MS: YOU SUPPORT THE USE OF CLEAN RENEWABLE FUELS. WHAT'S IT LIKE DRIVING AN ELECTRIC CAR?
EB: My electric car is a VW Rabbit converted to electric. And talk about a resource that's out there, that's available to us, it's the same way we mine steel from the ground or fabricate rubber to make the tires - here are these resources sitting in junk yards everywhere or in the recycler magazine or somebody is selling them - all these vehicles with blown engines or poor engines, or engines about to go - perfectly wonderful automobiles you can buy for a thousand dollars. Who's going to pay more for it than that - it's got a bad engine, maybe it's got a hole in the radiator, the gas tank leaks, the alternator's gone, the starter's poor - great! That's all good news for me. Because I'm taking it all out anyway.
MS: HOW WELL DOES YOUR ELECTRIC CAR WORK? HOW MANY MILES CAN IT GO BEFORE IT NEEDS A RE-CHARGE?
EB: The average trip that Americans take - eighty percent of our trips, according to the Department of Transportation, are forty miles or less. Well, any electric car can do that, and then some. My car goes fifty-five miles and it gets me around everywhere I need to go in Los Angeles. There's always a way to make it work. If you've got a longer trip than that, you've got to go thirty-five miles out to Point Dume and then thirty-five miles back, that's seventy miles, you're not gonna make it. But you're going out there for lunch anyway. You go to your friend, "Hey, you got a plug in your garage? Can I plug in?" "Yeah, sure." You plug it in, you have lunch, you do whatever you're doing out at Point Dume or wherever the hell it is, and you finish up and you drive home and you're fine. There's always a way. . . This is the most doable thing you can imagine.
MS: WHAT'S IT LIKE LIVING IN A SOLAR HOME, GETTING YOUR ELECTRICITY FROM THE SUN AND BEING INDEPENDENT FROM THE UTILITY COMPANIES?
EB: Well, it was an investment.. This is the one area that I want to separate out - the solar capability that I have in my house - I want to separate that out as something that is not accessible to the average Joe or Jane. It's certainly accessible to other actors, directors, writers, lawyers, doctors, well-paid professional people - people who are in the new thirty-nine percent tax bracket, anybody like that can afford it. But the other people, clerical workers, blue collar workers - certainly the person who works at the car wash - can't afford that. But all the other things that I mentioned - bicycle -it's one of the cheapest forms of transportation, certainly the most efficient. Electric vehicle - all this stuff is very accessible today, to the average person, and very cost effective.
The other things around my house - I'm going to talk about the solar, I'm not avoiding your question - but the other things that I want to talk about before I talk about that are - a hundred dollars - accessible to anybody in any income bracket - one hundred dollars for an energy- saving thermostat, with a wake and sleep, leave and return mode. You know, many households, the people are gone all day. The kids are in school, the mother and father are working - the house is vacant all day. And the thermostat's chugging away, the heater's chugging away, keeping it hot, or keeping it cool in the summer - wasting, wasting, wasting. A hundred dollars - energy-saving thermostat. And sleeping - what do you need it to be seventy degrees for when you're asleep? It's uncomfortable, I don't like it, I don't sleep well in that heat. You know, you put it down to a lower temperature, it gets into the low sixties perhaps as the house cools down over the night, and you save all this energy. You put an energy-saving thermostat in every home, and you have enough natural gas left over so everybody can drive a natural gas vehicle with no net gain, tomorrow.
You put nothing but compact fluorescent bulbs, which are very cost effective for even moderate to lower income people, you can put electric vehicles on the road tomorrow with no net gain. You put compact fluorescent bulbs, as bulbs burn out - and they do regularly - with regular incandescent, they burn out like crazy. And not only do you save money - you have saved so much energy. For all the bulbs most people have in their home - most people have people have twenty bulbs in their home. Some homes more, depending on the size of a home. Twenty times thirteen watts, eighteen watts, compared to twenty times sixty watts - that's enough to charge an electric car. What are we talking about here? It's all just efficiency. And it's available today- this is no Buck Rogers pie in the sky, "Oh, once they figure this out, the scientists are going to figure it out for us." It's here today!
MS: DO YOU FEEL IT'S MORE ECO-CONSCIOUS TO BE A VEGETARIAN? WHY ARE YOU A VEGETARIAN?
EB: I am for a number of reasons, not the least the which is the environmental impact . . . The amount of water needed to produce one pound of wheat is twenty-five gallons. The water needed to produce one pound of meat, twenty-five hundred gallons.
MS: SO IT'S ALL ABOUT EFFICIENCY AND CONSERVING RESOURCES.
