One Version of the Dark Ages

I used to love magazine subscriptions. Finding a magazine in the mailbox was a treat that gave me time to sit back, relax and just enjoy some quiet moments. Then I felt guilty about the paper used to print the magazines and my carbon footprint and canceled my subscriptions.  There was one magazine I missed terribly, Yes! Magazine, and so recently resubscribed to it.

Today I propped the magazine up in front of me and read part of the new issue while crocheting. Not a common combination I’m sure but it works for me, when I came across a chart and caption showing what life would be like if the US were to cut their energy use in half.

We hear all the time that to cut our energy use in half would be to drastically change our way of life, but that might not be so.

energy

Can  you see what it says?

What kind of conditions would result if we slashed energy use by half? Worldwide, we’d be at late-1950s levels, in the U.S., more like 1920s.  Not exactly the Dark Ages. Put another way;  Half the current use would catapult the U.S. into the primitive state of using energy like the U.K……in 2015.

Source: Research from Peter Kalmus and Post Carbon Institute

I was shocked!!  I knew the US used more energy than the European countries did but to see in print that we use double what people in the UK used just last year?  How can we justify the lifestyle that causes this much waste?

Seems to me we need to stop and take a closer look at how we are living and why we use the amount of energy we do.

Did you have a different picture, like I did, of how life would look if we cut our energy use in half?

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30 thoughts on “One Version of the Dark Ages

  1. Would that comparison be per capita? One thing that I hear is that the US has an incredibly high rate of clothes dryer use, with line drying not being popular or even permitted in many places. I hear there are moves being made to change that.

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    1. You are right about clothes dryers being used almost exclusively here in the US. This week I met with the contractor that will be putting in the plumbing to have a clothes washer in my kitchen. His first comment was that where I want it made no sense because there wouldn’t be room for a dryer. When I told him I don’t use one and had no need of one he looked at me puzzled then asked how I dry my clothes in the winter. People here are so accustomed to clothes dryers that they see them as a necessary appliance for everyone. It is also true that in many subdivisions, apartment buildings and condos the home owners rules specifically prohibit the use of hanging clothes outdoors. The rules, in my opinion are ridiculous and can include the color of your house, requiring permission before hanging a flag, the size of vehicle that can be parked in your drive along with bans on clothes lines and even solar panels.

      The graph here is of per capita Primary consumption. I looked that up and found the word primary refers to the energy extracted before refining as some is lost during refining but to answer your question yes, the graph is looking a per capita use.

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  2. Anne’s question of per capita is a good one. Without giving it much thought, the biggest difference in energy use I see between today and 1950 is for electronics. I’m going to have to ponder this one.

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    1. I did a quick search on the population numbers from the US Census Bureau. In 1950, the US had roughly 1/2 the number of people as today (152.22 million vs. 321.72 million) and the growth rate has slowed from around 2% in 1950 to 1% today. BTW, If you want to learn about how we lived in the 1950’s, Bill Bryson’s memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” is an interesting, funny book about that time.

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      1. Funny you mentioned Bill Bryson as I have his book In a Sunburned Country sitting next to me ready to start on his travels in Australia. I’ll have to add your suggestion to my never ending book list. How can anyone be bored with so many wonderful books to read. 🙂 That’s a pretty scary statistic to think we would have to cut our energy use to what half the size of our population used but if the numbers match what the UK used last year that feels more doable.

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    2. I too gave this quite a bit of thought since reading the article. I too believe the biggest use has to be our electronics followed by the increase in size of our homes and larger appliances such as those huge refrigerators that are popular today. While our televisions and such now use stand by power and are huge compared to what we used to have but now we have all the extras of cable boxes, DVD players, video games etc all things that didn’t exist in the 1950s or earlier. That said I also think it reflects a change in our behaviors. Growing up we had three channels on the TV each showing 13 episodes per season so after those 13 episodes we didn’t bother with the television and the channels went off the air at midnight most days. Now we are indoors with the television on all the time and have multiple TV on in the house. We’ve moved indoors and look to find entertainment inside rather than out.

