Monday, June 7, 2010

The Only Alternative

We have been waiting for "alternative" energy to be perfect before we start to use it.  We've been told it's not feasible, that someday we might be able to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by using renewable energy.  How perfect does solar, wind, tidal or harvested methane power need to be before it's as perfect as oil or coal?

It's not some weird, hippy stuff we're talking about here.  When I was a child, (oh, come on, it wasn't THAT long ago) every farm had a windmill that pumped water from a well.  Forty years ago my brother built a functioning solar collector from recycled beer cans and an old storm window.  It put out some major heat. 

The sun has been powering the whole planet for quite some time.  It's going to be around as long as we need it.  Coal and oil are limited.  They will run out.  It takes millions of years to make them and not so many to use them up.  And getting to them isn't pretty.  I don't need to say more about that, do I?  And what fills in the holes they leave behind when we remove them from the Earth?  Does it make sense that we keep removing stuff from deep within the planet in huge amounts and there is no negative consequence.  I'm no rocket surgeon, but I seem to remember that Nature abhors a vacuum. And if scarcity and collection aren't disasters enough, when we burn them we create poison. 

We all feel helpless and guilty about the energy crisis.  After all, what can one person do?  How about

  • Wash clothes in cold water.  You don't need hot water for that.  Really.
  • Insulate your house.  Plug the holes. Weather strip
  • Replace your dead appliances with energy efficient, hopefully solar new ones.
  • Cut out unnecessary trips.  Take the bus.  Walk.
  • Don't run your dishwasher unless that puppy's full.
  • Vent your attic
You get the idea.  Those are little things, but if we all only did the first one - washed in cold - I wonder how much energy we'd save?

And stop thinking about how imperfect alternative energy is.  Even without a battery, we can have a small wind turbine on the roof that creates electricity we use first - before we tap into the grid.  Solar water heaters are hardly hippy technology anymore.  We have to have a roof anyway, why not stick a couple of collectors up there.  Maybe it wouldn't be enough to keep us completely free from the utility company, but it would make a dent.

Renewable energy isn't an all or nothing thing.  It's not weird or unfeasible to cut down on the fossil fuel powered energy we use.  It's ok to take a baby step.  We just need to put one foot in front of the other and stop going backward.


  1. Hi Fay,

    Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I like this post. In the eighties when I was a kid we all cared about saving the plant. In high school, I was even secertary of the Echo club. Then we got in our twenties (my generation) and we didn't care because the "old people" didn't care. I remember my roommate and I leaving our dorm room and she said to me, "Aren't you going to turn off the light?" I said, "Why we don't get an electric bill." Well, now I am in my thrities and most of my friends are having kids. Also there is something going in in the gulf Mexico and all the sudden we're little kids again and we want to save the planet. I know that I go through the garbarge looking for recycables to put in our little green can. Also I want my first new car (which I am saving up for) to be a hybrid if not all electric. Did you see that comerical, there is a care company making an 100% electric car. Well, my generation is now the grown ups and we remember the enthuasm we had to keep this planet nice for our grandkids. I know I felt that way looking at my friends eighth month pregnant belly!


  2. The most feasible use of alternative energy for the consumer is the use of solar power panels. Imagine just Nevada and Arizona alone, where the sun never stops shining.

    All the houses in our community were built with a solar panel that powered the electric hot water heater. After 20 years, however, they were both outmoded and have disappeared with the replacement of roofs.

    The new solar panels are much more advanced, as are more efficient appliances and A/C. The common complaint amongst comsumers is, of course, COST.

    Another tip about conserving enery is unplugging anything and everything we don't use regularly. We don't use the TV, so it's unplugged. I use my scanner infrequently, so it's unplugged. Same with fans in the winter, lamps—everything that draws some amount of electricity even when turned off.