Economic Outlook: Our Planet's Solar Economy

What our political leaders need to realize is that, directly or indirectly, we live in a solar economy and always will.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1979
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Energy from the sun underlies all the natural and human-made systems on which we rely. In effect, we live in a solar economy.
ILLUSTRATION: MORGANIMATION/FOTOLIA


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Check out this dramatic short movie.

It was ballyhooed—Little Jimmy Carter's much-awaited Sunday night speech last July 15th—as something that would be "the most important statement of Carter's presidency" and "a fresh, bold, new approach to our energy and economic problems."

There was nothing fresh, bold, or new about it. It was just another of Carter's misdirected sermons, the same old Jimmy serving up the same tired old ideas: "I intend to push at least 142 billion dollars' worth of additional government meddling into your lives ... ram more nuclear white elephants down your throats ... rape your air, the water your children drink, and the country's land with the worst possible 'synfuel' program that can be devised ... and create turmoil and confusion by calling the oil companies names, cursing the OPEC nations, and enforcing government-mandated fuel allocations and wage/price 'guidelines' which can only disrupt and hamstring the natural laws of supply and demand."

All topped, of course, by what Little Jimmy seemed to think was his all-around Good Guy/Great Visionary/Wonderful Environmentalist trump card: "Trust me and this new 142-billion dollar morass of government interference that I intend to create, and by the year 1990 I'll fulfill a full 20% of America's energy requirements with the sun!"

Dear Lord! When will the idiots in Washington (Carter, unfortunately, is only one of a multitude) realize that virtually everything on this planet—directly or indirectly—either comes from or is powered by the sun?

We live in a Grade A, certified, nearly 100% solar economy right now! We always have. We always will. And it's high time Little Jimmy Carter and the rest of the pygmies along the Potomac began to realize exactly what that means. And what it means is this:

Everything that everyone touches or uses or does every day and every night is—either directly or indirectly—almost 100% solar powered. ("Almost" because there are a few other forces in the universe which do influence life on earth—for instance, gravitational force exerted by the mass of the moon, starlight that strikes our planet's surface, random meteorites and space "dust" which add a certain amount of mass to the world each year, etc.)

For all practical purposes, however, everything that we need and want and use every day and night of our lives either directly or indirectly comes from the sun, is purified by the sun, is renewed by the sun, is powered by the sun, is changed from a form that we cannot use into a form that we can use by solar energy.

The sun's rays drive the whole hydrological cycle which "distills" water from the earth's oceans, transports that vapor to the planet's land masses, and condenses it into cool rains. Rains which slowly transform rock into soil, refresh the earth's vegetation and animals, and carry nutrients down into the oceans for the use of aquatic life before—once again—endlessly repeating the same vital solar-powered cycle.

That's the biggie. And while it's going on, myriad forms of plant life—supported by solar-created soil—are busily collecting ol' Sol's rays and turning them into biomass (roots, stems, branches, leaves, blossoms, fruit, seeds, etc.). Which—in turn—feeds animals, birds, and humans; houses us, clothes us, warms us when we burn it; sometimes turns into petroleum, natural gas, and coal for our later use; serves us in countless other ways; or simply falls over and decomposes into soil which eventually supports new vegetation that just as faithfully feeds us, houses us, clothes us, etc. the next time around.

And all the while, that same solar-powered plant life is shading us in the summer and then automatically dropping its leaves during the winter so that more of the sun's rays will reach us just when we need them most. And that vegetation is constantly using solar radiation to purify our air and our water for us. And to regulate our micro-climate while—on a planetary scale—another portion of the sun's rays which strike the earth's atmosphere is powering the winds which distribute the pollen that fertilizes our crops, and turn the blades of our windmills, and push our sailing vessels across the oceans, and distribute those cooling rains . . . and do so much more to make human life and commerce possible.

