Category Archives: Eco-Activism

Almost 200 kWh of Solar Electricity in January

So close.  Like less than 5 kWh away from a total of 200 kWh for the month:


Still, I like that production is trending upward after some fairly light months in the last quarter of 2017.  It will be very interesting to see how quickly my system ramps up production as the days increase in length and the amount of solar radiation increases.

Based on my, admittedly crude, calculations I should overproduce against my initial estimates in the summer months and underperform during the winter months.  Only time will tell if my math works out this time.

Maybe I should add some more panels?

For the month I figure that my solar photovoltaic system produced more than two-thirds of the electricity that we used for the month.  Considering that we were home for the entire month and only went out to eat twice—I call that a “home based life”—it feels even more like success.


It’s Your Dystopia and None of My Own

Dystopian prognostication is popular right now.  Donald Trump, tension in the Korean peninsula between nuclear armed combatants, increasing economic inequality, climate change…you get the idea because you are living in this news cycle every day.

In a world where it seems like the first war between two nations with nuclear weapons could be started by an errant tweet it is not a far stretch of the imagination to visualize a dystopian future.  However, this forecasting is not something that is new to modern civilization.  Almost since the close of World War II musings on the dire future of human civilization has been a theme in literature and popular culture.

Seriously, spend a few minutes reading the entries on Wikipedia for dystopian or post-apocalyptic works.  Damn, we are some dark creatures.

Add in a dash of climate change and the Kardashians…bam, you have all the elements for everyone with a keyboard, camera, or microphone to paint a picture of a really shitty future.  What if the future, as drastic as the impacts of climate change might be, is not really as bad as Mad Max: Fury Road?

Maybe the future is different than today, but not altogether bad by most objective measures.

What if the future is less Walking Dead without the zombies and more solarpunk?

Consider what the future will look like with a look back on history.  Civilizations do not “fall” in the sense that one day things are all Athenian democracy and the next it is apocalypse.  From the perspective of a historian writing about the decline of a civilization hundreds of years after the fact a long period of decline may be interpreted as a “fall,” but it is nothing of the sort.  One of my favorite examples of this is how native Mayans respond to people asking “What happened to the Mayans?”  Nothing, people of Mayan descent still live in the exact same places that they did when the temples you visit on a cruise excursion were built.  The markers and remains of the civilization changed, but the people remained.

What would our modern civilization look like if the markers of a high energy system fueled by non-renewable energy were forced to adapt to a lower energy future?  Would some future historian or current pundit—yes, I am looking at the talking heads on Fox News, lament the “fall” of modern Western civilization?

Perhaps, but would it really represent a fall or is just an evolution?  The difference in how that question is answered may rest with our response to a world wracked by climate change.  If we hold on to our old ways of doing things then a fall is likely as we prop up existing paradigms in ever more complex systems that are pre-ordained for a spectacular collapse.    However, if we pivot either by choice or circumstance to the changing conditions maybe society will have a chance to evolve into something more compatible with a long term sustainable arc.

An Ugly Month for Solar in November

November was ugly.  Especially in terms of solar production from my rooftop solar photovoltaic system:

November 2017 solar.jpg

The production was nice and steady save for some real dog days when the system produced less than 3 kWh per day.  I am really surprised by the actual production numbers because the system is producing far below my calculated expectations, which were based on fairly pessimistic assumptions.

Like October there is a sort of silver lining.  Even though my photovoltaic system produced slightly more than 212 kWh for the month I consumed less than 300 kWh in total, including both grid and on-site consumption.  Considering how much the family has been staying at home and cooking at home I am going to consider this a victory.  It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like in December with a long holiday vacation at the end of the month.

On the bright side, it looks like solar is contagious.  Two new systems went live over the past week and I know of at least two more that are going live soon.  This is in addition to the several systems going up that I can see on my way to work.  Each one of these systems is like a little dagger in the black heart of the coal economy.


We Have More than Enough Money to Decarbonize Our Energy System

If I ever hear another American politician say that we cannot afford the transition to clean energy I will scream.  Why you ask?

In 2012 it was estimated that consumers in the U.S spent approximately $65 billion on soda.  In that same year it was estimated that consumers in the U.S. spent approximately $11 billion on bottled water.  [1] That is to say that American consumers spent over $75 billion on unnecessary drinks and, in the case of soda, a product that is generally regarded to be detrimental to your health.  Not to mention the environmental impact of disposable, single use containers.

Okay, why is that relevant in the terms of this discussion?  In 2016, the most recent year for which full year data is available, the U.S. invested $44 billion in clean energy including both private investing and government expenditure.  [2]

Therefore, we spend more than 50% more on soda and bottled water per year than we invest in clean energy.  If we just directed the money from soda and bottled water to clean energy investment it would represent an increase of 172%.  That is a lot of solar panels and wind turbines.

Someone may argue that this scenario is impractical, but I would challenge such an argument on several fronts.  One, spending on soda and bottled water—for the most part—is totally discretionary.  No one needs a Diet Coke to survive and other than emergency situations no one needs bottled water.  It could be argued that it would be better if no one consumed bottled water given the economic and environmental impact of a product that can also be obtained from municipal water supplies.  Two, by and large individuals now have the power to redirect their discretionary spending toward renewable energy.  As long as you have the capital or alternative financing arrangements are available you can put solar panels directly on your roof.  Thus, your Diet Coke and Evian habit can be turned into clean energy.  A direct substitution, so to speak.