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  3. Catchy title! Yes, I did have a different idea as to what using half of the energy would be like. But I think I was thinking of half of what I currently use, not half of what average Americans probably use.
    Having spent quite a bit of time in England, the article stats aren’t surprising. The appliances (washer, fridge, freezer, stove, etc) are half the size of American one’s in the home I stay in, and clothes are dried on a drying rack or in the garden. The toilet has two flush settings, the shower an on demand small water heater, etc.
    I line or rack dry everything, turn the water heater on once a day, have all appliances on power strips that are in the off position unless in use, reuse gray water and catch rain water to water the garden, don’t have air conditioning, etc. if I cut this level of usage in half, I think I probably would be back in the “dark ages” as would you, Lois!

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    1. Cynthia, I think I too thought about cutting my personal energy use in half and can’t see how I could possibly cut much more. If we were all of a sudden only permitted a household energy use of what a 1950s household used you and I probably wouldn’t notice much difference.

      Just this week I ran right into the differences in size of appliances between the US and Europe. I had a contractor here to give me an estimate on running the plumbing to put a washing machine under the counter top next to my sink. He informed me it wouldn’t work because the washers are too high to fit. I knew I’d see many examples of homes with the washers installed under the counters but when I went online I found all the examples are in Europe. So then I looked to see if I could find a smaller washer here and couldn’t find a one.

      The only real differences between your lifestyle and mine are that I don’t have a grey water system set up and I don’t turn my water heater off during the day as it’s in the basement and not accessible for me but other than that we are pretty similar.

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  4. Well that was an interesting fact – and not surprising. Besides all the thoughts noted by your other commentators, just the fact that standard house size in the US has grown to a ridiculous size should tell you something about energy usage generally.

    I had to laugh about the magazine subscription note. I, too, also loved magazine subscriptions. At one point about 10 years ago I probably had 8 subscriptions … all knitting magazines. And I never threw them away, because you never know ‘when you might want to find a pattern.’ Well when my stack of magazines reached about 4 1/2 feet, and when I NEVER checked back again for various patterns, I stopped that insanity. I now have only 1 subscription and when it dies next year I will probably not re-subscribe. My stack of magazines are gone – given to others – and I am pretty careful about getting others. But I do think that if you really love a certain periodical and it adds value to your life – a subscription is the way to go. Cheaper.

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    1. It boggles my mind that people want to live in such large homes when they have smaller families today. Who wants to maintain and clean all that space, then I wonder how they can afford to heat the homes.

      I don’t think I ever had 10 subscriptions of my own but if I add into my personal magazines and the ones my sons subscribed to we would probably hit that number or exceed it. At one time I didn’t think about the paper used and when it came to my kids I was happy to see them wanting to read. My oldest read three archeology magazines every month, that was, and still is, his passion. My boys loved their magazines so much they were Christmas gifts. 🙂

      I love the Yes! Magazine. It’s free of advertisements and filled with good news on social and environmental issues. Anytime I feel depressed about the conditions in the world I can turn to their magazine and find reasons to be hopeful.

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  5. I have no real knowledge, but it has been a suspicion of mine for some time,
    that a huge per cent of the energy use in any country, maybe especially the United States,
    is eaten up by
    Government Uses
    Government Research
    Military Use
    Military Research
    Lettered Agencies
    Lettered Agency Research
    Employee Transportation of above agencies (The President , VP , Spouses travel via high energy use planes, Important govt persons travel first class no doubt, etc etc)
    (just imagine what /how much energy use it took to transport the President/his family/his guests/his entourage/his security/his vehicles/his military support/etc to Cuba and back?)

    etc…
    etc

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    1. I too thought about the planes. Just look at how many more airports we have in the US compared to the individual European countries. Heck I don’t think Canada had any where the number of airports we have. Yes, it’s because we are a large country but I’ve never been interested in flying and can’t figure out why so many are on planes every day of the year. Where are they all going? it’s one of those things I’ll never understand.

      The president of the US has two jets (in case one needs repairs) and a private helicopter. Every time he boards the jet (Air Force One) it’s filled with his advisors, press and lord knows how many others.