In short: We live in a solar economy now, we always have, and we always will. And our intricately interrelated, solar-powered web of life operates—and can only operate—on a decentralized, planetwide, all-inclusive basis. The cooling of the shaded side of the globe exactly balances the warming of the planet's sunlight face; what goes up over the oceans must eventually come down on the land; the pack rat which scampers along the spine of the Rocky Mountains is indeed distantly related to the sea slug burrowing into the bottom of the Pacific.

Furthermore, you can't tear a hole in that solar-driven, planetary web of life anywhere on the earth's surface without making the web tremble—albeit ever so slightly—everywhere on the face of the globe. Little rips, of course, send very small shock waves across the mesh of life. But large rents—the overgrazing of the Sahel in Africa, the bulldozing away of the Amazon Basin, or the pulverizing of our western states' shale into oil—can visibly alter our planet's weather patterns, change rich valleys into barren deserts, and pit brother against brother 10,000 miles away.

It is obvious, then, that the way of life which is best for our society is that way which most nearly parallels the natural lines of force; that way which does the least damage to our delicate solar-powered web of life; that way which is most evenly spread out and balanced and decentralized.

Decentralization. That's the key.

Yet another massive, centralized, bureaucrat-ridden, 142-billion-dollar (which, as we all know, will probably wind up costing us trillions in the end) rape of the planet is the last thing we need to "solve" our current problems. That's only more of the same lunacy which got us into our present absurd position in the first place. There's nothing "fresh" or "bold" or "new" about such a "solution" at all. It's merely an unimaginative extension of the identical line of thought that exterminated the passenger pigeon, nearly wiped out the buffalo, and turned the rich loam of the Great Plains into a dust bowl.

God save us from any more such "solutions." Especially when the real answer to our self-inflicted problems is shining down upon us.

Solar energy. It already powers the world's whole ecosystem and all of man- and womankind's economy. And it's so wonderfully decentralized and all-pervasive that every one of us can tap into it merely by putting a few seeds into the ground, or setting a black-painted container of water outside, or adding a row of south-facing windows to our home.

So come on, Mr. Carter. Do something that's really fresh and bold and new: Declare a New Day for the ordinary citizens of your nation, not just for yet another layer of bureaucrats and squanderers of the country's wealth and plunderers of our beautiful planet.

Encourage the American people—on their own and with their own two hands and without any government grants at all—in the construction of passively solar-tempered, earth-sheltered homes. Encourage them to build those dwellings in small, decentralized, food self-sufficient, energy self-sufficient, self-governing, self-reliant, pedestrian communities. Encourage them to rediscover themselves and their families and their neighbors in good, hard, clean, meaningful work.

In other words, encourage your fellow citizens to gather up all the taxing bureaucrats and wasteful politicians who exist only at the expense of each productive citizen and "throw the rascals out"! We'll never miss 'em. Especially if you encourage those citizens to readopt (a modernized version of) the Jeffersonian ideals on which this still-great Republic was founded.

And if you must spend untold billions of our dollars ... well, at least just this once, please spend that money on something that really will do everyone some genuine good and something that is self-limiting because the money only has to be spent once: Spend it on basic solar energy research. Then make the resulting "breakthroughs" freely available to everyone, and let us use the new-found power and self-reliance that we'll have in our hands to once and for all get the increasingly heavy Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor, Big Brother monkeys off our backs.

For you see, Mr. President, just as an old Roman observed many, many years ago: The fault lies not in our stars (and most especially not in the one star—our sun—from which nearly every fragment of our lives already flows). The fault lies in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Beware the Ides of July, Mr. President. For the "fresh" and "bold" and "new" approach to our problems which you so stridently outlined on that night—if taken to its logical conclusion—will kill us all and our beautiful planet too.

And that would be a very foolish thing for us to allow to happen. If we'll only open our eyes and "let the sun shine in," we'll discover a happier economic outlook is within our grasp: a whole new world of peace, plenty, and prosperity.


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