While we in the U.S. are barely moving forward on renewables, Germany is streaking into the future. Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute explains:
While the examples of Japan, China, and India show the promise of rapidly emerging energy economies built on efficiency and renewables, Germany—the world’s number four economy and Europe’s number one—has lately provided an impressive model of what a well-organized industrial society can achieve. To be sure, it’s not yet the world champion among countries with limited hydroelectricity: Denmark passed 40% renewable electricity in 2011 en route to a target of 100% by 2050, and Portugal, albeit with more hydropower, raised its renewable electricity fraction from 17% to 45% just during 2005–10 (while the U.S., though backed by a legacy of big hydro, crawled from 9% to 10%), reaching 70% in the rainy and windy first quarter of 2013. But these economies are not industrial giants like Germany, which remains the best disproof of claims that highly industrialized countries, let alone cold and cloudy ones, can do little with renewables.
Here’s an example of how poorly some of us in the U.S. are postured for divesting ourselves of carbon. This is an example from my home state of Missouri, where the utilities and the coal industry apparently owns the place.
In Canada, big corporate money is funding the environmentally horrific tar sands project and the equally despicable effort to muzzle scientists who would otherwise be reporting on the environmental disaster. IO9 reports:
Big money muzzles truth-tellers. “The Canadian government is currently under investigation for its efforts to obstruct the right of the media and public to speak to government scientists. These policies are widely believed to be a part of the government’s unspoken campaign to ensure that oil keeps flowing from the Athabasca tar sands — even if it’s at the cost of free scientific inquiry, the environment, and by consequence, democracy itself.”
Why is it that fossil fuel industries are getting such massive subsidies? The IMF wants to know too:
Developing and industrialized countries should rein in energy subsidies that totaled $1.9 trillion in 2011 to ease budgetary pressures and free resources for public spending in areas like education and health care, International Monetary Fund economists said in a research paper published Wednesday.
In the paper, “Energy Subsidy Reform — Lessons and Implications,” the economists reviewed a database of 176 countries and analyzed ways to change energy subsidies by examining case studies of 22 countries.
In 2011, energy subsidies intended to contain energy prices for consumers accounted for 2.5 percent of global gross domestic product, or 8 percent of all government revenue, the fund said.
It occurs to me that without these subsidies, energy prices would be shooting upwards due to peak oil, possibly causing a nationwide panic. Then maybe the federal government would have a very difficult time justifying these subsidies, which would panic the 1% who control the fossil fuel industries.
Was this blizzard or that hurricane or that drought “caused” by human-caused global warming? Michael Mann, a climatologist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, used this basketball analogy to illustrate this causation issue:
If you take the basketball court and raise it a foot, you’re going to see more slam-dunks,” Mann said. “Not every dunk is due to raising the floor, but you’ll start seeing them happen more often then they ought to.
This article at Grist features many people who have discovered more happiness and a different attitude toward possessions after moving into tiny houses, as small as 100 square feet. Here’s a short article I wrote in 2007 describing houses as small as 40 square feet.
At the recent Doha climate talks, Philippine climate change commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, appealed to his fellow negotiators at a session deciding the contours of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The context is as follows:
“Please let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around,” he said as he choked back tears.
Just days before, Typhoon Bopha had hit the Philippines, killing hundreds of people. The typhoon, having been both unusually forceful and out of season, was deemed — like Hurricane Sandy — to be an extreme weather event, exacerbated by climate change.
This is an extremely powerful moment. It plays into my frustration with those around me, and my frustration with myself. With a few extraordinary exceptions, Americans rolling along, not treating the use of fossil fuels as a weapon. We are all going to need to take this problem seriously, and I’m afraid deep down, that we won’t, and millions of people by the sea (and many of those far from the sea) are going to suffer horribly, and we will all take the result as “natural disasters.” I don’t mean to sound preachy. I’m about to get on a plane with my family and burn lots of fossil fuel to travel to see relatives during the Christmas holiday. If I were serious, I would not get on that plane, right? I’d make a statement by not traveling. All of that bicycle riding I do for commuting is for naught with one pleasure trip during the holidays. Further, I don’t know how most of us will face down the temptation to exploit the earth unsustainably when this exhaustion of resources described in detail by Geoffrey Miller is intimately tied to our sense of self-worth and our craving to display our worthiness to those around us.
