Forty-six years ago, the fall of 1973, we were in the throes of the first energy crisis. Where I lived, you could buy gasoline on even or odd days depending on the last number of your car license plate. Gas lines were out the street and down the block when a gas station received a shipment. You did not make a long-distance automobile trip that would extend into the night because the gas stations on the unfinished interstate system closed at dark.
In industry, we were making plans to find alternative fuels and alternative boilers or other energy equipment as necessary to keep running.
Today, our energy issues are more finessed. Fossil fuels are in abundance due to modern exploration techniques. The issue today is what is your energy source? Is it clean, renewable, non-polluting?
I'll submit that while the availability has increased, the fuss over energy in the popular press has not subsided, in fact it has probably gotten worse.
Energy has been an ongoing theme throughout history. At one time, energy was provided by water and wind as well as by animals and humans. Those in authority, those with the resources, could command the energy sources necessary to do their daily tasks as well as provide a degree of comfort.
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I spend some time with a very old-fashioned Mennonite sect each year. I also spend a week each year in the mountains of western Guatemala among the indigenous people. These immersion experiences are very interesting.
In both cases, energy is a dear commodity. For the women of the Guatemalan Highlands, finding a modern, efficient cooking stove means they cut the amount of time they spend in the forest each day looking for cooking fuel from four hours to 24 minutes, a huge improvement in labor savings, not to mention their lives in general.
On the Mennonite farms, one learns to husband and protect their energy. Baths, on Saturday night, means each person gets one five-gallon bucket of warm water, a far cry from the show water usage in the city.
In our pulp and paper mills, we still waste tremendous amounts of energy. For, in reality, compared to other things we spend money on to operate our mills, energy is still a relatively cheap commodity.
Be clear--I largely look at energy on a cost avoidance basis. Yes, we all want clean air (low emissions) but let's not go crazy following ideas that are not well proven scientifically (don't send me surveys on what scientists believe about energy consumption--people's opinions are not science).
Nevertheless, when looking at places where energy is dear makes me realize we still have a long way to go to make our industry as efficient as possible. People who live in the first world cannot even grasp what those who live with less abundance do to survive and thrive in their world. A trip to such places can be quite informative.
For safety this week, please make sure everyone is wearing protection when around energy sources of any kind, that everyone is well trained to handle the hazards in our pulp and paper mills.
Be safe and we will talk next week.