Posts tagged sustainability

Solarious, the Sequel

It all started with a plan to get a little real-world experience in green. I was going to learn how to use a solar panel, and maybe hook one up to the place where I live, achieve true energy freedom, and hopefully help a few mega-corporations forget my phone number in the process. It felt innocent, idealistic, practical even. So I started Solarious here to follow the journey and catalogue some of the things I learn along the quest for self-sustainability. Today, almost three years later, it’s the journeys I haven’t shared here that have most greatly affected my destiny on this planet. But I’ll have to fill you in on all that later. In an effort to explore the world of green employment and a couple creative projects as well, I took a break from writing here last year. But the good news is I’m back, and could never have guessed how fast things can change even in a single 12 month period!

One major change is that green has finally gone from the niche market to the mainstream. Now I’m not arguing that adoption of policies and practices has approached the levels which it should. If anything we are like scrawny freshmen showing up for the first day of high school, ready to have our minds filled with the “answers” to life. There is so much we don’t know, both in and outside the classroom/laboratory. We are hardly even skilled at figuring out the things we have to know, much less knowing those things themselves. But at the end of that first day of school, we are at least learning that the cool kids aren’t always the established social powers, the big companies and time-honored traditional ways of doing things. No, becoming an entity of value, and not just financial value but a more-encompassing social and existential value, is becoming trendy.

This is an important moment for the “green movement”. Suddenly, you bring your canvas bags to the grocery store and no one stares you down. The farmers markets are crowded like never before if the owners of hybrid cars are an example, then anyone can be persuaded to join the green team! There is a danger posed by the level of acceptance that trendiness brings. This is the period in which society opens its ears to an idea. The people who are committed to this idea have a responsibility to carry the weight of the lifestyle they espouse. If people think that going green is about canvas bags and farmers markets and fair trade certified and recycling, then it will become something like so many movements before, a fad which fails to entertain its masters, and what an opportunity we will have lost in an age of potential.

When I started to learn about sustainable living, I was fascinated by the number of different ways in which you can change your life to become more self-reliant. It’s a little intimidating actually, when faced with the vague idea of “greening” your life. As time has progressed, I’ve come to see this area of thinking less a green movement and more one toward sustainability. Semantics, you say. Call it whatever you want so long as the job gets done. Well, I heartily agree. But in this case, the idea of green has become something quite corporate. Coca-Cola has a green division, so do BP, Walmart, and countless other behoemoth corporations who clearly don’t place doing the right thing above financial profit. No, they would not even be allowed by corporate bylaw to exist in such a state, so I feel fairly comfortable saying that efforts toward “greening” their work processes and products are largely driven by profit and little else. And there is little doubt on the surface that such a condition is less than conducive to long-term sustainability!

But this is where one must look deeper. True self-interest alone would force individuals to not drive the world down to the rims, because they still need a place to live. It is possible to be quite “green” and lead a totally unsustainable lifestyle. You buy carbon credits to offset your abnormally high amounts of air travel for work. Or maybe you bought a Prius so that your 40 minute commute each morning and evening wouldn’t make you so guilty. How about going “organic” and paying more for the privelege to eat steaks and drink exotic coffee and eat fair trade chocolate without remorse.

Hey, I do love a good Andean chocolate bar too, no need to protest. Just realize that there is a difference between being green, which is largely about taking your current habits and sprucing them up to where no one was harmed in the making of your XX so you can consume it happily, and sustainability, which means that somehow or other, we need to start living within the means of this planet and the systems which operate therein. Change is coming and it’s not going to be found all dressed up pretty with a pretty organic hemp ribbon and pricetag at a farmers market booth. No, this change, like all before and the myriad yet fated to come is going to be gritty by the terms of the day. Trust me, there is nothing sustainable about sipping a fair-trade columbian coffee and ordering the free range bison burger if that’s all you’re doing to combat the processes of inefficiency taking over our society. You thought it was “green” to buy hemp clothing. Could you MAKE that fabric from a plant?

I do understand that there is a line to be drawn in this age of interconnectivity and mass learning called the internet. You don’t have to know how to do everything, you just Google it and ten minutes later you’re a Minor Expert, whose degree from the school of everything is already in the mail. So there’s plenty of time to look that stuff up when it becomes relevant. Again, we’ve got plenty in common, no judgements here, but what would you do if your cell phone and all-access (wind-powered?) DSL plan went down and there was no internet freely available to you? How would you go about getting the knowledge you need? Don’t you think it’s time to start taking some of those steps toward knowledge now? This all sounds a little doomsday, and it’s designed to, because the aim is more about illustrating that sustainability is the true paradigm for future decision-making.