      You mentioned the military. I heard a horrible piece of information today. In the last 15 months the US has dropped over 23,000 bombs in the middle eastern countries. I did the math, that equals over 50 per day! Can you even imagine what it must be like to live in fear of hearing bombs every single day for more than a year? Anyway, the story broke because our military people are complaining that we’ve dropped so many bombs we are running out. They can’t produce them as fast as they are being used.

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      1. Lois
        yes, those bomb drops are horrific. and, that is just the ones reported in the news..and that is not the drone kills …And, that is etc…truly horrifc. ….And, no, I can not begin to imagine what it would be like…or the horror of hate it would generate….

        re the pres and his trips…I am not positive, but I have seen some “info” shows/docu /some articles…etc..Have not kept track, but..
        it is much more than just him and whoever in the plane he takes
        -advance contingent of military to scout out trouble
        -advance contingent (separate from above) to vet out accomodations etc
        -advance intelligence ops
        and much more
        -re the one plane..not really, each time he “flys”, especially to place like Cuba (or Argentina after), he is escorted by two to more military jets/armed to teeth
        -there was also probably more American military in Cuba than Cuban Military etc
        -he takes his own transport (the Beast), and other vehicles for security/military which will accompany / secure him
        and on and on and on…

        and even worse example of waste of energy, and I say worse, because he does not even have the reason of being leader of the United States, attempting to “get all the countries to get along” etc etc

        is Canada’s Dr David Suzuki.
        just how does he justify preaching to the world that they should economise, save electricity and all else , etc etc,
        when he flies so much by jet (likely first class or private), when he has five homes, when at least one of several of his kids does the same, and gets (the kids) paid something like ten thousand per speaking engagement , just because he is the father? Cheezes me off big time

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        1. You are right, I wasn’t thinking about all the security, advanced and otherwise, when responding to the Presidents flying. It may be wasteful but at the same time I don’t begrudge him of his security. We lost John F. Kennedy to a shooting while in an open car, his brother in another shooting while running for president, and Ronald Reagan was shot even with security. According to Wikipedia there have been more than 20 assassination attempts on sitting and former presidents. In addition to Bobby Kennedy wasn’t the only presidential nominee to be shot either so there is great risk to ones life as President. That said, I’m sure there are other less wasteful ways to ensure his safety.

          I don’t know too much about the personal life of David Suzuki but I’ve heard bits and pieces that he lives an extravagant lifestyle. I found this article which answers most of the accusations but I have no idea what the truth is. If he is one of the people who say one thing and do another then shame on him.

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          1. oh, I agree, if one’s leaders do need to travel, they should be SECURED, as much as possible…Sometimes I do wonder though, is all that travel necessary? ah well..

            re Suzuki..
            long before I gave any thought to his lifestyle, his extravagance, or lack there of, I had several viewings of him in t.v. news/documentary sort of thing, and a couple of articles, written by him which totally put me off him, and thereafter when I came to think about the environment, and supposedly his push to green all things, I was doubtful and downright dismissive of him…
            over twenty yrs ago, I was watching him do some show on the environment…my young son, about five at the time and I were watching together…Well, why not …here was someone protecting the environment, right? He was Asian and they have a BIG historical history of respecting the elderly right?

            so…he has this mike, and he goes up to these two elderly persons sitting on bench (they were in a park or something), and he asks some question (cannot even recall what now)…I was so shocked, and so was my son, I cannot honestly recall if it was two women, or a man and a woman..Just they were visibly elderly, and very very polite. They did not seem to know him, just some strangers in the park. So, he asked them some question, with mike in their face..They were very polite, and respectful to him, and answered nicely … (they did not disagree or contradict or such)…He did not like something about them/their answer, and he told them off, in a very rude tone/words. Honest to God. I was so shocked, my son was so shocked, I cannot recall the question, the answer, but I swear I can still visualize the look on their faces, his , etc..And, the total shock of my son and me..that he was so disrespectful, and yes abusive, to them…