My mood was captured by James Taylor in a haunting song from his 1997 Hourglass album, a song titled “Gaia”:
The sky was light and the land all dark
The sun rose up over Central Park
I was walking home from work
The petal sky and the rosy dawn
The world turning on the burning sun
Sacred wet green one we live on
Run run run run said the automobile and we ran
Run for your life take to your heels
Foolish school of fish on wheels
Turn away from your animal kind
Try to leave your body just to live in your mind
Leave your cold cruel mother earth behind
As if you were your own creation
As if you were the chosen nation
And the world around you just a rude and
Someone`s got to stop us now
Save us from us Gaia
No one`s gonna stop us now
We thought we ought to walk awhile
So we left that town in a single file
Up and up and up mile after mile after mile
We reached the tree line and I dropped my pack
Sat down on my haunches and I looked back down
Over the mountain
Helpless and speechless and breathless
Pray for the forest pray to the tree
Pray for the fish in the deep blue sea
Pray for yourself and for God`s sake
Say one for me
Poor wretched unbeliever
Someone`s got to stop us now
Save us from us Gaia
No one`s gonna stop us now
Tonight I was taught how to get serious about sustainability. Most people I know merely talk the talk, and they would rarely, if ever, consider making significant voluntary changes to their life styles in order to preserve the planet. Solar panels on the roof? It might offend the neighbors. Take public transportation? Outside of a handful of American cities, it is considered beneath one’s dignity to the extent that one can afford to own a car. Refrain from taking a pleasure trip across the world? Why would anyone do that? Car pool? Are you crazy? Ride a bicycle to work? I can’t because I might get sweaty. Eat only local food? I need more variety!
Tonight I listened to Tony Sirna describe Dancing Rabbit, a community of people truly dedicated to shrinking their ecological footprint. He discussed his community, sustainable living options, and what the future holds for all of us. The following is from the introductory literature to the presentation:
Dancing Rabbit Eco-village in Northern Missouri has been at the fore since 1997 and its members are living one vision of a sustainable future right now.
Over the last 15 years Dancing Rabbit has built over 25 energy-efficient homes using reclaimed lumber and natural building methods such as strawbale and cob. By reducing electricity use to less than 10% of the American norm, the village is now a net exporter of renewable energy. Three vehicles are shared among the 75 residents, who drive only 7% of the US average. Food production is integrated into the design of the pedestrian-scale village. Cooperation, a strong gift economy, and a vibrant alternative currency support the economic stability of the community. Natural ecosystems are preserved and restored on the community’s 280-acre land trust. Sustainability is not just a dream. The residents of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage are living it right now.
I learned that the 75 residents of Dancing Rabbit use only 10% of the energy of the average American. They do this through the power of cooperation–a strongly interconnected community that strongly encourages each other. This is not a religious community. It is not a group that shares it’s income (every individual controls his or her own wealth).
The residents have erected a small village of homes, mostly built of clay, sand and straw. These are small houses by modern standards–about 1/3 the size of new houses in the U.S., but this is the size of a typical house from the 1950s. The community compact forbids the private ownership of cars. Three community vehicles are shared among the 75 residents. Ride sharing is strongly encouraged, and almost no one drives alone.
Water use is only about 12 gallons per day per person, compared to 135 gallons for the typical American. They accomplish this through composting toilets, cisterns for rain and constructive wetlands. They are getting fairly close to having zero carbon buildings. The aim is to be entirely free of fossil fuel. They grow much of the food they eat.
The residents include many college educated people, many of whom work jobs from the isolated village up in Scotland County, Missouri. Some of the residents run a B&B in the village. The original residents were transplants from Stanford University; that was 15 years ago. Sirna indicates that it is an extremely fulfilling lifestyle, where residents live life by their values, among those who share their values. The current plan is to recruit more residents in order to expand the eco-village to 500 residents.