When you make a decision in your life, it’s fine to start with thinking about reducing your current burden on the planet. There’s so much that can be done in this area you could easily occupy a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect Nalgene bottle and recycled tile for your bathrooms. It’s like being a programmer and wanting to know every latest language that’s introduced to the market in a quest to be the newest greatest thing out there. Facebook may have wanted you to learn their proprietary FBML in 2008 but now they are deprecating the entire language in favor of more traditional programming language solutions. So if you spent a lot of time learning FBML to break into that lucrative user base, your time would have been better spent elsewhere, learning a language that’s useful in many applications and will stand the test of time.  It’s a matter of depth, you have to know something pretty well, and for a time, before you actually know much about its strengths and limitations.

Too many green products still go by the adage “Why have one tool when you can have two?” when sustainable thinking, like the standard language framework, are built on the priciple of “Why have two when one will do?”. So pick your battles wisely by learning about the processes underlying the actions you take for granted in your daily life. It’s a level of scientific examination for which few currently have the stomach, but it’s essential that as people in the greater public come with questions about being green, what they see is a message of sustainability, one that respects nature and our place within, one that doesn’t gloss over the issues at hand in order not to scare away potential advocates, and one being delivered by people who live whole, happy lives that just don’t happen to hurt the planet. So find a corner of the issue and start biting away at it, get to know it thoroughly. When people come asking how you did it, it will seem natural to share your journey and help them to take the leap.

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BOOK REVIEW: Power Down: Options for a Post Carbon World

It’s book review time again!  If you’re the type of person who wants to read about the miracle technology that will single-handedly save humanity from the energy crisis… this book is not for you.  No, Power Down is decidedly pessimistic about our near-future options for creating a sustainable energy economy without major human sacrifice along the way.  After all, as Heinberg argues, in past societal collapses, evidence shows that an average of about 90% of a given population dies off in the wake of the social unraveling.  Those that survive are deligated to a life of hardship.  Heinberg puts forth a good case for why we should be comparing ourselves with collapsed societies in the first place, and includes a brief discussion of several promising energy technologies that may impact, if not invert, the current energy market.

So all is not doom and gloom.  To be honest, I felt inspired after reading about the necessary sacrifices that we will have to make in order to usher in the new sustainable global energy economy.  In all the heavy thoughts lie opportunities for change, and Heinberg makes a decided point of keeping a silver lining even on the cloudiest day.  The book also includes inspiring stories about nations that have made the rough transition to energy autonomy with varying degrees of success.  I learned as much about foreign policy from this book as about alternative energy technologies.

Overall, Power Down is a good read, and has been included on many prominent environmentalists’ must read bibliographies.  It is a tribute to the swiftness of developments in the energy industry that some passages in the book seem dated, though the book was published as late as 2004!  If you’re looking for a book that looks the problem squarely in the eye and suggests solutions, check out Power Down.

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EVENT: Communikey – In Harmony with the Earth

Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts

Music and art lovers, get ready to travel! You won’t want to miss this year’s Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Coinciding with Earth Day weekend (April 18-20, 2008) it’s going to be three days of performances, workshops, and art installations, all designed to inspire and educate about sustainable living in a technological world. If you’ve never been to Boulder, you owe yourself this green respite from the daily city grind. The scenery is breathtaking, and Communikey’s festival takes full advantage of their ideal location, scheduling events at cultural and community landmarks around town, such as the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Best of all, Communikey organizers are implementing a zero-waste policy at the festival, offering recycling at all venues, placing events within easy walking or biking distance from each other, using hydro and solar power generators to power the events, and offering festival-goers the chance to buy carbon offsets for their travels to and from Boulder. Add in a panel discussion on how to create sustainable green arts communities, and you may receive as much education as enjoyment. But with the international line-up of cutting-edge electronic art performances scheduled, it won’t be stuffy, that’s for sure!

Communikey has an excellent reputation for creating events that promote the myriad possibilities of electronic art while fostering organic community growth both locally and on a global scale. Since 2004, Communikey has presented thirty unique events working with pioneering local, national, and international emerging artists [1]. David Last, a producer in NYC, had this to say about their events:

High quality, high energy, professionalism and good taste. New York, L.A., and San Francisco could actually learn a thing or two from what happens at Communikey events.

For this festival, Communikey has partnered with a variety of green sponsors, including Waste-Not Recycling, Pangaea Organics, the Boulder Arts Commission, and ATL&S.
So pack your bags, save trees by buying your festival passes online here, and get ready to have some nice green fun! See you in Boulder!

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