EB: It's just efficiency. It's simply efficiency. And the health ramifications - I have never heard, and please tell me if you've heard aboutit, of a cardiologist doing bypass surgery, doing open heart surgery, doing angioplasty, or anything like that, and ever pulling out a piece of broccoli out of somebody's arteries. if you hear about that, you let me know. I've never heard of any sort of plant matter being pulled out of anybody's arteries. I haven't heard of it - when it occurs, I'd love to hear it.
MS: WHY DO YOU USE NON-TOXIC, BIODEGRADABLE CLEANING SUPPLIES? HOW WELL DO THEY WORK?
EB: I use a biodegradable soap that is really, it's about the same price as Tide or any of those, it's relatively cheap because you don't use much of it. Gets my clothes wonderfully clean, my clothes are always clean. I haven't had a complaint about showing up in dirty outfits ever. I use, instead of Comet, or any of those harsh cleansers, I use Baking Soda, cleans every bit as good. It's cheaper. Talk about - here's something people, lower income people should definitely be using. Why the hell are they buying Formula 409 and Comet? Save some money right there, use vinegar and water and baking soda. Vinegar and water, instead of any of these Windex or 409, works great. Baking Soda instead of all these harsh cleansers. It's cheap. Baking Soda's dirt cheap.
MS: I NEVER KNEW THAT. VINEGAR? THAT'S INTERESTING.
EB: Vinegar and water. Never buy any ammonia product again, it's a waste.
MS: I ASSUME YOU ALSO USE RECYCLED TOILET PAPER AND PAPER PRODUCTS.
EB: All of those. Because if you don't buy that stuff, you're not really recycling. You've got to complete the loop. It's very nice to get all warm and fuzzy and take copies of the LA Weekly and your spent Evian bottles down to the recycling center, but where does that stuff go? If you're not buying recycled products, you're not really recycling. You've got to buy as many as possible. And now, finally, the prices are getting such that it's getting either the same or very close, in some cases even cheaper, to buy recycled products, which is what it should be. It's the market - there's just not enough demand for recycled products, so it's such a small market niche that they're not selling enough to keep the price down. Eventually, they will. Eventually, recycled products will be, as they should be, cheaper, because you're mining them, if you will, locally, from your local waste paper and what have you. All those things will eventually be cheaper.
MS: WHY DO YOU THINK EVERYONE MUST RECYCLE?
EB: I don't know. I don't use words like "must". I think people should recycle. Because it's just more efficient. The plastics industry for instance, and the glass and the container industry, has mounted a campaign against recycling in many cases. Citing some very bad recycling programs. And they're out there. Where these big trucks come around in a very inefficient route, and people are scavenging away all the good recyclable items, like aluminum, so that all that's left is maybe some glass or some light weight plastic, and so it's not very efficient. The program seems very inefficient. But what you have to do is make the program more efficient. You can't say that recycling is bad because there's an inefficient program, you have to make the program more efficient. That's certainly possible.
Common sense tells you it is cheaper to mine the bauxite in your alley in the form of aluminum cans than it is to send a boat over to Jamaica and mine the bauxite there, use lots of heavy equipment to take it out of the ground and then refine it and put it through a smelter and do all that. Why not just crush them up and do a minimum of processing and mine them right here in our streets. Of course, it's more efficient. You know, the tougher issues are glass, which is basically sand, it's very heavy, and to cart that around, there has to be a very efficient program to pick it up. And that will happen. It's just that it's a very new thing, this new stage of recycling. Recycling isn't new, people have been doing it for millennia, in one form or another. There's always been ragmen and things like that over the centuries. But now, this new phase of recycling is very new, and we have to support it, we should support it, and I think everybody needs to pull their weight.
MS: WHAT IT'S LIKE LIVING IN A SOLAR POWERED HOME?
EB: It's great. It's an investment. It was a sizable investment. Because I have a stand alone system, that is to say I have a lot of batteries that store the power for night time or for cloudy days, or rainy days or what have you. So there's a lot of batteries involved. And I have a system that powers my whole house. It charges my cars, it runs my shop tools, it runs my fax machine, my computer, my microwave, my dishwasher - it runs everything. Washer, dryer - it runs everything. I am not wanting for power in my house. I have one hundred sixty watt panels, that's six thousand watts of power, and I have a whole slew of batteries in the garage, and I have a big sign wave invertor, so I have very clean power, and it runs my house. . . I wanted to do a research project where I would prove that you could live off it, in an urban setting, and run a house. Not just a little cabin, but a full-size house. And charge an electric car and run it off the sun. And damned if it doesn't work.
MS: COULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOUR HOUSE LOOKS LIKE?
