Thursday, March 15, 2012

When environmentalists won't grow up

The most obvious difference between a child's thinking and that of an aware adult is that the grown-up has developed effective mechanisms for evaluating and ordering risk.  If we actually lived in a society run by grown-ups, we would be doing something about the risks of the related mega-calamities posed by Peak Oil and Climate Change.  Or as the best-educated guy I have ever known said to me shortly before he died a year ago, "If we treated Climate Change with the seriousness it deserves, news about it would occupy all the space above the fold in every newspaper on earth for the rest of our lives."

This is a short speech by James Hansen—the guy whose Senate testimony in 1988 woke me up to the subject of the greenhouse effect.  He is the sort of guy that NASA relied on when they were racing to the moon—a genius farm-kid science graduate of a midwest land-grant university. Tom Wolff in his book on USA's space program called The Right Stuff was quoting Eric Hoffer when he claimed Apollo 11 was a "triumph of the squares."  I live around these people—Hoffer was absolutely right!  Hansen is from Iowa and was one of James Van Allen's (of the Van Allen Belt) fair-haired boys at Iowa City.  As Wolff so correctly pointed out, it was the intellectual horsepower from the institutions of the Big Ten, and others like them, that powered the space race—NOT the "name" schools like M.I.T. or Cal Tech which went largely missing in action.  That Hansen was one of Van Allen's prodigies means he truly is a rocket scientist's rocket scientist.

Here is this serious man with serious credentials talking about perhaps the most serious problem ever faced by the human race—a problem caused by us and which can only be solved by us.  And what is his reward?  He has been relentlessly vilified by the 9th-rate scientists who have sold whatever is left of their shriveled souls to whatever rich fools are willing to fund an organized attack on the hard sciences.

Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies myself. --Voltaire

We have this tiny amount of time to make this massive adjustment to how we live our lives.  Since the invention of fire, the human race has depended on fuels to do vital and necessary jobs.  And now we are supposed to put out all but the MOST critically essential fires or we destroy our habitat?  Well, yes!

And here's where the grownups must step in.  As we see in the following article, small steps away from the dependence on fire is being sabotaged by folks worrying about horned toads.  If we don't transition away from fire, the toads all die along with the rest of us.  Considering how stark is this reality, wouldn't it be better of we first saved the planet even IF it means that horned toads have to live with solar collectors in their neighborhood?  In fact, there is very little to suggest that PV cells would destroy the horned toads in the neighborhood.  Yet we let this trivial and specious possibility get in the way of making progress towards solving a real problem—and all the while, the clock is ticking.

It's thinking like this that has prevented the USA environmental movement from accomplishing anything for the last 35 years.  Of course, the problem here is not merely the hippies, it's the legal system that helps stop necessary projects.
Solar power firms in Mojave desert feel glare of tribes and environmentalists
Presence of horned toads and desert tortoises are holding up production at multimillion-dollar sites in California

Edward Helmore in Blythe, California  Sunday 11 March 2012 

Of the many projects commissioned by the Obama administration to showcase its commitment to renewable energy, few are as grandly futuristic as the multibillion-dollar solar power projects under construction across broad swaths of desert on the California-Arizona border.

But at least two developments, including the $1bn, 250-megawatt Genesis Solar near Blythe in the lower Colorado river valley and the Solar Millennium project, are beset with lengthy construction delays, while others are facing legal challenges lodged by environmental groups and Native American groups who fear damage to the desert ecology as well as to ancient rock art and other sacred heritage sites.

Out on the stony desert floor, Native Americans say, are sites of special spiritual significance, specifically involving the flat-tailed horned toad and the desert tortoise.

"This is where the horny toad lives," explains Alfredo Figueroa, a small, energetic man and a solo figure of opposition who could have sprung from the pages of a Carlos Castaneda novel, pointing to several small burrows. Figueroa is standing several hundred metres into the site of Solar Millennium, a project backed by the Cologne-based Solar Millennium AG. The firm, which has solar projects stretching from Israel to the US, was last month placed in the hands of German administrators and its assets listed for disposal.

Figueroa is delighted with the news. "Of all the creatures, the horny toad is the most sacred to us because he's at the centre of the Aztec sun calendar," he says. "And the tortoise also, who represents Mother Earth. They can't survive here if the developers level the land, because they need hills to burrow into."