            Then, sometime after that, I read some article he had written…He talked about his parents, the sacrifices etc… and how they had always hoped he would marry a Japanese girl..He eventually did and had kids…Then one day he was teaching a university class, and he truly realised he had never “wanted” to marry a Japanese girl..never.. He saw a lovely young (YOUNG..he was a prof) (white) female student, and decided …”that’s for me”, chucked his wife/kids etc.. and well, the rest is history as they say, a few kids later with the new girls..Yes, of course, I do understand marriages/relationships break down etc..But it was his so casual way he was sort of proud that he had “discarded” the Japanese wife and kids..because “well, he did want a Japanese wife and kids”, and, there wasn’t much relationship between his “japansese ” kids and him for a long time , and last I read…still sparse…It is one thing to say you are going to save the world’s green spaces…but I always felt he should have put part of that effort into saving his relationship with his “Japanese kids”…

            so, when I read things “outing” him now, I tend to think there may be something to them, a I have now a feeling against his attitudes, values, etc..

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          2. You may find this hard to believe but I only just heard of Suzuki about two years ago. There are so many environmentalists out there to learn from some just don’t cross my radar. After hearing your stories I guess I haven’t missed much and won’t go out of my way to read any of his works.

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          3. Lois,
            I don’t find it hard to believe

            he is just the Big Cheese up here, and for roughly thirty yrs has had an in with the CBC and such (government broadcast), and makes mega money off them, as well as mega money for speaking engagements etc..I once read, a few yrs back that his daughter was given ten thousand to speak at some event here, and they even admitted she has no qualifications (of course out new Prime Minister has never held a steady/full time job before becoming Prime Minister ..so). She was hired only because she is his daughter..

            oh, I should just go have a nice cup of coffee as it saddens me to think this is what Canada has come toooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

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          4. Don’t feel badly about your Prime Minister, look at our President he barely had any experience when he became President.

            I think we need to look closely at both the climate deniers and those who advocate for the environment. Just look at Al Gore who won a Peace Prize for his work. He lives completely different from how he tells the rest of us to live.

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    1. Marlene, I have a feeling that if there was a way to restrict energy to each household based on those figures of half what the UK uses, you, I, and most every person who reads this blog would manage quite well. It’s not us who are living extravagantly and would be lost how to make the reductions required.

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        1. Las Vegas, yes. I’ve also wondered about New York City. I know they live denser and walk or use public transportation but what about all those giant screens lit up all the time or their dependence on having every thing trucked into the city including their food.

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  6. Hi Lois,
    Having just spent some time in the UK, if they use half that of the US, then we definitely use less 😮
    A lot has changed in the UK over the last 20-30 years, and I see the difference when I see how my granny lives (and has always lived, by necessity!). When there, we live like her and life is so simple…and the footprint oh so low!
    As far as dryers go, they never really took off in Switzerland, not that they are uncommon but I know many who don’t have one and don’t want one and basically consider them unecological (which of course they are). We use a rack and our homes are warm enough that the laundry dries fast (though I personally must admit I do use my dryer frequently in winter). In summer everyone hangs washing up outside and in our climate it dries quickly as a rule.
    One thing about dryers is the element of the climate where a person lives: at my granny’s in England, it is sometimes difficult to get washing dried in damp or cold weather unless you can actually drape it over a radiator (!) and the coastal area where we have a house in Brittany, France, also means I am grateful we have a dryer there or the process would be interminable, with the washing no longer smelling fresh by the time it dried, so it can be a boon for some, used sensibly.

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    1. Well now you got me thinking some more on the subject of just how wasteful the US lifestyle is. I know part of our huge use of energy comes from how many live in the suburbs and need two vehicles per household for daily living. I can’t help but wonder how we in the US bought into the necessity of so many conveniences while the rest of the westernized people didn’t. I wonder if it’s that “American Exceptionalism” which has come to mean Americans are superior than everyone else. If the term American Exceptionalism is new to you Wikipedia does a good job explaining it here.