EB: It's a regular two bedroom "Leave it to Beaver" kind of home. It's a very normal, middle class home, and that was what I wanted to do. You can, from the ground up, design a solar structure, a house like the Michael Reynolds Earthship houses, which are beautiful, built into the side of a hill, with large massive walls built out of recycled materials, south facing windows at a forty-five degree angle. Summer time, light is reflected, keeps it cool. Winter time, angle of the sun goes deeper into the structure of the house, heating it. Solar panels, da, da, da, da, da. Gray water systems. That's the kind of thing I would do if I was building from the ground up. But, most people aren't going to do that. I wanted to do something that the average Joe or Jane could possibly do in coming years, certainly when solar got cheaper, not just the energy saving thermostat and the compact fluorescent bulbs and the this and the that, but the solar eventually too. I wanted to do a retrofit on an existing structure and see if it would work. And the first thing I did was the most efficient, was I got a company from the Yellow Pages to come in and blow in some R-30 insulation up in the attic. Three, four hundred bucks. That was it. Well, my house remained warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer to the tune of eight hundred dollars a year, the first year, easy. Easy, if I was running it off normal city power and city heating. Then you add to that the energy-saving thermostat I mentioned before, then you add to that the compact fluorescent bulbs, then you put in an energy-saving refrigerator, which is twenty-five percent of the power of any home. An energy-saving refrigerator is a very simple device. It has the compressor and the coil on top, instead of on the bottom or the back. Now, keep in mind, this is a box you want to keep cool. Why the hell would you keep the coil and the compressor on the bottom, where heat rises. Or even on the back. Why? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. I don't why they ever designed it that way, but they did. And also frost- free and all that stuff. Frost-free means you have a giant heating element inside the refrigerator, that heats it periodically and keeps the frost off the walls. Well, every six months or year, I have to defrost my refrigerator. Oh, it's so inconvenient! Oh, it's such a nightmare! You know, we've become so spoiled.
We're just so spoiled, that's the problem. We take everything for granted. And this, we're talking about twenty-five percent of the energy consumption of every house. And mine is a fraction of the power consumption of a normal fridge. So, you're talking about a lot of wattage. So, you put that in. Compact fluorescent bulbs. Energy-saving thermostat. Energy-saving refrigerator. Insulation. And you have a house, before you even get into the solar, that is very, very efficient. And then if you're ever doing a re-model, which I was, I did a bit of a remodel in an area, I put in all double pane windows. This is not to say everybody's going to go and knock out all their windows and put in all double paned. But if you're going to do a remodel anyway, how much more is a double pane window? Fifty bucks? Seventy dollars? It's not that much more money. And over the life of this home, if you put a lot of them in, thousands of dollars back into your pocket by simply using good science to insulate your homes.
MS: DO YOU ALSO USE SOLAR THERMAL COLLECTORS FOR YOUR DOMESTIC HOT WATER HEATING NEEDS?
EB: Absolutely. Thank you for remembering all these. I have solar hot water. Middle class people can afford solar thermal. It's twenty-five hundred dollars, and there are no longer tax credits sadly, but hopefully there will be again, because Reagan took them all away. But there were tax credits for a while, where you could get this stuff put up and it was making America a more efficient place. But Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House and he just didn't believe in that stuff. Just spending the twenty-five hundred hard earned dollars, you are going to get your money back in three years. Maybe two - just on your hot water bill - to take showers, to do laundry - it's going to heat it year round, even in winter. It comes out of the tap at fifty-five degrees. If it heats it to sixty-one degrees, even, you've saved some natural gas, whatever your heating medium is. And then when you get into the hotter months, certainly from March to October, you're not going to have to have your hot water heater on at all. It's not going to work at all from March till October. It's just more efficient.
MS: SO, WITHIN THE LIFE OF A SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM, IT WILL PAY FOR ITSELF WITH MONEY SAVED. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE CONCEPT OF LIFE CYCLE COSTING AND HOW IT HAS BEEN WORKING FOR YOU, WITH ALL THESE DIFFERENT MODIFICATIONS THAT YOU'VE MADE?
