Tag Archive 'renewable energy'

Oct 27 2011

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Hard Choices

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Critics here in Vermont say that the huge wind turbines atop our beloved Green Mountains are not just an eyesore, they kill birds and disrupt the forest ecology as well. Solar power is viable as long as the sun is shining, but it’s expensive, isn’t it? Biofuels threaten our food supply. Hydro power screws up our streams. Coal and oil are both dirty, of course. Natural gas is clean, as fossil fuels go, but fracking pollutes the ground water. Nuclear power is both clean and cheap… until the plants leak and it’s time to shut them down. Burning wood is great until you run out of trees. So what does that leave? Tidal power? Hydrogen? Cold fusion?

Have to get our power from somewhere. There are seven billion people on the planet and counting. The demand for power is growing much faster in industrializing countries like India and China than it is in the highly consumptive West. In the near future, humanity will need more power, not less. So where are we going to get it?

Climate change is the sword of Damocles hanging over us. The more we mess with Mother Nature, the more she messes with us. It’s just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose. Can we avoid global catastrophe? Collectively we seem to lack the political will to do so. Besides, denial runs strong and deep among those who immediately benefit from the status quo, and they cast just enough doubt on the subject to keep the rest of us complacent.  More to the point, it’s hard for the average person to think beyond what he or she is paying at the gas pump.

So what are we to do? Gnash our teeth and say we’re all doomed? Protest our least favorite energy source? Blame those whose economies are stronger than ours? Simply ignore the situation?

Clearly we have plenty of choices, there’s just no perfect solution. The big question is this: Do we have moral courage enough to make the best possible choices for our great grandchildren? I’ll leave that for you to ponder, dear reader, and keep my cynicism to myself.


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May 12 2010

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Matika Misses the Moose

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Yesterday my dog, Matika, and I headed for the mountains, taking full advantage of springtime sunshine.  A hard frost covered everything at dawn, but temps had reached into the fifties by the time we reached the trailhead.  I shouldered my rucksack and charged up the trail, ready for a good workout.  Matika kept a few yards ahead of me most of the time, occasionally bolting after an unsuspecting chipmunk.  Yeah, Matika is fixated on chipmunks.  And nothing I say can change her mind.

It felt great being back in the mountains again.  Over breakfast, I’d read an article about that big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so my stomach was in knots.  I know better than to let morning news get to me that way, but I just couldn’t help myself.  There are so many things wrong about that disaster and how it’s playing out that I go nuts thinking about it.  Why did we let this happen?  Why can’t we come up with a better solution to our energy woes than drilling a mile deep into the ocean?  Anyway, it was good being back in the mountains, breaking a sweat and breathing fresh air, with no one else around.  I reveled in it.

A mile and a half into the hike, I reached a point on the trail that felt to me like the edge of spring.  By then I’d climbed to about fifteen hundred feet so the canopy overhead had thinned considerably.  A few patches of snow, left over from a recent storm, underscored the transition.  I pulled out my camera to snap a picture of the scene.  While I was doing that, a moose strolled leisurely across the trail.  It even stopped a moment to check out my dog and me before stepping back into the brush.  Matika was looking the other way, fixated on chipmunks.  I called for her to look around.  By the time she did, the moose was gone.

My dog isn’t stupid, nor is she a stranger to the forest.  It’s just that she doesn’t always pay attention to her surroundings.  She often gets fixated on chipmunks and squirrels, thereby missing larger quarry.  In that regard, she reminds me of some people I know.  “Drill! Drill! Drill!” they say, and there’s no getting them to seriously consider any other alternatives, let alone the consequences.

Matika missed the moose but I didn’t.  After years of not seeing one, it felt good to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with ol’ Bullwinkle again.  And I’m glad I got a picture of it.  Now I have proof.  To this day, there are still people who think that moose are rare in the Vermont woods.  But they’re all over the place.   Look down the next time you’re hiking in the Green Mountains and chances are good that you’ll see their tracks pressed deeply into the trail.  All you have to know is what a moose track looks like.  Then pay attention.

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Sep 02 2008

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Thinking Big about Clean Energy

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A few months back, after taking a long hard look at retirement with my wife, Judy, I started investing in the stock market. I’m addressing this matter woefully late in life, I realize, but better late than never. At any rate, I looked around for places to put the meager sum I’d scraped together and soon found myself researching alternative energy companies.

I focused on “clean tech” companies for two obvious reasons: first because the recent jump in the price of oil means this sector will soon be on the fast track, and secondly because renewable energy is a good thing – something the world desperately needs. A book called Green Investing, written by Jack Uldrich, turned out to be a great place to start.

Come to find out, there are companies all over the world, both private and public, working hard to provide us with wind, solar, tidal, geothermal power and more. We’ve come a long way from the days when renewable energy was some pie-in-the-sky notion entertained only by hippies and other social outcasts. On the business television channel CNBC, as well as in investment periodicals, there is much talk about Big Solar, as if it might someday rival Big Oil. I take this as a good omen – a sure sign that renewable energy’s day has finally come.

Now I know what all you Greenies out there are thinking. I use words like “business” and “big” in the same sentence and you write me off as yet another nature lover gone over to the enemy. You still believe that anything associated with Corporate America is patently evil and that good things come only from people organizing at the grassroots level – from people who work the earth with their own two hands and those who support them. But the world needs power and lots of it. If big corporations don’t provide clean energy on a grand scale, who will?

Back in the 70s, I read Schumacher’s book on appropriate technology, Small Is Beautiful, and was greatly moved by it. But socioeconomic forces are moving towards globalization faster now than they ever have – towards the very big and very integrated. To think we can reverse these forces is sheer folly. The best we can do is to channelize them. And if we do so correctly then maybe, just maybe, we can prevent this beautiful planet of ours from burning up. So I’m all for Big Solar and whatever else it takes to quit fossil fuels once and for all.

At long last, we have a real chance to change the way we live. The trick is to look beyond old-fashioned, short-term, parochial solutions and embrace innovations that work on a grand scale. So think big about clean energy, I say. Only then can we reverse global warming and tap the clean, inexpensive, long-lasting sources of power necessary to make us all happier and more prosperous. The future can be very green if we want it to be.

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