28 March 2010

Here are some of my thoughts relative to Paradigms Episode#43:

Humans have always had a relationship with the sky. From the time when some critter first looked up until this moment, the sky has held mystery, sustenance, danger, beauty; we created sky gods to explain the mysteries; we created religions with sky gods loving and harsh, reflecting different parts of human nature.

Now we look to the sky again, but in a different way. We look to the sky the way a sailor looks to the sea. We are on earth, floating traveling in “the sky” the cosmos, in a state of constant intercourse with existence, literally exchanging particles from “out there” and particles from “below.” Any magician, witch, shaman, or other such practitioner as well as any physicist will tell you that we are conduits for earth and sky energy to travel through. We are each a cauldron where those energies mix. We bring earth to sky and sky to earth.

That's all very esoteric. It isn't a big stretch, though, to reframe those metaphysical concepts as physical ones when discussing development of solar and wind generated electricity. This is just another new way to relate with the sky.

Solar generated electricity is inspired by plants; by photosynthesis, where plants use chlorophyll to turn sunlight into sugar. They capture the energy of the sun and make it tangible through photosynthesis. We haven't yet learned to be as benign as plants. We use materials from the Earth to make solar panels, inverters, etc. There is research into how we can learn more from the process of photosynthesis. However we have learned how to gather sunlight and turn it into electricity. The use of a variety of devices that do this is becoming more and more widespread. The sun that warms us and makes our food grow also powers our various tools and toys; amazing, and yet how natural it seems.

Wind has always been a part of the natural cycles. Who doesn't love a breeze on a hot summer afternoon, or fear a tornado? More than just providing comfort and danger, wind pollinates all manner of growing things, and carries the moisture growing things need. Consider for a moment wind blowing all around this planet carrying water and seeds. That is an enormous part of the life cycle on earth. Humans have been harnessing wind to turn wheels for a relatively short amount of time, and we are getting better at it. Of course the devices we use are also made from earthly materials. We now have the ability to make a wheel that turns in the wind thus generating electricity. How elegant. Watching a windmill is entrancing and relaxing.

Both solar and wind power applications embody the confluence of Earth and Sky. Permaculture teaches us that the path to sustainability is the path of nature. By imitating nature as much as possible in our technologies, we will damage the Earth less while we provide for our needs. We have learned to generate electricity with wind and sunlight, and it's happening more and more all around the planet.

It is now possible to put solar panels on any building, given that the orientation of the building and the climate are within the parameters needed. It is possible to have a wind generator from small to large depending on site and need. Micro- and Nano-Hydro turbines are available and can turn any stream or river into a generator of electricity without hurting the stream or river.

Taking efficiency even further, these devices can be made with recycled materials. There are millions of tons of metal in the US alone that are not in use. There is an enormous supply of plastics which can be reused. There is also a huge supply of people who need jobs. I see the potential for a win/win scenario that gives people jobs, cleans up some of our mess, and generates clean electricity.

If you like these ideas and wonder how you can contribute to this transition, here are a few ideas. If you own a building, install solar and/or wind power generation. If you listened to Episode #43 of Paradigms you heard about some of the ways this can be paid for, or can cost you nothing. If you don't own a building you can contact your local utility and encourage them to go with renewables. Be in touch with your legislators at the state and federal levels. If you're a renter, talk with your landlord about installing wind and/or solar; talk with people about these possibilities, generate your own ideas. Imagine a society where there are solar panels and windmills and small hydro installations. The air would be cleaner, more people would have jobs, the destructive practices associated with coal and nuclear would have stopped; no more mountaintop removal, no more uranium mining. We can get there but only if enough of us are committed.

14 March 2010

Tonight Derrik Jordan is on Paradigms. He's a kind person, an amazing musician, and we are fortunate to have access to a rare recording of a piece he composed for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Odzihozo And The Lake. Tune in for 90 minutes of music and interview with Derrik Jordan at 8 PM EST on WBKM.org or http://paradigms.bz.

07 March 2010

I am writing this in response to Episode #40 of Paradigms, which aired Sunday, March 7, 2010.

I decided to do a show on the issue of nuclear power and whether or not it is a viable solution for electrical power generation. I found two people to interview on opposing sides of the issue. I did not disclose to either of them my own opinions until after the interview. I have a bias to be sure, but I have done my best to keep it out of the radio episode. The show has aired, and now I am exploring and sharing my thoughts and feelings.

At first, after conducting the interview with Mr. Comby, I thought of nuclear power as a wedge issue between two fundamentally different worldviews; one seeing the world as essentially mechanical, with western culture at the apex of human achievement, and one which views Earth as a living being with humanity as one of many parts of that life. In the first example nuclear power is seen as essential for the preservation and continuation of the overarching western cultural paradigm. Its cons are seen as manageable within the mechanistic framework, while its pros are seen as essential. At the root of this set of beliefs is fear of “reverting back” to a more “primitive” way of living. Once having eaten the proverbial “ fruit of the tree of knowledge,” electrically powered technology, it is believed that one cannot go back. The other world view sees nuclear power with it's environmentally destructive mining and the accompanying displacement of indigenous people, previously subterranean radioactivity released upon the surface of the Earth, and exaltation of technology, as anathema to the life of the Earth. These two worldviews, which I have oversimplified for brevity, certainly seem on the surface to be mutually exclusive.

