Wednesday, January 21, 2004

How the Cookie Crumbles: A TrueMajority Perspective

If alternative energy is such a great idea, why aren't we seeing more practical applications in the everyday world? TrueMajority offers a vividly clear perspective on where our federal budget efforts are directed. This animated piece, starring Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen, reduces the complexities of the federal budget to stacks of cookies--each cookie representing 10 billion dollars [US]. The graphic reality of the situation is enough to make any thoughtful person choke on their cookies and milk. The Pentagon budget appears as a big stack of 40 cookies ($400 billion dollars a year). The entire budget for researching and developing alternative energy technologies is 1/4 of a cookie. Education and other essential social programs are similarly dwarfed by Pentagon expenditures. The rational for maintaining this gargantuan military infrastructure certainly doesn't look very credible when compared to the expenditures of other nations. Both Russia and China combined equal only 12 cookies and the terrorist threat in the world is represented by less than a cookie. Perhaps it's time we thought seriously about taking a few cookies off the bloated military budget stack and putting them into something beneficial: alternative energy development, education, and other worthwhile programs.

Friday, January 09, 2004

U.S. Climate Policy Bigger Threat to World Than Terrorism

Why worry about changing our energy habits? One good reason is the threat posed by global climate change, as discussed in this article. The chief scientific advisor in the UK Government, Sir David King, sees climate change as a much more serious threat than terrorism. The potential extinction of millions of species and the threat of drought, hunger, flooding, and rampant malaria for much of the world's population represents a genuine risk much more tangible than the colorized terror alerts endlessly waved in our faces.

Beyond the shadow

"Between the conception and the creation," T.S. Eliot wrote, "Between emotion and the response falls the shadow." Years ago, while still in college, I dreamed of living in a solar-powered geodesic dome somewhere in a northern California redwood forest. A creative writing instructor mocked that vision (which I had expressed through a character in one of my short stories) and mainstream America saw solar and wind power as a pipe dream from granola-munching, pot-smoking hippies, as eager to dismiss the possibilities as they were to jump into their heavy-metal 16 mpg American road machines and take their turn in a gas line. The nascent alternative energy movement was nonetheless taking root, suggesting another energy path that didn't have risky megalithic nuclear reactors at its heart. The Nuclear Power Initiative in California made it clear that not everyone thought it wise to depend on fuel that could destroy half a state in the case of an accident or that would generate wastes that would have to be guarded for tens of thousands of years--longer than the span of any known civilization.

Thirty years later, the technologies that make alternative energy the only realistic future possibility have come of age, but their adoption has been slowed by the massive worldwide infrastructure that refuses to abandon a future tied to dwindling supplies of petroleum-based fuel. Wars are already being fought over oil. How much worse will it get in 20 or 30 years when serious scarcities drive the developed nations into even more frantic quests to suck the last few dregs of oil from the earth?

We don't need more oil; we need a new direction. This blog offers steps and guideposts to other energy paths that any of us can follow. The "Think globally, act locally" credo of the environmental movement makes much sense. We can equip our homes with solar or wind power and charge utility companies for surplus energy (through Intertie connections) put back into the grid. We can choose efficient devices that save energy, change our transportation habits, critically examine our lives, and move away from gluttonous energy use and the indiscriminate wasting of resources, moving toward a more frugal, more mindful existence that recognizes and reverses the destructiveness of the prevailing path.

So, this is step one... As I take more steps in this direction, I invite you along for the journey and I hope maybe there is something useful in this vision that you can share, as well. The emphasis will be on practical, realistic, accessible approaches--either things that you can do tomorrow with tools and technologies already available, or examples that demonstrate how others have taken other energy paths, the road less travelled that Robert Frost talked about. Put on your hiking boots and join the journey.