The Green Adventure

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Should We Just Give Up Now?

Yesterday I flew home from a visit with my parents. On my connecting flight from Newark, sitting next to my sleeping child (what a dream!) and getting a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty out of the window, I allowed myself to consider the fact that it may be too late to try to halt the effects of climate change. Truly, is it impossible to turn this ship around so quickly?

For the past 18 months or so, Mark and I have been working very hard. We've been focused on saving for our retirement and are strongly considering having another child. But, now we are asking ourselves, "why?" Climate change is already occurring. The only hope that we now have is that we can slow the destruction enough for the Earth to be able to heal itself and maintain enough suitable habitat for us, our children, and possibly future children and their food sources to be able to survive. But, is it possible to change our global energy system so quickly (within 10 years or so) to renewable sources in order to halt our overwhelming output of carbon emissions?
Right now our entire economy is based on fossil fuels that are literally destroying our land, air and water. We can't survive without these ecosystems. In a nutshell, there will be nowhere for humans to LIVE! But, currently fossil fuels build, heat, cool and run our homes, fuel all of our transportation systems and are necessary for growing a majority of our nations' food supplies. Additionally, fossil fuels power essentially all of the manufacturing of our clothing, household appliances, children's toys and other goods. Fossil fuels build, heat, cool and run all of our schools, hospitals, office buildings, grocery stores and malls. Without daily, massive burning of fossil fuels, civilization as we know it can not exist. Or, can it?

Should we just give up now and party for the next 10 years until we know for certain that we are doomed, and then kill ourselves off to leave the Earth for the species of plants and animals that are taking much better care of it? Should I just forget about having another child and spend Little A's college savings and my own retirement savings on a trip around the world or cocktails in the Caribbean?

As equally depressing and tempting as that sounds, I have another solution. As we flew from Newark to Detroit yesterday, I noticed something else outside of the airplane window. What if the millions of rooftops that I could see from the sky were covered with solar panels and then connected to our existing utility grid? Then, quickly and without the need for government intervention or real leadership from anyone in the business community, every American (and potentially global) homeowner, small business owner and big business executive can contribute to radically changing how the global society uses solar energy. In addition, we can each individually or regionally purchase small and micro wind turbines for our homes, neighborhoods and cities. Using capitalism at its best, each of us can do our part to buy ourselves a new energy future for our kids. Using our buying power we can actually buy our children's survival!

In short, to quote Harold Kung, a Northwestern University chemical and biological engineering professor in today's New York Times Letters Section, "Unlike the technology-focused Manhattan Project or the invention of machinery to replace labor, the solution lies within the people-with the aid of technology. Everyone must understand his or her responsibility and contribute to the solution of the energy problem."

The good news is that all of the technology that we need to solve this problem already exists. And, is improving dramatically each year. With the assistance of current state and federal tax credit programs that are available this year, the technology is currently within the financial reach of many citizens and business owners and is widely available. Plus, any power that you produce above your own home or business energy needs must be bought by your utility company at their rates.

So, what are we waiting for? Why isn't it just as common to see solar panels on every suburban rooftop as it is to see an SUV in every suburban driveway (the panels in most cases are cheaper)? I believe that the only reason that we are not more rapidly transitioning to renewable solar and wind energy systems is that people who can afford this technology don't know about it, and don't know about the financial incentives for buying it right now. And, the big energy companies are actively hiding this from us because they are rapidly advancing the financing and building of dirty coal plants and dangerous nuclear plants that are currently cheaper for them. They know that within just a couple of years these types of energy systems are likely to become much more expensive as carbon emissions are likely to be taxed in either a direct taxation or market based system. So, they want to reap their big profits now and try to grandfather into the new regulations the plants that they are building right now (over 100 nationally, many of which will be in Texas polluting that state the most.)

Now that you understand the solution. Will you join me? I will tell you exactly how to be the first family on your block to have your own home-based renewable energy system safely installed, and how to find out your federal and state tax benefits for doing so by the end of the week. I will also tell you exactly how to fight the new coal and nuclear plants in your state that are being built right now.

As always, send me your thoughts and ideas, and send this to everyone that you know (especially those with money and /or kids.) We're all in this together. For me, it's all for Little A (and maybe baby #2?). Will we do what we need to do to give them someplace to live when they grow up. After all, what good is their college savings if there is nowhere for them to LIVE?


  • solar panels are still inherently expensive and inefficient.
    nuclear power would be the way to go - france already gets the majority of it's power from nuclear energy. too many people have a fear of nuclear power that is unwarranted.

    i wouldn't give up. just realize that yes we are a energy consuming nation and fossil fuels are here to stay. We also get a lot of plastics, lubricants, etc from oil.

    More good reading:
    I don't buy it, but good reading nonetheless.

    By Blogger rubbin, at 10:15 AM  

  • Thanks for your comment, but I respectfully disagree.

    I disagree that solar panels are truly expensive. It might cost as much as a car (depending on where you live and your level of household energy efficiency) to fully power a large suburban home. But, isn't that worth the savings for future generations? And, read this report:
    to see the huge increase in nuclear power plants that we would require to meet our "business as usual" energy needs. We could spend as much using current solar and wind technology and developing better solar and wind technology over the next few years and achieve results that are much less impacting on future generations (and cost very little to run once implemented.) Look at some of the "green tech" companies that are attracting the dollars of sophisticated tech investors as we speak.

    Thanks for joining the adventure!

    By Blogger Jessica, at 4:15 PM  

  • We are about to get solar panels. We live in Austin, have a wonderful roof for them, will get 3 kW of panels, will have city rebates as well as federal -- and it will still take about 25 years for them to pay for themselves. Longer than they will be warrantied for, and even though we plan on living here for a long time, probably longer than we will be in this home for. We buy cars because we need them immediately. Nobody likes how much they cost, but some portion of that cost is laregly unavoidable. Going solar is a huge investment with no obvious immediate benefit. (If you are on the grid, you can't even use your own electricity if the city grid goes down, so it isn't even protection against power outages.)

    What I simply don't understand is even if we can "turn it around", the world is going to be a much harder place to live in from now until many, many years from now. Why isn't anyone talking about how to deal with these unavoidable, already here changes? I think the only people that "get it" are the insurance industry, which is trying to get people to not live on the coasts anymore. Why spend so much money fighting to save (or drill in) Alaska if the permafrost won't support the construction? We all just keep making plans as though we don't have major cities in danger and we don't have to worry about mass migrations soon -- but we do, whether or not we can reverse the trend.

    As for the comment about fossil fuels being here to stay -- um, I think we don't have a say about that. They're going to go away whether we want them to or not. It is, after all, a NON-RENEWABLE resource. Reversing global-warming or not, we've also got to figure out how to live without oil.

    By Blogger Sleepy, at 4:40 PM  

  • I'm intrigued, and I know DH would be up for it if we could get it past the HOA.

    Last I knew, the cost to build a solar panel (in terms of the fossil fuels burned to manufacture the panel, ship it, etc) didn't balance out the energy produced over its lifetime. I think it's getting better and may have shifted to a win by now, but I haven't seen current research.

    He's told me nothing of mini wind turbines, though, and I'd prefer those.

    By Blogger Wynnie, at 12:36 PM  

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