Monday, June 11, 2007

Huge house, huge bills, scary future

This weekend I went to a function at a huge Oregon-style McMansion. It was yoooooouge, right on the fairway of a golf course, fronted by a lawn large enough for a regulation game of Ultimate Frisbee, and containing rooms large enough to hold my house. (That is a slight exaggeration, but not much of one.) The house had crazy tall ceilings...maybe 16 feet? I my part of town, "high ceilings" means 10 feet. But then again, my house was built in 1903, and the thought of 16 foot ceilings would have probably terrified the primitive minds of early 20th century builders.

A friend also at the party confessed one of his first reactions to the house was: "Holy crap, how much does it cost to heat this thing?" Which is not to say that Oregon gets terribly cold at any point during the winter, but, still, it has its share of 30 degree days, and when the wind picks up, you can feel a brisk chill. So take the tremendous heating cost, take the fact you have to drive 10 miles to get anywhere, and take the fact that this place had a four car garage (again, for sake of comparison, my house doesn't even have a garage, nor a driveway, but it does have a neat-o metal ring attached to the curb where you can tie your horse), and wonder what kind of energy inputs this kind of place requires. Not simply cheap (or moderately priced) energy, but energy at all. If you are living this lifestyle and energy becomes not-so-commonplace, you are seriously screwed. And this is a fantastically expensive house, probably topping $1 million. In other words, this is what people aspire to own. Is that right? Is that a good idea? Probably not.

On the way home we talked about scary gloom-and-doom author James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, whose worldview is exceedingly pessimistic, basically taking the viewpoint that the world has declining stores of energy (read: oil), increasing demand for said oil, and simply cannot go on living a lifestyle that assumes the same level of energy inputs. The way of life lead by the folks out on the golfcourse will be about as sustainable as people who made their living selling roasted passenger pigeon in the 1800s. It's grim to think about, and I'm not sure what the answer is. Well, obviously the answer is that we completely reimagine the way we construct our cities, houses, and etc., but I think we could sooner wish the passenger pigeon back into existence than have this kind of conversation in America today.