My point is to illuminate that when we discuss the level of investment necessary to decarbonize our energy system it needs to be placed in direct comparison to some broader economic choices.  Is the future our planet worth skipping that Dr. Pepper?


Find Your Tribe

In this crazy, mixed up world where Donald Trump can claim that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia to harm her own campaign as a means to explain his innocence we need to find solid footing more than ever.  We need to find that tribe of people who connect with our beliefs and our passions in order to feel that we belong to this larger universe.  You need to find your tribe.

What do you are about?  What makes your heart sing?  What makes you smile to get up in the morning and see the possible?  Take stock of these things to find your tribe.

It is important to be part of something larger when engaging with your elected representatives because it gives your message staying power.  If you correspond with them as a member of an organization that has individuals testifying or is providing lobbying materials on behalf of an issue it resonates.  There is a reason why the AARP gets its message heard.  When thousands of people call and tell their representatives that the issue is important to members of AARP that legislative agenda gets traction.

Consider the power we can wield.  When Trump, goaded by the Utah congressional delegation and local state politicians including the governor, announced his intention to review more than a dozen monuments declared under several prior presidential administrations the outdoor community howled.  Better yet progressive outdoor companies led by Patagonia and followed quickly by Arc’teryx, Polartec, and Peak Designs among others made it very clear that they would not participate in the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer convention that took place in Salt Lake City.

By July 2017, less than five months after the actions by the outdoor community, Outdoor Retailer announced it would be moving its convention to Denver.  Numbers are hard to come by and notoriously unreliable, but most accounts attribute upwards of $45 million dollars in spending due to the presence of Outdoor Retailer.  I do not care how right wing your politics run $45 million is a lot of money getting pumped into the local economy.

Why did this happen?  Outdoor advocates and companies banded together in a coherent way to make it known they would not stand for the wonton giveaway of our public lands to moneyed interests.  This is the power of our tribes.

This is something that the right wing has understood for years with organizations like the NRA.  Very few members of the NRA actually espouse the virulent views of its leadership but they are counted among the faithful when it comes time to apply political pressure.  We can apply the same level of political pressure on behalf of our causes.

Be active in your tribe.  Be unforgiving in your defense of your tribe.  Be passionate about your tribe.

If you happen to be one of those people so dispossessed and apathetic that there is nothing for which you would man the barricades may whatever god have mercy on your soul.


An October Solar Surprise

October 2017 was kind of an ugly month for my solar photovoltaic system.  I calculated an expected production of approximately 400 kWh and saw production come in at just over 265 kWh.  This works out to about 66% of the predicted output.  Here is how ugly it was:

Solar October 2017.png

Do you see the period of time from October 10th through the 14th?  It must have been almost night out there all day.  What happened?

Easy.  Eastern Iowa saw some seriously gray conditions throughout the month.  Apparently we are entering into the so-called “stratus season” when local climate conditions produce low hanging stratus cloud formations that block out the sun.  November and December are apparently the worst months for this condition.  Awesome.

On the bright side I only ended up using approximately 73 kWh of grid electricity this month, which is not very much in the grand scheme of things.  Considering how well September turned out in terms of production I think I am still ahead of the game by about 64 kWh since my system became active at the end of August.  I will take net positive as we head into the gray months of November and December.


Where are the Tools of Meaningful Change?

Last week I wrote about society possessing the tools for meaningful change as it relates to carbon emissions and climate change for the first time in my memory, which stretches back into the 1980s.

The fact is that the tools for meaningful change exist at many different levels throughout society.  Consider the following hierarchy:

  • International
  • National
  • Community
  • Household
  • Personal

Too often we become fixated on the tools at an International or National level at the expense of seeing the good we can do at a Community, Household or Personal level.  Furthermore, we fail to see the connections that cross multiple levels.  Take a Fortune 500 company in the United States.  It obviously has an impact on the local community.  However, depending upon its size—which as a Fortune 500 company is usually quite large—and its geographic footprint it will definitely impact multiple communities in multiple states thus making it a national concern.  Frequently, these companies have just as much of an economic or physical footprint in multiple countries so their behaviors are international by definition.

At a lower level, a lot of our Personal choices impact both our Household and our Community.  There are no set walls that determine the scope and impact of our actions.  Nonetheless, I find it useful to categorize or bucket our actions into these broad levels so that we can think about things in a more defined sense.

The old adage from the gauzy past was to “think globally, act locally.”  Somewhere along the line we abdicated personal responsibility in favor of pushing large collective solutions.  Those large collective solutions, while spreading the pain of change and adaptation across the entire population, have fallen out of favor with the leadership—if you can it that—in Washington D.C.  Therefore, action must come from levels below International and National categories—unless there are entities that can cut across those categories by virtue of their economic and/or geographic footprints.

Once we understand where the tools of meaningful change exist we can begin to build our own personal menu to create a better world.