April 27, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Energy is Power

The greatest analgesic, soporific, stimulant, tranquilizer, narcotic, and to some extent even antibiotic known to medical science -in short, the closest thing to a genuine panacea- is work.

Thomas Szasz, 1990

The title is a play on words of a basic principle in physics that energy can do work and how much work it can do in a unit time is called power. The words "work" and "power" have several different meanings.

A basic source of energy is the food used by animals or people to do work. For most of us, using people or animals to do physical work is so far in the past as to not be worthy of consideration. Besides, while it is very efficient, it can hardly supply the needs of a 20th or 21st century human being. In this day and age, few people use pure muscle power to move or build things.

Making things more complicated is the fact of conspicuous consumption; a person buys things that are of little value in order to impress his neighbors. Almost all city dwellers use a hellofalot more energy than they need to and most of it is wasted. A light on in the basement, when the people are upstairs serves no function whatever. A 150 watt light that illuminates a whole room is unnecessary when an 8 watt fluorescent lamp provides more than enough light to read by. A person who insists on conserving electricity is labeled as "stingy."

I make my own electricity and I suspect that I use as much in a month as the average city dweller uses in a day. Since I make it, I am aware of what it takes to make it and how much I can and do use. To the city dweller, electricity comes out of the wall and he pays for it every month. Is my electricity cheaper per watt or kilowatt? I doubt it. If you consider that my labor as worth something, I am sure that it is not cheaper. What makes my electricity costs a lot less than PG&E customers pay is the fact that I use a lot less than most people do.

When I want to heat my well-insulated house, The cheapest way to do it is with wood. That is because I already paid for it when I bought my 22 acres. There is enough wood on it to last me forever, without depleting the wood supply at all. I can heat my house with trees that died a natural death. It takes a chain saw, a small amount of gasoline and oil, and some of my muscle. If I didn't do it, I would have to exercise and exercise is a lot more boring than cutting and hauling wood. Of course, cutting wood isn't terribly exciting either, but anything is more interesting than exercise.

February 4, 2001

I have just come in from burning a brush pile. During the cool, dry parts of the year, I cut brush. It serves 3 purposes: 1. It reduces the fire hazard to my house considerably. 2. It supplies me with a small, but substantial, amounts of firewood. 3. It gives me exercise.

While throwing limbs on the fire, I thought about former president Ronald Reagan whom I heard say that he "cleared brush." Since I wasn't invited to the party, I don't know what he actually did. When I hear people say "I built a house," what they usually mean is that they hired an architect and/or builder to build a house for them. When I say I built a house, I mean that I designed it and built it with my own hands. However, while watching the fire, I conjured up an image of the president on his horse telling a group of Mexican laborers to "Get that clump of manzanitas over there."

I suppose that it is more environmentally sound if, instead of burning the brush, I ground up the limbs and composted them. That, however, takes equipment that I don't have. The equipment would use gasoline which costs money. and I would either have to haul the equipment to where the brush is, or haul the brush to where the equipment is. Unless the brush pile is close to the road, that can be a problem. So I wait until after a rain, when everything is soaking wet and I burn, as people have done for millennia. I have found the perfect fire starter and it's free. My fire starter consists of three large paper grocery bags filled with things like TV dinner boxes, wrappers of all sorts and all of the small burnable stuff that is too small, or too much trouble, to recycle. It also contains personal papers that should be either burned or shredded and everything else that goes into the burnable-bag under the sink. It includes peanut shells which, since they are salty, I don't want to compost. I cover the bags with brush and light it. It has never failed me, even when the brush was soaking wet.

I am having the same problem with this column as I have with burning brush; there is no end to it.

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