EB: My natural gas bill is often six dollars a month. Four dollars of that is hook up. But now, when you get into the winter months - this is not a house with thick walls - I couldn't tear the whole house down and make the walls thicker, that was just too much of a task. So, it loses heat, it doesn't lose much out of the ceiling, but it loses some out through the remaining single pane windows and through the walls. So, it's thirty dollars in a cold month, maybe forty. That's my worse case scenario for my natural gas bill. So, I mean, look at all you're saving. Six to thirty dollars -and I use natural gas to cook occasionally too. You can save all thatnatural gas there, in the many states that have enough sunshine to heatwater a great portion of the year. You would save enough natural gas to runfleets and fleets of natural gas vehicles. You would have no net gain. Energy-saving thermostat, solar hot water heater booster, compact fluorescent bulbs, energy-saving refrigerator - you have all the electric cars and natural gas cars on the road with no net gain. You've eliminated gasoline, you've eliminated all the El Segundo and New Jersey refineries - they're gone, they're shut down, you don't have them any more. You're existing on electricity that's coming today from the grid - whatever's up and running today and you have eliminated all this from the mix. Today.
MS: WHAT DO PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ALTERNATIVE, NON-POLLUTING ENERGY SOURCES LIKE SOLAR, WIND AND HYDRO?
EB: Well, I can promise you wind is a very efficient form of power. I own a windmill in the desert. I bought it in the early eighties back when they had tax credits for such things. And wind as well - people like Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown were in favor of wind and solar, so they had tax credits on the California level and on the federal level, so I bought a windmill and got a nice tax credit. But let's put all that aside - that's all over now. As I said, they took all that away, George Deukmejian, Governor of California and Ronald Reagan took all that away. Now it's up and running - I bought it, I own it, there it is. The payment that I used to make every month was about the same amount as the amount of revenue I was getting from the energy, and finally I realized it was an old eighties loan - it was like ten and three quarters percent - I said, "The hell with this," a few years ago when interest rates were so low, and I paid it off, now all I do is get the revenue. I have an annuity - this windmill just generates power, sells it to the grid and makes twenty homes worth of power, day in, day out. Twenty homes. Not twenty homes like mine, mine is on solar - twenty homes like yours. Day in, day out and it sends me a check. So wind power works, all it got was a minor little jump start back in the early eighties, and it's up and running. So, we've got to think what we want to do. Do we want to continue to have a dependence on all this foreign oil? Do we want to have our foreign debt - sixty percent of our foreign debt comes from imported oil - sixty percent. So, what do we want to do? Do we want to be more independent as a nation? These are the kind of things that we should be in favor of. Why do we want to be beholden to Saudis and the Kuwaitis and run the risk of having to send guys over there again?
MS: DO YOU FORESEE THE INFRASTRUCTURE CHANGING? DO YOU FORESEE A DAY WHEN ECO AWARE HOME OWNERS AND BUSINESSES WILL BECOME COMMON PLACE AND THIS WILL CHANGE? IS IT INEVITABLE THAT A CHANGE WILL HAVE TO TAKE PLACE?
EB: I hope so. Because these people - a lot of them are starting to see the light. The corporate executives - the people at the top - they have kids and grand kids too. Where are you going to go to? Even in Switzerland, they're seeing the effects of acid rain. Where are you going to run to? New Zealand? The ozone depletion has increased the UVB level so high there now. Where do you run to? Where are you going to put your family? Amphibians are dying all over the world, at an alarming rate. This is something that's happening. This is not some pie in the sky, "Oh, global warming, it's gonna happen." Is it going to happen or not going to happen? I would think it eventually would, if we continue, but you can't prove that it's started. You can't prove that ozone depletion has begun to have serious effects in the northern hemisphere - you can't prove it - but you can prove that amphibians are dying all over the world. Why are they dying? I don't know. Is it the increase in UVB from ozone depletion, is it acid rain - we don't know, but we know that they're dying. There used to be hundreds of frogs in a lake - pick a lake in Yosemite - now there's three. And not just in North America, you go to Asia and Africa - everybody that studies amphibians will tell you, these creatures, without fur or feathers, with very frail skin, they're the first to feel the effects of this. And they're dropping like flies. What does that mean? Why are the coral reefs dying in unprecedented numbers? Why is that happening? Is it pesticide runoff? Is it a warming of the ocean temperatures? Is it some of the toxics other than pesticides, sewage and what have you, that finds its way? They don't know. But they know that they're dying like crazy. Nobody says they're not.
MS: WHAT DOES BEING A ENVIRONMENTALIST MEAN TO YOU, ON A PHILOSOPHICAL OR A SPIRITUAL LEVEL?
EB:I look at it in terms of some of the things I just outlined ... I'm trying to have less and less of an impact on the dirt in my backyard and my front yard and the area around my house and the air around my house. I'm trying to behave in a way that has less and less of an impact. It's not that I'm trying to do so much, I'm trying to do so little.
©Marianne Schnall. No portion of this interview may be reprinted without permission of Marianne Schnall .
Marianne Schnall is a a free-lance writer and co-founder of the web sites EcoMall.com and Feminist.com.
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