A Look Inside
“The simplest things can sometimes teach us the most. That’s why I want to tell you a story about chimneys."
A chimney is simple enough: it’s a hollow column made of bricks, stone or cement that vents out gases from the fuels we burn. But within those flues lurk eye-opening lessons about the influences on, and implications of, our energy choices. To get in the mood for this story, do what I’m doing as I write it: settle into a comfy chair by a crackling fire late at night. Absorb the heat and let your mind wander. Imagine you’re in England’s north country, where it’s damp and cold. Now imagine it’s January 1857.
He was standing at the gates of a 16th-century school, looking up at the roof of a large three-story stone building. The glint of the early morning moon backlit four cylindrical pots, grouped in a row on top of the chimney.
Only seven years old, Henry already knew his chimneys. He knew them inside and out. Literally. You see, Henry was a chimney sweep, although that was a benign description of what he did for a living.
In mid-19th-century Britain, most people would have referred to Henry as a climbing boy, which in my mind was a more fitting handle. That’s because he didn’t really sweep much. Instead, he spent his long days climbing inside fireplace flues, removing layers of soot with his head, hands and a scruffy straw brush.
Before the end of this January work shift, Henry would have to squeeze through each of those four suffocating chimneys.
From “Nobody Tips a Scandiscope” in The Investor Visit and Other Stories: Disruption, Denial and Transition in the Energy Business.
In addition to this story, every Energyphile Session guide contains questions and answers to prompt your group discussion and facilitator’s tips to help you prepare.
|Alfred Dickie’s Utility Bill
|6" x 9"
|Energyphile Media Inc.
|January 24, 2020
The Alfred Dickie’s Utility Bill Session guide includes:
- Story and its preamble, letting you in on Peter’s favorite characters and stories and most surprising takeaways.
- Story-specific questions, along with Peter’s answers, designed to promote thought and discussion. Facilitator tips help you extend the discussion.
- A facilitator’s guide to help you plan, organize and lead a group discussion.
Alfred Dickie’s story speaks to how the rise of distant energy suppliers separated people from their energy sources. As a result, society has become dissociated from understanding the connections between sources of supply and consumption — and, by extension, from understanding the sources of environmental problems like greenhouse gas emissions.
- Thinking about your energy usage, discuss where greenhouse gas emissions, if any, are generated.
- When it comes to tackling climate change by reducing emissions, where are the bulk of the policy forces targeted? Why?
One observation in “Alfred Dickie’s Utility Bill” is that, over the course of a hundred years, the real, inflation-adjusted price of gas delivered to the consumer declined by 75%.
- Discuss the reasons for the deflationary trend.
- Do you expect the real price of energy to continue its decline over the next hundred years? Why or why not?
Macroeconomic factors — circumstances in the broad economy and capital markets — are influential in the adoptability (or not) of new energy systems.
- As a reward for paying his bill early, Alfred Dickie was given a fairly hefty discount: 25¢ on $1.25. Why do you think the Halifax Electric Tramway Company offered such a discount?
- What are the external influences that companies offering new energy solutions today must contend with?
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