Figueroa, 78, a Chemehuevi Indian and historian with La Cuna de Aztlán Sacred Sites Protection Circle, has become one of the most vocal critics of the solar programme and expresses some unusually bold claims as to the significance of this valley: he claims it is the birthplace of the Aztec and Mayan systems of belief. He points out the depictions of a toad and a tortoise on a facsimile of the Codex Borgia, one of a handful of divinatory manuscripts written before the Spanish conquest.

On a survey of the 2,400-hectare site Figueroa points out a giant geoglyph, an earth carving he says represents Kokopelli, a fertility deity often depicted as a humpbacked flute player with antenna-like protrusions on his head. Kokopelli, he says, will surely be disturbed if the development here resumes.

The area is known for giant geoglyphs, believed by some to date back 10,000 years. Gesturing towards the mountains, he also describes Cihuacoatl – a pregnant serpent woman – he sees shaped in the rock formations. All of this, he says, amounts to why government-fast-tracked solar programmes in the valley, where temperatures can reach 54C, should be abandoned. It is a matter of their very survival.

"We are traditional people – the people of the cosmic tradition," Figueroa explains. "The Europeans came and did a big number on us. They tried to destroy us. But they were not able to destroy our traditions, and it's because of our traditions and our mythology that we've been able to survive. If we'd blended in with the Wasps – the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants – we'd have been lost long ago."

At the Genesis Solar site, 20 miles west, Florida-based NextEra has begun to develop an 810-hectare site. The brackets that will hold the reflecting mirrors stand like sentinels. Backed by a $825m department of energy loan, Genesis Solar is planned as a centrepiece of the administration's renewable energy programme, with enough generating capacity to power 187,500 homes.

But local Native American groups collectively known as the Colorado River Indian Tribes are demanding that 80 hectares of the development be abandoned after prehistoric grinding stones were found on a layer of ashes they say is evidence of a cremation site "too sacred to disturb". more
Just to prove that it IS possible for sensible people to leave the fire-based life-style, here is a story of a little German town in the former DDR that has basically figured out how to do it.  Not surprisingly, Feldheim has become a mini-mecca for folks anxious to see what happens when you throw real science and engineering at a problem.
A Power Grid of Their Own
German Village Becomes Model for Renewable Energy
By Renuka Rayasam   03/09/2012

The tiny village of Feldheim, some 60 kilometers southwest of Berlin, was catapulted by chance to the forefront of the renewable energy movement. Now visitors from around the world are flocking to this otherwise unremarkable rural community to see if they can replicate its success.

Werner Frohwitter drives his white Prius into Feldheim, parking halfway down the village's one street in front of what looks like a shipping container. Behind the street is a field where 43 giant wind turbines loom over the village's 37 houses. Frohwitter works for Energiequelle Gmbh, which owns the wind park. He greets a Russian camera crew and ushers them into the chilly container, which has become Feldheim's impromptu visitor's center. It's the only sign of life in this otherwise quiet village. Inside, he uses posters on the wall to explain the town's energy transformation for the Russian crew's renewable energy documentary.

This town of 150 inhabitants, tucked away in the Brandenburg countryside some 60 kilometers (37.2 miles) southwest of Berlin seems like an unlikely tourist hotspot. It has no bars, museums or restaurants. But since the Fukushima nuclear disaster one year ago, Feldheim has become a beacon for cities across the world that want to shift their energy mix toward renewables.

Feldheim is the only town in Germany that started its own energy grid and gets all of its electricity and heating through local renewable sources, primarily wind and biogas. This mix of energy self-sufficiency and reliance on renewables attracted 3,000 visitors in 2011. Visitors came from North and South Korea, South America, Canada, Iran, Iraq and Australia. About half of the visitors are from Japan.

Eri Otsu served as a translator for a group of Japanese energy analysts and politicians who came to Germany to see Feldheim. "Feldheim is not a charming Bavarian village; it is gray and they have little," says Otsu, an organic farmer in southern Japan. Still, the group found Feldheim the most impressive of the three German villages they visited because it is energy independent and uses renewables. "They were amazed and said they had never seen anything like that," Otsu says. more

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