Posts tagged history

Make History Today

I’ve pretty much kept out of the political fray here at Solarious, but on this historic election day at the end of the longest presidential campaign in American memory, one cannot help but realize the importance of participating by voting in this election.  So regardless of the yucky weather (can they plan that?), get out and vote today!  I’ve been so impressed to see people talking for weeks about having voted early to make sure their votes were counted.  Between the official polls and the unofficial internet popular polls, we’re in a unique position to make our voices heard today in a way no prior generation has.

No single act you do this year, perhaps even this decade, will so influence your future possibilities of an off-grid life as getting your vote counted, no matter on which side of the fence you stand.  After all, the next president will be in charge of steering the green market and renewable energy to their destinies.  Who do you want in charge?  See you at the polls!

(If you need a little help deciding, go to SmartVoter.com or VotefortheEnvironment.com and read up on the issues.)

Advertisements

Leave a comment »

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Revolution

The Light Revolution

Health, Architecture, and the Sun

by Dr. Richard Hobday

In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun.  Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day.  And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.

Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss).  The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness.  It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations.  When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.

What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light.  After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight.  According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity.  The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production.  As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.

Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings.  He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals.  In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.

Comments (2) »

BOOK REVIEW: Fresh! Seeds of the Past and Food for Tomorrow

Fresh! Seeds from the Past and Food for Tomorrow

It’s been a big week of reading, trying to stay ahead of the library due dates.  This was a great book, a bit different from any I’ve read before in the general gardening arena.  Brian Patterson takes a scientific look at human history’s tenuous relationship with the foods we eat and illustrates how cultivation of seeds created the culinary landscape we take for granted today.  Part science, part history, and very interesting, he goes beyond the superficial facts and examines cultivation on a chemical level. How did we learn that potatoes, though poisonous when green, can be eaten when cooked?  Or that by fermenting grape juice and adding it to flour, we can enjoy light, fluffy leavened bread, but only if that grape juice doesn’t turn to vinegar first?  When viewed through the lens of science, even the most mundane of foods take on a magical quality.

It’s not a super long book (160 pages) but it’s surprisingly full of facts to be so easy to read.  I especially enjoyed the sections on the global spread of foods from one culture to the next and the final section which contains his look toward to future of plants and humans.  For those considering gardening as a nutritional endeavor, I can’t recommend this enough. Though not expressly a gardening book, you’ll find plenty of solid tips on how to get the most from your plants in terms of flavor and nutrition.  And who doesn’t want either of those?  You’ll also get a clearer understanding of the miracles that led to the availability of foods in your favorite seed catalog, and it may inspire you to try a few new exotic varieties.

There’s also plenty here for those interested in botany or cultural anthropology. After all, seeing what detailed culinary data we can glean from Egyptian society based upon their meticulous burial practices, one can draw some interesting conclusions about how we might preserve our own history for future generations.  For the general reader, and especially for those interested in going off-grid, knowing more about locally grown foods and their health properties can only be helpful in today’s 1500 mile to plate global food culture. And it might make you befriend a local farmer or two for their floral insights.  Strawberries never tasted so sweet as when you know that the farmer used sustainable scientifically sound growing practices to deliver them to your kitchen.

Leave a comment »

QUICKIE: Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive map of Solar installations

If you’re wondering whether solar is here to stay, just check out this great Google mash-up from coolerplanet.com.  It goes year by year to show the progress of solar installations all over the state. Every state should have one of these!  Next up, adding YOUR installation!

Leave a comment »

BOOK REVIEW: Coming Out of the Woods

Coming out of the Woods, Wallace Kaufman

Wallace Kaufman’s website

Coming Out of the Woods - Wallace Kaufman

I first picked up this book because Mr. Kaufman is an alumnus of the same university I attended, and was a self-proclaimed naturalist. Well, I thought, at least we have something in common. The forest he describes in his tale border the ones I spent several weeks in on my college no-impact wilderness trip, so I felt immediately familiar with the place names and general environment he described on each page. But even if I hadn’t been there before, the way in which this story is written literally walks you through the forest, seeing everything with the trained eye of someone who not only observes, but understands the awesome forces which shape natural (and not-so-natural) history. I learned a lot about ways to detect past human presence in an area simply by observing the trees and bushes around you.

