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Being fossil fuel free -- The conclusion

July 22, 2008|By FEDORA COPLEY / , Pulse Correspondent

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

When we got home, I was wet and even more unhappy. I wanted something hot. And I knew that meant building a fire. Earlier in the day, I'd tried to construct a fire drill. If used correctly, this creates fire by way of friction. Unfortunately, mine was faulty. Or maybe it was operator error.

In any event, I resorted to matches. But even then, the dried leaves I was trying to burn only shriveled up and the fire went out. I was tired of everything taking so much effort and time! I wanted to turn a switch and have my water heated right then and there. I was faced with my dependence on modern conventions. I'm addicted to fossil fuels, OK. I admit it.

Fortunately for me, my dad was willing to help build a fire. He knows what he's doing much better than me. So pretty rapidly we had a fire going in our little grill. I'd researched wood fire's greenhouse gas emissions and learned from Wikipedia that burning wood does not create more carbon dioxide than wood creates naturally when it biodegrades. However, burning wood can create harmful particulates (or fine particles) that pollute the air. I figured this is no worse than adding to global warming in the long run.


I dug up some small potatoes from our garden. This would be my lunch. The fire was still crackling tenaciously, so I put a pot of water on the grill, and in went the potatoes. It wasn't fancy, but it certainly was better than eating bitter wild plants. When the potatoes were tender, I put them into a bowl with some chives from our garden. And then I ate them with the enthusiasm of a starving refugee. Frequently, I don't really appreciate the food I eat. But this way, doing everything myself, I knew how much time it had taken, and how much effort. It was enlightening. I felt very fulfilled.

Falling off the wagon

For a while, my morale was healed. But after a while, my family started gearing up for dinner. And of course, they had to make it hard for me. Mom made fresh-baked bread and talked of omelets and brie and salad.

Here's some background that might help you see the inner pain this caused me. I love food - its many unique flavors and nutritional value. I especially love local foods tasty veggies, milk and yogurt, etc. Also, the day before, we had made brownies. I had a lot of inner turmoil about those brownies, because I knew how amazing they were. How decadent and moist.

I lay on the couch and moaned. Quite literally. I had thought about my week without fossil fuels for so long. I had planned for it and told people about it. But now, that came crashing down. I wanted really good food, I wanted to turn on lights without reprimanding my thoughtlessness, I wanted to take showers and rinse off berries using tap water.

In a moment of thoughtless liberation, I announced, "I care more about food than the environment!" I went into the kitchen and promptly started eating broccoli. I joined my family for dinner.

I was happy. I felt very free. But also, I felt indulgent. I felt as though I had the carefree, extravagant life of a king. I realized that my failure still taught me something valuable: We have many good things in life. Try living without fossil fuels, and you'll quickly discover that it's rather boring. The existence of imported foods and electrical appliances really enhances our lives. We can experience so much more than our hunter-gatherer ancestors who were limited to their immediate environment.

What I learned

Let's face it. Fossil fuels help make us more aware of the world around us, and help make us all-around more happy. However, reducing your use of fossil fuels is still a valuable action. As much as I enjoy food, eating more local foods is a good idea. Rather than buy tomatoes that are grown in California, buy tomatoes from a local farmers' market. Ride your bike or walk more.

Global warming is a serious threat to the environment, and, while you don't need to cut out fossil fuels entirely, reducing your individual carbon footprint can help all of us in the long run. And that is valuable.

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