      On clothes dryers, there aren’t many places here that rely on the water filled radiator any more. The most common form of heating in most parts is forced air followed by an electric baseboard heaters. Where I live it’s almost exclusively forced air which makes drying clothes in the winter easy all I have to do is hang them in front of the vent and let the furnace dry them from the fan blowing the heat into the rooms. I do struggle a bit when it’s cold and damp but not cold enough for the furnace to be running regularly but that only means the clothes will take longer to dry. In the summer if it’s hot, muggy and raining setting the clothes rack in front of a fan speeds up the process nicely. 🙂

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      1. Do you mean a cool air fan? Doesn’t that use a lot of electricity, too?! We don’t see many of those, either! lol

        I had forgotten about the baseboard/hot air heating you guys have, (laughs) I guess it’s not too ecological or we would have it, too?!! 😉 But honestly, I have no idea about that kind! My granny didn’t even get central heating until the late 70s. Until then it was normal that unused rooms (and bedrooms) were cold. Only the living room and kitchen were usually warm. The clothes dry when it’s dry but not when it’s damp, which it often is, the temperature isn’t so important. Once mostly dry, they are “aired” in the cupboard that holds the boiler until bone dry… In summer the washing always hung on the lines in the small garden, pushed up high to catch the breeze by a “clothes prop”, a wooden post with a forked end. I’d forgotten about that! We use a foldable drying rack now.

        The concept that anything American is superior was a joke told among us kids when I was small… you know, the grapes the size of melons and so on. It’s a concept that long since died and my impression is that our European view is more of pity. There is a realisation that bigger is not better and I think most of us prefer the way of life here, even if some minds boggle at the size of homes/cars etc and are superficially impressed. On the whole, very few people see America and its lifestyle as desirable. Europeans like to travel there and appreciate the scenery or the experience of the cities but then most are happy to return home… (I’m not trying to US-bash here, just expressing my impressions! Nowhere is perfect, and not in Europe, either!)

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        1. Yes, I did mean a cool air fan. They do use a lot of electricity but significantly less than air conditioning. I have one cool air fan I use on the hottest days but hope once I improve the insulation in the house and replace all the windows I will be able to use it less.

          My grandmother had the same kind of clothes prop you describe. I don’t think one can even buy those any more. I too have a drying rack for my clothes that I take out in nice weather and bring back in during nastier days.

          No our electric baseboard heaters are not efficient. The main problem with them is that they have no fan to push the heated air into the rooms so they run much longer adding up to significant heating costs. There have been improvements to some of the baseboard heaters but my understanding is that natural gas with forced air is still the most efficient of the popular methods.

          I have to laugh at your description of how people viewed Americans when you were young. No none of our grapes were ever the size of melons. 🙂 We are still told by the media that people want to live like us, especially people in the developing countries, I’m pleased to hear that you don’t find most Europeans wanting to be like us and for those who are aware of the environmental situation the world faces I can see why people might pity us for our self indulgences. Even living here I can’t believe the problems we create for ourselves. . And no I didn’t think you were bashing the US. We have a lot of improvements to make but it’s still a good place to live and I know there are plenty of places I would not want to live.

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  7. Well, this is obviously an enormous topic, and one that I could write many volumes on, so I’ll try to keep it “brief” (you know… fewer than 10,000 words! 🙂

    When I look at the differences in the US between the 1950’s and today, while the size of the houses is one huge thing, the other glaring difference is that in the 50’s most households were supported by one wage earner. On the surface that might not seem like it would make a difference in the carbon footprint, but think about it. Half the number of people commuting to work – and back then the cities were so much smaller and less sprawling that a “commute” probably meant a 5-10 minute drive at most. Plus, the fact that most women did not work means half the office space to heat… and it also meant that people had the time and energy to do things by hand like hang laundry, and garden, and sew, and cook, and watch their own kids, instead of relying on the carbon-gobbling modern conveniences and institutions that seem so necessary in our time-starved culture.

    I also think the advent of energy gobbling air conditioners is another HUGE difference that we easily forget about. And leisure time expectations? Seriously, I think in the 1950’s you’d be hard pressed to find many people who had been on an airplane more than a handful of times in their entire lives, these days people think nothing of hoping on a plane for a “weekend getaway!”

    In terms of comparing the US (especially the non-east coast US) to any of the European countries, the first thing that I think of is that there is a profound difference in the concept of space that’s really hard to describe to people who haven’t lived in both places. European cities, while they have grown and expanded like US cities have, were all built on a human scale. And the population there is just SO much more dense than it his here… with incredible public transportation systems the likes of which we can barely begin to imagine. So the physical structure of the communities lend themselves to a lifestyle that is much less carbon intensive.