But this book is more than a tale about the woods themselves. It’s about living in the woods, humankind’s constant struggle to understand, adapt, and coexist with nature and her varied forms. As such, and as a tale of fatherhood, this book really shines. I found myself wanting to visit Morgan Branch and sit myself in the cool waters running downhill to join the larger stream. To sit alone and listen to the squirrels and birds and bats fly overhead while old-growth trees wave gently overhead. To help break ancient rocks and lift them into place for a self-built house’s foundation. Truly scenery so lovely deserves the loving documentation it receives in Coming Out of the Woods.

Of course, if you see the title, you’ll understand that all tenures have their end, and this is no exception. What would possess a man who has escaped society by the first Earth Day to rejoin it by the end of the millennium? For the answer to that, you’ll have to read the book!

Leave a comment »

MOVIE REVIEW: Who Killed the Electric Car?

Yesterday was a media-rich day for me. Besides reading Power by the People, I also got a chance to check out the 2006 film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, which outlines the rise and fall of the GM EV1. It’s filmed in traditional documentary format, with cameos by Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Mel Gibson, and other celebrity EV1 owners. It’s actually kind of amusing to see these people introduced as “blah blah, EV driver”, without the fanfare associated with their day jobs.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The film starts out outlining the history of California’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle Mandate, enacted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 1993. The mandate stated that in order to sell cars in California, car makers must create at least 10% of their vehicles to be zero-emissions. This led to the further development by GM of the prototype “Impact” car that had won the solar Grand Prix race in 1989. After developing a car that could be marketed, and introducing it at the L.A. Auto Show, GM released some cars for lease in California and Arizona, dubbing it the “EV1”. It was relatively inexpensive, quiet, and very fast. Soon, Ford, Honda, and other car companies were scrambling to make their own electric vehicles so they could compete in the California market. But they weren’t happy about having to devote R&D money to that quest.

The mandate stated that the only way car companies could get around having to produce zero-emissions cars was to prove that there existed no demand for them. So car companies set about doing just that. You’ll see some of the old commercials for electric vehicles, which come off looking more like public service announcements about some scary new disease than a car ad. GM claimed that while they had a waiting list of 4,000 people who wanted an EV1, that list only translated to about 50 car leases. Ask Chelsea Sexton, the EV1 sales representative who is interviewed throughout the film what she thinks of that, and you’ll meet a lot of skepticism. Many other arguments that the car companies used to “kill the electric car” are also presented, some actually funny in their logic.

Regardless of what the car companies thought about investing in electric vehicles, the death blow to the Zero-Emissions Vehicle Mandate came from within… when in 2003, CARB actually repealed the very Mandate it had drafted, due to pressure from the car companies and a powerful new lobby, backed by the Bush administration: Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Shortly after the mandate died its grizzly death (see the movie for details about the decline and the players behind it), GM bought the Hummer car line, and within a month, quietly closed its EV1 facility and laid off the staff there. Then something strange happened. GM began a systematic recall of its EV1 vehicles, threatening legal action against those who did not allow GM to personally come and pick up the cars. By 2004, there were no cars left in private hands.

If you’re still reading, this is a movie that you should see, so I won’t go into the details about the recall campaign and the protests that followed this unprecedented action. Suffice it to say that the car companies promised one thing and did entirely something else, stifling real technological advances in the process. And governmental regulators? Well, I’ve never loved ’em, but it’s very disheartening to see how the oil industry, the car companies, and legislators colluded to feed a gas-hungry economy more high-fuel toys. Like tax credits: $4,000 for an electric vehicle, or $100,000 for a vehicle over 6,000 pounds (ie. the Hummer). 100k for owning a Hummer? On what planet does that make sense? Certainly not this one.

So, yes, watch this movie. It’s as much about how the long fingers of corporations and the government have entwined our lives as it even is about the technology behind the EV1. But that is a valuable lesson to learn, especially if you’re someone planning to make a change in the world. Just watch what happens to the Oshanskys when they introduce a new battery technology to the car companies. It isn’t pretty. But in the end, the message is positive. Progress can be stifled, but it cannot be stopped. Good technologies WILL find their way the marketplace if there is a demand for them. It is up to us, the consumers, to demand products that embrace alternative energy technologies, rather than letting the powers-that-be spoon feed us their idea of the future.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: