The early morning summer sun streaks the window. The thunder overnight was a lot of hubbub about nothing: the rain gauge registers not a drop. Outside the peach tree, burdened with ripening fruit, calls out for water from the rain barrel. The poultry chirps plaintively, wanting release from their coop to hunt for spiders and crickets in the weeds. The wire grass, our avowed enemy, is invading the oregano patch, and it takes a good 10 minutes of yanking its snaking tendrils to free our friend from its suffocating grasp.
In back the tomatoes are falling off the vine. And there's all those potatoes we harvested earlier in the summer that need to be eaten. A quick check of a few of our favorite cookbooks reveals a tasty dish: baked sliced potatoes and tomatoes, with handfuls of fresh basil: yum! So we slice and dice, and run outside to the solar oven with our dish. A few hours of morning work at the computer, but then at lunch there's chores to run: post office, grocery store, bank. There's an hour and half of riding the bike around town in the afternoon heat, and then a few more hours of work.
Later in the afternoon, walking the dog past the exercise club a few blocks away, we stare through the window at the young professionals on their treadmills and exercise bikes, the parking lot filled with cars. What is going on here? People will expend a gallon of gas, roughly equivalent to 500 hours of human labor (or 38,000kCal), to drive to an air-conditioned building to burn a few hundred calories? When the world is literally choking to death on the fumes of fossil fuels?
If these folks really want to break a sweat, may we kindly suggest they go to the nearest garden store and purchase a packet of tomato seeds, a shovel, and a hoe? Or sell their car and tool around town on a bicycle? A fun mental exercise, although probably not fun physical exercise, is to imagine moving a 3,000 lb. vehicle 21 miles, the average miles per gallon of our cars today (and pretty much unchanged since Henry Ford came out with the model T almost a century ago). If calorie-expenditure equivalence is any guide, this activity would probably take about twelve 40-hour weeks to accomplish. We can guarantee whoever's interested in taking us up on this challenge that they will weigh substantially less and be much stronger than when they started. And, of course, they'll have saved $2.50 on a gallon of gas.
We have a car. Hell, we even have an air-conditioner, and we use them both. But with so much work to be done to make our world even a simulacrum of a sustainable place, with, it is calculated, every one of us on the planet in possession of the equivalent of three full-time energy slaves (and we're pretty sure those slaves aren't distributed equally), does it make any kind of sense to be expending precious calories in so wanton a matter?
Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit thecarbonfreehome.com.