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Crude Awakening

How one Minnesotan went 100 days without oil

Crude Awakening
Photo by Todd Buchanan

In 48 years, Earth will run out of oil. At least, that’s what will happen if we keep exploiting it as much as we do today. Yet even though this oil-free world will be here faster than you can say “black gold,” most people don’t want to think about it, let alone experience it. Most people, that is, except Molly Eagen.

Molly, a 25-year-old sustainable-design graduate student at the University of Minnesota, decided that to really grasp what such a reality would look like—and how it would affect her work as a future designer—she needed to experience it. “I knew the issues,” she says. “But it wasn’t real to me.” So, Molly bid adieu to oil for 100 days: no cars, no coffee, no plastic. She focused on five categories—food, water, energy, waste, transportation—and shared her experience in a blog as well as her thesis, 100 Days Without Oil.

From last August to November, Molly changed everything from the beer she drank to the mascara she applied. Some things, like riding her bike come rain or shine (or snow or cold), took some getting used to, but ended up being surprisingly enjoyable. Others, however, like trading long, hot showers for speedy, cold bucket rinses, remained tedious to the end. Ultimately, however, one realization cancelled out the coffee cravings and bone-chilling bike rides for Molly: it is possible to live without oil.

For more on Molly’s experience, see her blog: 100dayswithoutoil.blogspot.com

FOOD

THE PROBLEM: Low oil prices means low shipping costs for non-local food producers, who compete with local farmers and often use pesticides on their crops.
MOLLY'S GOAL: Eat only organic food that comes from a 300-mile radius and has compostable packaging.
HER PLAN: Grow microgreens, herbs, and bell peppers. Molly also canned, dehydrated, and froze produce to eat when fresh options weren’t available.
THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE: Minnesota’s short growing season.
THE RESULT: Buying in bulk and making everything from scratch proved challenging at first. But once Molly got the hang of it, she appreciated the opportunity it gave her to host meals and cook with friends.

Day 1: First day without oil and I’ve already Googled “Where does chocolate grow?” Oh, man.

WATER

THE PROBLEM: The average family goes through 400 gallons of water a day. Much of that water must be pumped or transported from the source (a river, ocean, aquifer, etc.) to the user.
MOLLY'S GOAL: Use only 15 gallons of water a day, the amount allotted per person that could hypothetically be collected from Molly’s roof.
HER PLAN: Fill a 15-gallon rain barrel each morning and use its supply for everything, from
dish-washing to showering to laundry.
THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE: One-gallon, unheated bucket showers….especially on cold mornings.
THE RESULT: Not turning on the faucet and doing laundry by hand took some getting used to, but for the most part, Molly easily cut down her water use. Plus, washing her hair less had its benefits: more volume with less effort.
 

ENERGY

THE PROBLEM: All energy providers—renewable sources, coal, natural gas—currently rely on oil, either for manufacturing or mining. Space and water heating account for over 50 percent of energy use in Minnesota.
MOLLY'S GOAL: Only use 3.4 kilowatt hours a day, the amount of energy allotted per person that could hypothetically be collected from solar panels on Molly’s roof.
HER PLAN: Stop using certain appliances (hair dryer, oven) and use others (hot water) less. Molly calculated the kilowatt hours of all her appliances to stay within her daily
energy allowance.
THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE: Heat. Molly’s house is automatically heated six months a year. During that time, her daily energy use increased by approximately 94 kilowatt hours.
THE RESULT: By using certain appliances less and no hot water, Molly met her energy budget—at least until the radiator kicked in.

Day 79: Well, the heat has been officially kicked on by the landlord gods. And, while I’m excited to once again live in a habitable environment, I have also been dreading this moment. Space heating uses a LOT of energy.
 

WASTE

THE PROBLEM: Oil not only creates waste, it’s needed to get rid of it, too. Garbage and recycling trucks get a mere 3 to 4 miles per gallon.
MOLLY'S GOAL: Create no waste.
HER PLAN: Use a compost bin with worms to collect organic waste, buy food and products in bulk, and reuse containers.
THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE: Trial-and-error with how to cover the compost bin. At one point, the worms escaped and ended up covering the kitchen floor.
THE RESULT: Total non-recyclable waste collected filled half a paper grocery bag. The compost also doubled as fertilizer for Molly’s garden.

Day 71: The fact is, whatever we are buying we are paying for that container as well as the contents inside it. I have begun to feel much more connected to the containers I buy. By actually placing value on the containers, I am much more aware of the waste I am avoiding creating.
 

TRANSPORTATION

THE PROBLEM: Transportation accounts for three-fourths of all oil consumption. In America, 91 percent of us drive or use public transportation each day.
MOLLY'S GOAL: Only use non-petroleum-driven transportation.
HER PLAN: Bike or walk everywhere, including her 17.6-mile commute (round trip) to class.
THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE: Bad weather and safety. Also, a very limited wardrobe once warm temperatures headed south.
THE RESULT: Molly biked a total of 1,150 miles. Aside from enduring nasty weather and trading fashion for warmth (i.e. thermal layers, warm socks, and a fleece beginning late September), Molly liked the change. She plans to keep pedaling instead of driving—at least until next winter.

Day 24: First day of class: took a cold bucket shower, accidentally drank sour milk, exploded my blender making a green smoothie, ran out of time to make another breakfast, and biked in a 55 degree, gray drizzle 8.6 miles to the St. Paul campus at 7:30 a.m.


Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Apr 14, 2011 05:25 pm
 Posted by  KMF_OnlineEd

Dear Editor,

Please let Molly Eagan know I send her kudos and high fives for her 100 Days Without Oil. I not only admire her willingness to tackle this challenge, but the research she did to better understand the ubiquity of oil in our lives. This was not an easy undertaking, one that few of us would voluntarily take on, but she learned so many things including that living (in an urban area) without a car is possible and even at times pleasant. She and and her generation will face a world with much less (and possibly no) oil and some like Molly will be better prepared for the changed lifestyle than others.

Kate Crowley

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