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Fossil fuel free -- Foraging for food

July 15, 2008|By FEDORA COPLEY / Pulse Correspondent

Editor's note: This is the second article in a three-part series about one teen's struggle to go fossil fuel free for a week.

Going cold turkey

I designated a week in the latter half of June. Starting Monday, June 16, no fossil fuels for me. The weekend before, I tried to think of things to do to get ready. One thing was dire: collecting water. I sat looking toward the sky. A weather Web site said there was a decent chance of rain, but that there would be no more rain during the week. This was my only chance.

I set out about a dozen Tupperware containers and metal bowls, and looked toward the heavens. Swollen clouds meandered toward us, but mysteriously parted above our house. I thought of a movie quote: "Sometimes I think the gods are laughing at us."

My mom tried to console me, but also told me that if I didn't drink enough water, I could hurt my body. I went inside, sulking, and got some chocolate milk. It was from Clear Spring Creamery, a local dairy farm, and was the perfect medicine for low morale. But then I thought sadly, "This is my last chocolate milk for a week."

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When I went outside, rain was falling gently but steadily. Aha! Victory! One thing struck me about not using fossil fuels: I would be outside a lot more. I would be more in tune with weather. I liked this.

Monday rolled around, and I had about three cups of drinking water. This was a problem. I am used to having limitless access to water, so this was hard to accept. In another container was a lot more water - maybe five gallons. This water was brownish, though, because it fell off the roof. I thought I could possibly use this to shower in or to wash dishes, but definitely not drink.

Beginning the week

When I woke up Monday morning, I was ready to face the day. I got on my bike and rode a little ways down the street to a mulberry tree whose branches hang down low enough to touch.

Many berries lay on the sidewalk, squishy, old and unappetizing. But the ripe berries on the branches were plump and sweet. I collected many in a small plastic container, and felt happy. My first adventure with wild food sources turned out pretty good. As I reached for more berries, a few joggers passed by. One of them said "They're good, aren't they?" to which I responded, enthusiastically, "They are!"

On the way home, I passed by some chicory. This is a light blue, daisy-shaped flower that grows wild in many places. In my research, I'd learned that the root can be roasted and made into a decent coffee substitute. I got off my bike and yanked the plant out of the ground. I think some passing drivers might have been a little weirded out. But I was filled with triumph. I felt in tune with my hunter-gatherer ancestors and certainly greener than your average Joe.

Forgetting the basics

I went home and made my first mistake. I turned on the water to rinse the berries. I did it without thinking. But using tap water involves fossil fuels somewhere along the lines, so I dutifully turned off the water and resolved to think before I use anything in the house.

This was one area that proved to be slippery. My family also lives in the house, and they had not decided to join me in my fossil fuel fast. So I had to ask myself, "Am I allowed to be in the house if the air conditioning is on?" According to an article I read on USA Today's Web site, a study scheduled for publication in the August edition of Geophysical Research Letters suggests that turning on the AC could make global warming worse because the electricity it uses comes from coal. But the point of my week sans fossil fuels was to reduce my own carbon footprint. If the family already has the AC on and I am in the house, am I really adding to the world's warming? Some other things I pondered:

Can I watch DVDs if someone in my house is already doing so?

Can I ride in the car if my family is already going somewhere?

This was actually very difficult for me. On the one hand, this week was meant to show me (and my readers) that nearly everything in modern American life involves fossil fuels, and by my abstaining from them, I could provide a window into what life would be like without them.

But contrarily, the effect of my week would be a lessening of my carbon footprint. So was it OK to vicariously use electricity others were using?

I came to the conclusion that, if by involving myself in a fossil fuel-using activity I added to the energy used, I would abstain from doing so. But if my presence did not add to the amount of energy, I decided it would be fine to involve myself in the activity. So joining someone else in watching a video was OK, for instance.

Starving for fossil fuel

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