Kevin Mueller

Riverwest powers down for the environment

By - Jun 18th, 2010 04:00 am
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Courtesy CarbonNYC via Flickr

It’s almost impossible to judge the long-term effects that pollution has on the environment. The incomprehensible magnitude of it all, coupled with growing apathy seems to lessen public urgency about maintaining a clean Earth. But when a gigantic, man-made disaster devastates an entire region, people seem to take notice. There’s something about blackened pelicans that causes instant sadness and outrage — smog somehow doesn’t have that same affect.

For those who want to proactively get involved in environmental conservation, Riverwest is hosting a week-long event that offers some easy tips on how communities and individuals can reduce their carbon footprint and become less dependent on energy.

In a nutshell, Power Down Week challenges residents to reduce their energy usage to nothing for seven days. That’s right: nothing.

Sarah Moore, a member of Transition Milwaukee, created Power Down Week after a discussion with Xav Leplae, a neighborhood resident and owner of Riverwest Film & Video. It’s a community event that has residents offering their time and help in order to teach others how to live with less power.

The week kicks off 4 p.m. Monday, June 21 with a summer camp-like registration that includes a social networking wall (think Facebook wall posts, except you know, with real people and not computer generated avatars) at the Polish Falcon, 801 E. Clarke St., followed by an ice cream social — salt and ice is provided, the other ingredients are up to the participants to supply.

The opening night’s festivities will conclude with a drum session at Reservoir Park.

photo by B.Finnegan, via flickr (cc)

Other activities throughout the week include constructing solar showers, making cob ovens,  building and painting rain barrels as well as different workshops and panels. There’s even a Saturday morning bike ride from Garden Park to the Oak Creek Power Plant.

The week concludes Sunday, June 27 with a 1 p.m. Booth Street block party and a closing ceremony at 5 p.m., with rewards for those who showed the most effort in powering down.

Moore realizes it’s impractical to think that everyone will be able to  forgo energy for an entire week, since all people need it to survive.

“We’re creatures that consume energy to stay alive,” she says. “Anything we eat took energy from the sun. Obviously, we’re all going to consume energy. It’s more [about] being conscious of what our choices are and what the alternatives are.”

Reducing the amount of energy we use is actually quite uncomplicated, Moore says.

“The simplest [way to conserve] is just not turning on the TV, radio, computer and making sure all your lights are off that you’re not using – like your porch lights, things like that,” she says. “If you really want to go for it, turn your water heater down or turn it off, or commit to not driving your car unless absolutely necessary.”

She plans on sharing a refrigerator with a neighbor and encourages others to do the same. This week isn’t only about conservation, she says; it’s also about building a community support system.

“It’s totally just a community-based event,” she says “So, we’re not really furnishing anything except for connecting people and declaring it the week. Otherwise, workshop leaders need to bring materials or bring a list and tell participants what they need to bring. Nothing is just going to be done for people. In matter of fact, the gift is giving people opportunities to work together and learn together and figure out how to do things.”

Power Down Week will even cater to those who want to turn off their cell phones but still be able to be contacted in case of emergencies. There will be a number at the Polish Falcon where, in exchange for your power-downed cell phone, loved ones can call if something’s important. Bike messengers will then ride to your residence and deliver the message.

Event leaders aim to create more awareness for alternate energy during the week and teach residents how to harness its power.

There will be informal seminars on bike-generated power to show just how much effort creating energy takes. They’re showing off the work on Energy Independence Day (July 5) with bicycle-powered amplifiers for the microphones.

“We need to admit that alternative energy sources — while they’re going to play an important role – are not going to let us maintain the lifestyle we’re used to,” Moore says. “There is just no way… so, we need to – while looking at alternative energy sources – figure out how we’re going to power down.”

For a full listing of the week’s activities or to find out how you can get involved, check out Power Down Week’s website (before you power down, that is).

0 thoughts on “Riverwest powers down for the environment”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I applaud the effort and advocate conservation in my own life and in general. However, when it comes to electrical power from the grid, there is a lot of misunderstanding of how of works. Better understanding can allow us to make the conservation changes that are most effective.

    Chances are that the act of shutting off an appliance won’t actually save any energy. The plant doesn’t burn a bit more coal because you turned on an appliance, or less because you turned it off. Enough coal is burned at the plant (or nuclear reaction, etc.) to bring enough generators online to handle expected demand, plus a little cushion. Because unused grid power cannot be stored, what is being generated is either used instantly or it is lost. It cannot be saved or stored; that’s just how it works (not like batteries, which store small electrical charges generated through chemical reaction). Therefore, by using less power, unless it crosses the collective threshold that the power company decides one of the generators can be shut off, no power is saved. (Really it’s not the power we want to conserve, but the source of the the power if not renewable, i.e. coal, uranium, etc. If your power comes from a wind or hydro plant, etc., then nothing is saved by even thousands of people powering down.) Only longer term collective usage trends reflecting people conserving more on a consistent basis — that would allow the power company to use fewer plants or generators — would save resources.

    Of course there is symbolic value in powering down, and value in raising consciousness about conservation, but isn’t it more useful to encourage, for example, less gasoline usage where every drop saved is something real?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Baily for the great comment, good to make that clear. I think to effect long term usage, which is what we energies is looking at, we need to change life styles and awareness, and that was a large part of what the week was about. Also transportation was a big part of the week for most of us. Helping people understand what our cheap energy grid is giving us and its true value to us was another goal. A third goal was to understand the difficulty of recreating that cheap energy threw alternative sources. The biggest goal was to build community around powered down and sustainable activities.

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