Coffeepots and climate

  • BEN GARRISON

 

As I rode my bike north out of Fort Collins, Colo., the houses thinned out, replaced by cows and horses. In one field between me and the foothills, several pronghorn antelope ran from me in a short leaping spurt, turned and looked back, then resumed their grazing. A string of steel power line structures, which always looked to me like dressmaker dummies, crossed overhead. I was pedaling my 18-speed towards electricity, or towards an understanding of it, anyway.

A few weeks earlier, I'd wakened, as always, to the burbling of my coffeepot. I'd made my way to the kitchen, turned on the light, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer. As always, something about a celebrity being naked, pregnant or arrested was on my home page. Sports highlights, sports lowlights, weather and the Dow Jones. And, inevitably, something about polar bears or green energy, or new pictures of chunks of ice floating in vast blue seas. I yawned and got up to refill my coffee cup.

Global warming just felt so ... global. I was relatively secure with my level of eco-consciousness. I rode my bike to school, I had one of those little knit grocery bags I used when I remembered to bring it into the store, I'd gotten my recycling system pretty much down pat - wasn't that enough? I couldn't really get myself worked up about climate change because I couldn't link my utility bills and road trips to the mountains - let alone my coffeepot - to melting ice and stranded polar bears, to hurricanes and extinction.

My apathy was based on my ignorance. And eventually, perhaps because I've been immersed in academia for some time, collecting college degrees like knickknacks, I started to feel ashamed of the not knowing and the not caring. So I decided to figure out how this 35-year-old writer-cyclist-student-teacher's daily caffeine intake affected the glaciers, the polar bears and the climate.

When I arrived at the Rawhide Energy Plant on my bike, I expected to find something menacing, like Batman's Gotham City. Instead, I saw a small cluster of windowless beige buildings with one tall smokestack puffing a polite plume of smoke. The main entrance was blocked off, so I rode in on a winding packed-dirt road past signs saying "Controlled Access"and "No Public Admittance."

At a small brick security checkpoint, a burly guy in a uniform came busting out as if he thought some sweaty chick in Spandex was going to blow the place up. I asked conversationally, my hands in plain view, "Have I done anything illegal yet?"and he mumbled that I shouldn't be up here. He gave me the number of a PR person, and grudgingly agreed to let me go up to the blocked-off area, where there were information boards for the curious-minded.

There were a bunch of facts about the power plant, about how much coal it goes through and where it comes from and how it all turns into electricity. I was trying to copy the notes and diagrams into my journal, but my brain kept trying to bound away like the pronghorn antelopes, much as it does when someone uses words like "catalytic converter"or "hypotenuse"or "escrow."

But I added the information to my growing collection of notes, and when I sorted it all out I found that I was beginning to understand. When my coffeepot turned itself on, the energy arrived via a hilly and scrub-covered route that began at the Powder River Basin Coal Mine in Wyoming. I did a lot of math and found that every time I brewed a pot of coffee, I burned a lump of coal the size of a ping-pong ball. I discovered that it took about 25 pounds of coal just to keep myself caffeinated over the course of a year. That amount of coal puts about 37 pounds of CO2 into the air. I understood, finally, how what I did every day affected the climate, the polar bears and, of course, us humans.

So I switched my light bulbs to fluorescent, signed up to pay a penny a kwh more to get renewable energy, bought a TerraPass, and started paying more attention, knowing that it wasn't enough. But it costs less to use fluorescent. It costs less to drive less. These things make less noise, take up less space, and help me understand, and sever, some of the ties I have to global warming.

One unseasonably warm evening I drove (guiltily, I'll admit!) up to the Colorado/Wyoming border, where there's a small wind farm. It's on private property, surrounded by fields that were growing dark under the sunset and rising moon. There's a small diner up on a hill, and I went inside and asked two old men playing Lotto whether they thought I'd be shot if I headed across the fields to the wind farm. One said someone might call the cops, but he doubted that anyone would shoot at me. So I ran across the field in my sandals, towards these great gracefully spinning towers silhouetted against a purple sky, wondering if some of the electricity being generated while I watched would be brewing my coffee in the morning. I stopped every minute or so to catch my breath and pull tiny cactus spikes from my toes. Finally I stood still, listening to the barely audible whoosh-whoosh-whoosh from the propellers, watching small birds flitting over the scrub and cacti in the last of the light.

 

Shane Bondi writes, bikes, reads and hikes in and around Fort Collins, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Western Watersheds Project seeks a Tenth Circuit Staff Attorney to bring litigation in the interests of protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife, particularly focused...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    Position Title: Director of Development Status: Full-Time/Exempt Reports to: Executive Director Location: Remote (California preferred) About the Native American Land Conservancy As one of the...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....