    When I lived in Norway, my host family had a big American car – it was sort of a status symbol for them, but I only remember them driving it a small handful of times the entire year. It was just so much easier and more affordable to take the bus, or to walk/cycle/ski. And don’t even get me started on the size of the rooms! I swear when I saw my first Norwegian bedroom I thought it was a closet because it was so tiny! People just have less stuff, less space to heat/cool and maintain, and less distance to cover to get places. I also think that the temperatures in England, and really throughout Europe are much more temperate than in many places throughout the US, so there are bound to be differences in heating/cooling costs just based on that.

    And my final point is to echo a bit of what Anon was saying regarding government spending. I’m not talking about what the president spends, because I think that the benefits of diplomacy far outweigh any carbon spent on travel etc. – I mean things like the military and prison systems and the over 500,000 government buildings in this country. I know most of this has gone unnoticed, but Obama actually made a non-trivial reduction in the overall US carbon emissions simply by requiring better energy efficiency for government buildings and the like. It didn’t get much press because he did it all through executive order (the only thing he really could do without congress) and I suppose anything that doesn’t involve a big partisan battle doesn’t seem newsworthy, but it has not been insignificant. Anyhow, I once read that even a homeless person living in the US has an enormous carbon footprint simply because of their share of the government carbon footprint, and I’d LOVE to know how much of that is military related – I’m pretty sure it’s the lion’s share.

    See… I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it brief… and I could go on and on, but those are my first reactions. 🙂

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    1. I’m glad you didn’t keep it brief! Okay so I’m too young to remember the 50s (born in 1962) my grandparents still lived very much like the 50s through out their lives. My grandmother rarely worked, and then only for a few years because she wanted to see what it would be like. They never owned more than one car at a time. If my grandmother needed the car during work hours my grandfather would ride the bus or if he just felt like it he would walk the seven miles to work.

      It’s funny how many people from west of the Mississippi think all of the east coast is densely populated. In fact only a few cities have large populations (outside of New York and Chicago all the biggest cities are in the west). Take Pennsylvania for example, These are the most recent figures I could find: Philadelphia (1.556 million) is on the other side of the state by Pittsburgh (305,842). Allentown in the northeast and Erie in the North west trade 3rd and 4th place as the economy shifts. Current figures are Erie: 101,787 Allentown: 119,104). So other than the four corners of the state the rest is made up of small towns and farming and plenty of wide open undeveloped sections. So yes, New York, Boston, Philadelphia are big and places like Florida are so densely packed they are running out of room the vast majority of the eastern coast is made up of pockets of population centers. Having said that, I’ve lived and traveled in the western states and Arizona, The Dakotas etc are way more empty than any state on the east coast so yes you are correct. It just drives me nuts when my daughter-in-laws family come to visit and they are shocked by how much open land they see flying into Pennsylvania. They have this picture of the entire east coast being one big population center on the scale of Los Angeles. To them they can’t understand why anyone moved west if there was still this much open land still to be had here.

      The air conditioners bugs me. We have maybe two weeks all summer where it’s so hot and muggy that you are too uncomfortable to do anything in the heat but now everyone wants central air and if they can’t afford that they have window air conditioners and run them all the time. When they can’t run their a/c they are miserable as they can’t acclimate to the heat because they are so dependent on them. When I say heat, we generally keep in the 80s all summer with, like I said, two weeks where it rises into the 90s and is humid too boot. I could probably count on one hand the number of times in my lifetime we’ve had temperatures hit 100. People want to live in perfect indoor climates and it’s costing not just them but the environment as well. There was a report that just the heat from air conditioners running in Los Angeles at night raises the temperature 1 degree.

      I’m afraid to see what our government’s carbon footprint is, and yes, I would subtract out the expenses for the President’s security when traveling as well. I think the military would easily compete with the rest of the government or surpass it. In Phoenix there is an Air Force base, they fly those places all day long all over the that county and the next. Three times a day, some times more they flew out to check the nuclear plant because we heard them, there would be three planes checking the nuclear plant on each inspection, more planes if there was a threat. That’s not even war, that’s just keeping the pilots active. What does the rest of it cost?

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