Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I love doing radio interviews because they force me to think fast on my feet. Sitting at my computer while looking out at my pond and my solar panels and my wind turbine, I can take the time to ponder. But when someone asks you a question on the radio, you need to give him or her an answer. Quickly. And hope that it’s halfway intelligent.
I did a radio interview the other morning and told the audience that using a geothermal heating system will reduce how much natural gas you burn, so you leave that carbon sequestered in the ground. The first caller got on and started debunking climate change and suggested that it was all a big lie started by Ken Lay at Enron. After watching the documentary “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” I wouldn’t put it past Ken Lay. So while the caller and I might not agree on whether climate change is real or not, we certainly have some common ground. It wasn’t until listening to the first newsbreak that I realized I was being interviewed on a FOX News station. Later we’d discuss the Tea Party.
So how does an off-grid living, universal health-care loving, Green Party-supporting leftie reach out to someone who supports the Tea Party? I needed to convince these listeners to embrace renewable energy, because I do believe in climate change, and want them to burn less fossil fuel.
So instead of appealing to their desire to do their part against climate change I appealed to their strong feelings about independence. The angle is perfectly logical. It’s the American Spirit. It’s that American Independence that inspired their ancestors to toss tea off of British Ships because they were tired of living under someone else’s thumb. How is that any different from working for a living, having part of your income taken by government, then spending what you have left on utilities? Take your after-tax dollars and send them to some guy in a tacky polyester suit in a big office tower to sell you natural gas, or electricity, or propane. What a dumb idea. And you have to keep doing this for the rest of your life. As long as you want your house warm, your food refrigerated or hot water for a shower, you are going to keep taking your after-tax dollars and sending them to somebody else for those essentials, until you’re in a pine box. You’re part of the masses that are experiencing American DEpendence. Pay somebody else, for EVERYTHING. Don’t do or make anything yourself. Where is that in the American Constitution?
From there it’s an easy sell on renewable energy. A geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system saves buying natural gas or propane or home heating oil. It also cuts in half how much electricity you need to buy in the summer for central air conditioning because you’re extracting that “cool” air from the ground. A solar domestic hot water system saves you buying fossil fuel for hot water. Photovoltaic solar panels on your roof save you from having to buy electricity to keep food refrigerated. It’s really simple. Yes, you have to spend some money upfront, but the stuff lasts forever. It’s a one shot deal for a lifetime of independence. Woo Hoo. Strap on your drum, grab a flute, I’ll get the flag and put that bandage on my head kids, we’re putting up solar panels!
Where I live in Eastern Ontario millions spent weeks without electricity during an ice storm in January of 1998. People couldn’t heat their homes, didn’t have food or water, and couldn’t get gas because pumps need electricity. It was a disaster. A couple of generations ago, our grandparents wouldn’t have even noticed an ice storm. Oh they might have spilled some milk walking back from the barn when they slipped on the ice, but their farmhouse would be warm, they would be able to pump water and they would have food stored in the root cellar for their dinner. I think they’d be disgusted at what we’ve become. Beholden to someone else for all the things that have become essential to maintain life. How did this happen?
Putting up some solar panels or installing a clean burning woodstove is the ultimate way to thumb your nose at a centralized power system. Pull the plug, go off grid. Opt out of the system that makes the guys in the suits at the top rich and compels you to keep sending off what’s left of your paycheque after the government gets its share. Since the technology exists for you to live off-grid and opt out of that “dependence” system, I think the onus is on every Tea Party member to call up a dealer and gets some solar panels on their roof. Saving coal from being burned in a centralized power plant… who cares, that’s not why you’re doing it. It isn’t about CO2. It isn’t about climate change. It’s about getting some utility company’s hand out of your pocket.
The radio host asked me about the ultimate in NIBMYism; “BANANA” which stands for “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.” This has grown out of the opposition to large wind and solar farms, and coal and natural gas peaking plants. As I told the radio audience, “The Renewable Energy Handbook” advocates small-scale energy generation, which is almost invisible. Who could complain about solar panels on your roof, a solar domestic hot water panel on your roof, or a geothermal heating system in your driveway or front yard? On a large scale we should be using Co-generation and Combined Heat and Power to stop the line losses and huge amounts of heat that are wasted with a centralized electricity distribution system. Every nuclear plant generates 3 nuclear plants’ worth of wasted heat that no one wants (because it’s from a nuclear plant). So put a Combined Heat & Power turbine in your office/factory/apartment building, make your own electricity and use the waste heat for hot water and to heat the building. It’s really basic stuff. It’s more efficient. It’s less wasteful. No one would see it. How can anyone be against that?
Finally a caller who supported my independence theme asked what would happen when the government starts taxing the sun or the heat that your geothermal system extracts from the ground. I didn’t have a response. In Canada, our right wing, or “Conservative” government has hired 30,000 workers, not counting the military, since it came to power. It’s run up unnecessary, astronomical deficits. In the current election campaign it’s seems to be offering to give away all the money it would take in taxes to get re-elected. So my response to the government taxing the sun was that I really think they have bigger fish to fry. And the last time I watched the news, people in North Africa and the Middle East were making it pretty clear what they thought of living under repressive regimes.
All I know is that right now my solar panels and wind turbine power my house and keep everything from water pumps to fridges and freezers working great. My hot water comes from the sun. My heat comes from the trees on my property. I grow much of my own food. Oh look! I can see “the rockets’ red glare, and the bombs bursting in air…” They’re reflected off my solar panels in the moonlight. Independence. It’s a good thing.
The Spirit of '76 photo from Wikicommons. Other photos by Cam & Michelle Mather.