable energy in the process.  Things really are getting more run down and chaotic; it’s not just your imagination.  Energy matters because in order to minimize chaos, we need to minimize the bits and pieces of degraded energy that drift away into the corners of the universe.

Q:  What is the meaning of life? 

A:  Life is all about the flow of energy; in order to maintain life, energy must be expended to fight the law of entropy, the inevitable descent into chaos.  This is why we eat (to give our bodies energy so our hearts keep pumping and our lungs keep breathing); it’s why we go to work (so we can earn money to buy food so we can eat); it’s why we live together in families and communities (so we can gather and share resources together, and fight the law of entropy together).  Energy matters because it is what keeps us going, as organisms and as a society.

In Oberlin, energy matters for all kinds of reasons.  Both the city and the college have committed to provide and use energy in a way that is carbon neutral (when the energy is generated or used, no CO2 is put into the atmosphere).  Rising energy costs mean we need to learn how to be really efficient in how we use our energy.  And many in our community don’t have enough of it – they live under the threat of having their utilities shut off or their furnace failing in the middle of winter.  For environmental, economic, and humanitarian reasons, energy matters.

In the coming months, I will use this space to explore the difference that energy makes in our lives, and how we can use it most effectively.  I’ll talk about useful things you can do in your home as well as how energy relates to the fight against terrorism.  I also want to encourage all of you to become part of the conversation by visiting my blog at www.oberlinproject.org/energy/blog.

Energy matters in Oberlin because we care about each other, our community, and our planet.  We all want Oberlin to be healthy and prosperous.  By thinking carefully about our energy, we pave the way for a future we can all get excited about.

What do you care about most?  Post a comment to record your favorite things about Oberlin, your most cherished values, and your hopes for the future.

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Cindy Frantz is the Co-Chair of the Energy Planning Committee of the Oberlin Project. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly (POWER) and Associate Professor of Psychology at Oberlin College.

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Cindy Frantz is the Co-Chair of the Energy Planning Committee of the Oberlin Project. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Providing Oberlin With Efficiency Responsibly (POWER) and Associate Professor of Psychology at Oberlin College.

Comments

Matt Dray
Matt Dray February 10, 2012

Excellent article. I think the more information that gets "out there" amongst the masses, the better off we all will be. Conservation is an important aspect of sustainability and the conservation of energy should be a sustainable message.

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Bilbo February 28, 2012

I am very confused about why the Oberlin Project is supporting compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel. With all the environmental concerns about fracking, I wonder how appropriate this is. What's more the availability of natural gas has been wildly exaggerated. See the following links

http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-02-13/there-really-so-much-shale-gas-ground

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8914

Am I permitted to ask such a question? Why can't I find anything on this website about the Oberlin Project supporting compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel?

Kristin Braziunas
Kristin Braziunas February 28, 2012

Thank you for your comment, Bilbo. Compressed natural gas is one of the many alternative fuel sources that the City of Oberlin and Oberlin College are looking at as they plan for the future of their transportation fleets; it is important to note that the City and College are drivers of this process, and the role of the Oberlin Project is to support our partners in identifying viable alternatives that meet their stated climate positive goals.

In our exploration of alternative fuels thus far, we have noted that there are important environmental benefits to compressed natural gas over traditional fuel sources, including reduced carbon emissions and the potential for sourcing renewable and/or domestic natural gas. Compressed natural gas may also be lower cost and more easily implemented than other alternative fuels, making it a potential interim transportation strategy as renewable fuels research and technology continues to progress. We are evaluating alternative transportation strategies on an ongoing basis in terms of environmental impact and other factors that are important to our partner organizations, and we are keeping all options on the table.

Good sources of information on alternative fuels include:

www.cleanfuelsohio.org/
http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/

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