Monday, November 21, 2011

Of All The Most Important Things in Life, The Most Important Is Commitment To Others

Ask ten people what they consider to be the most important thing in life, and you may well generate ten different concepts of essentials.  However, explore those ten answers in more depth, revise the scenario to include the possibility of being isolated from human contact, and the critical concern that those respondents will come up with is that a specific person would be the most essential element to be included in that existence. 

Human beings are, like many beasts of the wild, wired to need social contact.  For some, that contact may be minimal, but all of us need interaction.  Does that mean that we view others as vital, or are we so completely narcissistic that we view fellow man as nothing more than a need to make our life complete? 

Regardless of why we need people with whom to interact, the stimulation that man provides for man completes a significant component of how we view ourselves. As far back as 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow postulated that the need for belonging, love, friendship and human interaction neared the base of his hierarchy of needs, just above the need for safety.

The male of the species has been bound, it seems, to man’s best friend – the dog.  While our connection to this four-legged friend undoubtedly offers something psychologically satisfying to humans, it lacks the completeness of human to human involvement.  The connection fulfills, on the surface, the need to have someone, or something else, understand us.

Gang membership, and, in turn, gang initiation, draws on the desire to belong, and to be involved in something that sees us, individually, as something special. While, superficially, gang members appear to lose that individuality, they do view themselves, in fact, as disparate and unique from the rest of the world, or the rest of the neighbourhood.

There may be precious little difference between the desire to be a gang member and the desire to belong to an elite club, or a segment of society that has riches to flaunt.  Both say to the initiate, pledge or member, “You are part of something special and unique, and therefore, you, too, are unique.”

The idea of looking to be a part of something that someone else cannot be a part of is coloured with liberal dollops of narcissistic personality.  Yet, is it wrong?  And how is it different, for example, from seeking to find that special aspect or part of our lives that fulfills us? 

I have chosen a minimalistic way of life.  Does eschewing material acquisition make be the antithesis of narcissistic?  Hardly.  I choose this lifestyle specifically because I feel that I want to focus, not on frills, but on fewer, but more significant benefits and luxuries in my life.  To simply forfeit things for the sake of forfeit gains neither the minimalist or society at large anything.  It is akin to being a lowly carrion-eater, and choosing to ignore the carrion that it finds, in case someone else might come upon it and want it.

When I began my journey toward voluntary simplicity, and opted to focus on fewer, but more significant things in my life, I had not contemplated the philosophical dilemma of choosing specifically what the most important thing in my life would be.  I had a concept of things and experiences that would be more significant to me than others, but had not established an absolute priority.  That changed, dramatically, this week.

On Tuesday, my wife awoke, drenched in sweat, breathing shallowly, experiencing numbness on her right side, and thoroughly nauseated.  Within seconds, I had her in the car, heading toward the hospital.  Driving as quickly as I could from our isolated home toward the local hospital, I called 911, and was escorted through  the protocols as I rushed to intercept the dispatched ambulance.  When I determined that I could make it closer to the hospital, rather than park on the highway and await the emergency vehicle, I became quite belligerent with the dispatcher who wanted me to be in an identifiable location for the EMS drivers.  My anger increased as the seconds passed, and my wife’s symptoms worsened.

Ultimately, the ambulance arrived, my wife was rushed to another hospital thirty miles distant (where better diagnostics could be conducted), and her impending critical incident was averted.  I am very pleased to say that, while she was close to a severe crisis, she has recovered fully, thanks to the speedy response of the EMS team and the skills and dedication of the hospital staff.

However, what I learned was that all of the important things that I had casually itemized in recent years truly were minimal in relation to the one important thing in my life: the valued relationship and love affair that I have with Janice.  I learned many valuable lessons, but the most vital lesson learned is that the most important thing in everyone’s life should not be a thing at all, but a feeling:  the feeling that you have for someone important in your life.  For many of us, that someone may not even be human, but a pet or animal pal.  The most important “non-thing,” even for us minimalists, should be a feeling that has its basis in narcissism, but ultimately ends in completely submerging our own wants and desires in favour of the needs of another.  Call it love, or call it selflessness.  Call it what you want.  The most important thing in life is to place all things behind the commitment to another living being.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Free Renewable Energy Not Always So Free

Being eco-friendly may be admirable, but it comes with a price, and it is not always as crystal-clear as one believes.

We rely heavily on non-grid energy, including wind and solar power.  However, renewal energy sources such as ours require energy storage, and, specifically, battery storage.  While there are advanced battery technologies on the market (e.g. batteries for hybrid vehicles), as well as large wet-cell storage batteries (such as those in forklifts and indoor industrial cleaning equipment), the most prevalent, and therefore, the lowest-priced units are conventional deep-cycle marine 12-volt batteries.  These typically cost from $80 to $200, with only modest storage and cranking amperage.

The primary advantage of marine batteries over vehicle batteries is their capacity to be discharged to low levels and recharged often.  However, “often” is subjective, with most of the commercially available units being rated for a few hundred charging cycles, at most.  These batteries also do not like to be frozen, but really detest excessive heat.

In order to supply minimal energy, such as the energy to light two compact fluorescent bulbs four hours each day and a small bar refrigerator (drawing 90 watts, with a surge of 800 watts), you will consume 2,280 (2.3 kw) watts each day.  Now consider that a small solar panel produces 13-18 watts (some of the single panel retail units produce 30w) under optimal conditions.  In northern latitudes, hours of summer daylight average 15 hours, but typically generate only about 60% of that in sunlight sufficient to “max out” the solar panel.  With three panels, you will produce 405 watts – less than 20% of what you need.  A small wind turbine may produce 40% of what you need, if you live in an environment where the wind is very frequent, and of sufficient strength to power the turbine. Typically, the marine batteries attached to your collectors are rated for 800-1000 CCA.  Obviously, unless you expand your generation and/or storage network, you will need to use a charging system on the batteries.

Because each of the batteries is being discharged the equivalent of 100%every eight hours, you will require a battery array of at least three batteries, just to produce your daily minimum energy requirement.  Ultimately, most of us will require electricity for television or sound equipment, charging cell phones and laptops, power for small fans, and so on. With minimal energy, though, your three-battery array will be fully discharged and recharged 100 times from June to September.  That is the normal lifespan of the battery!

This year, we experienced near-record heat and sunlight throughout our summer.  While that is great for our solar panels, heat is more damaging to the batteries than cold, and reduces their ability to be recharged (and hold a charge) significantly.

We used an eight-battery package.  However, almost weekly, we needed to refill the cells, as the electrolytic acid evaporated.  The sunlight did its damage, too, destroying one battery.  Of the eight, only one battery now holds a significant charge, even though I de-sulphated the batteries regularly.  Five of the batteries were three years old or less, with the other three being four years old.  Seven batteries will need to be replaced.

At a cost of $90 per battery, our outlay will be $630, plus taxes.  We used nearly $100 of generator fuel to supplement our renewable energy supply.  In four months, our lighting costs will be $700-800, factoring in the wear and tear on equipment.

Now, we have batteries that need to be recycled and spent fuel that polluted the air.  If we had relied on our hydro-electric grid for energy, at a cost of $0.08 per kwh, we would have spent less than $130!  Did we really do the environment and our pocketbook a favour?