After the second interview, with Mr. Riccio I realized that my “two worldviews” scenario was wrong. Of course there are as many worldviews as there are people. Neither Mssrs Comby or Riccio discussed aspects of nuclear power that have to do with the aforementioned mining and cultural destruction. Neither of them discussed the fundamental problems with the economic structure within which corporations and governments advocate nuclear power. And neither of them discussed the many behaviors we can change in order to live within our (energy) means. It is no accident that technological cultures on Earth are all finding themselves in debt with failing economies. The debt is what we have borrowed from the Earth by way of exploitation of “resources.”

It is clear to me, from these two interviews, that while I believe there are villains involved in the nuclear power industry, there are also people involved who are not villains. Mr. Comby was a pleasure to talk with, and clearly cares about the future of humanity. I would have to say that there are probably villains in the anti nuclear camp as well, but Mr. Riccio was not one of them. He came across as earnest and passionate and caring about the future of humanity.

What I found lacking in both interviews were statements of caring about the life of the Earth, humanity aside. Both interviewees were focused on the plight of humanity, not of life on Earth as a whole. I say this having spent 15 to 30 minutes with each of them. I imagine, with more time and deeper conversation, both Comby and Riccio would have much more to say about the life of the Earth.

Earth has been here for a while, and we are a relatively recent development. Whatever damage we may do, in geological time, it is a blip. Maybe we cannot really injure the planet. Maybe we can. I don't think anyone can know for sure.

In terms of nuclear power, if we want to continue with the mechanization of humanity, with “mind” as ruler of all, with disregard to the integrated nature of life on Earth, nuclear is the way to go. One can ignore, to a point, problems with radiation and disease, destruction of Earth to mine for uranium, and the confluence of business and government that the nuclear power industry requires in order to function. I think this solution will actually ring the death knell for civilization as we know it because it is part of a paradigm that is ever and increasingly destructive, and is clearly unsustainable. The anti nuclear power position as represented by Jim Riccio also has gaps in it. It’s not enough for us to simply say no to nuclear power. We need to critically assess the entire paradigm that allows for the kind of compartmentalization the nuclear power model calls for. In fact, there is no “environment” separate from us, to protect. There is simply Life on Earth and we are part of that life.

My vision involves some fundamental changes to how humanity operates.

1) We need to reduce the global human population to somewhere between 1 and 2 billion. The current strategy for population control involves war, manufactured diseases, and the maintenance of poverty with its accompanying short life span. We need, instead, for birth control to be available along with information about the plight of the world, to give people good reason to have less children. There are still cultures on Earth where the people depend on their children to do physical work like growing food and tending animals, and those peoples, the few left, are NOT the ones whose large families are literally eating the planet. It's the consumer societies whose disproportionate use of “resources,” gifts from the earth, that are problematic.

2) We have the knowledge and the experience within our common humanity to live in ways that demand less of the Earth. If we use what we know, we can reuse much of what we have discarded, and reduce with an aim to eventually stopping, all mining. When I refer to mining I mean digging drilling and otherwise taking from the Earth minerals and substances that we are currently extracting to form into all kinds of things.

3) It is time to end war. Besides the obvious loss of human life involved, war is one of the biggest polluters. Modern warfare involves the toxin-producing manufatcure and use of devices which cause explosions, burning, release of dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, and radioactive munitions which damage all life forms in proximity. We already see how the use of depleted uranium munitions in the “first gulf war” has created a catastrophe in Iraq. The rate of childhood leukemia is off the charts. The use of DU during the invasion of Iraq has also caused a huge increase in birth defects.

The upshot of my vision is that it is time for humanity to grow up, to learn to live in peace, to respect the Earth, to stop greedily gobbling up everything in sight. Humanity is still, by and large, behaving like a child for whom nothing matters but it's own gratification. That is a normal developmental stage, and one that children navigate and outgrow. It is time for humanity to do the same. Nuclear power, to return to the original topic, is part of the “gimme gimme” stage of development, the narcissistic, where one believes one is entitled to whatever one wants and will take it no matter the consequences. There are clearly consequences with nuclear power. We must weigh our desires against what is viable in nature, for after all, nature was here first, we are part of nature, and the laws of nature govern humanity no matter how hard we may try to escape them. Clearly, we cannot escape the ways of nature, and in my view should not, since we are part of nature. Why try to control nature? That brings us back to narcissism.

In conclusion I would like to say that I learned a lot putting together Episode #40 of Paradigms. The main things I learned are that 1) Not all advocates of nuclear power are villains. 2) Nuclear power is symbolic of an immature humanity, one which will either grow up or not; a humanity faced with taking responsibility for our actions and their consequences, past present and future. We'll see what happens.