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.

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