Every October I tune in for a type of stereo experience on topics that I’ve devoted a lot of my professional time to – the energy::environment nexus. For a few days I attend Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project Symposium – GCEP for short – and listen carefully to what prominent business and academic leaders are saying about what it will take to address the seemingly intensifying climate chaos. I wander through poster sessions and listen to Ph.D candidates present technological approaches and I come away with many unanswered questions and not a lot of hope.
A few days later I do a 180 and volunteer at Bioneers, where the emphasis is more on ecology, right action, interdependence, coexistence, and indigenous wisdom. As a volunteer I feel empowered and surrounded by other volunteers and attendees who are moved by their open hearts as well as an open mind.
I am in awe of all of the many ways of understanding the world and our place in it. This year the GCEP keynote speaker is Amory Lovins, who I followed around like a lost nerd-puppy at Bioneers in 2011, the year he introduced his latest must read “Re-inventing Fire.” Every word, every analysis sounded like, yes, a solution. What will he say this year, and what will he emphasize at event with a very different organizing principle? If the news is good, I’ll post it right here – stay tuned. Time for GCEP-Bioneers convergence? (Yes!)
Need a good dose of inspiration, hope for our collective future, and ancient as well as cutting-edge solutions built on solid foundations while reaching for the sky? While it’s not the same as being at the Bioneers Conference, you can get a sense of where things could be going by watching last week’s plenary sessions online. If you tend to identify as geeky, you might try Amory Lovins’ Reinventing Fire, in which he shows how brilliant design can go a long way toward meeting energy needs without compromising “lifestyle”. You might also enjoy Rebecca Moore’s Google Earth-Eye View: Mapping a Future Environment of Hope. She is Google Earth’s outreach coordinator and has used this amazing eye in the sky to successfully redirect economic activity to protect fragile areas. Hang on to your seat – lots of zooming in and out as she tracks Monarch butterflies across the US and Mexico and logging activity in her own back yard and in the Amazon – fantastic! If you tend to identify as more earthy, you might enjoy Karen Brown’s Revolutionizing Education with Sustainability in Mind – this is surely what we hope for for our children, or try Bio-mimicry expert Dayna Baumeister’s Life’s Operating Manual. Philippe Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s grandson, gave the closing plenary – irrisistible!
I first heard about Amory Lovins’ work and the Rocky Mountain Institute in the early 1990’s, and finally hearing him speak in person (all day!) was a thrill – every word solid, well placed, informative. I had also never seen Gloria Steinem in person – so incisive, witty, active, and fully present at 77! And all the new speakers – it’s not just world-class ideas and cutting edge ways of presenting them; it’s the convergence of thousands of people who are open-minded, open-hearted, and generous with brilliant ideas on how to navigate our collective cultural and environmental challenges. It just doesn’t get better than focusing on solutions, ideas that work, and people who are doing what needs to be done.
Newly minted volunteers at Oakland's Kinsell Commons (Petra on the left, Gleb on the right)
GRID Alternatives in Emeryville is making it pretty easy to do the right thing. They run California’s Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, which provides a way for low-income home owners to get plugged into solar. It’s win-win: people who are by definition on a tight budget (or they wouldn’t qualify) enjoy lower energy bills and may even see their meter running backwards if their energy consumption dips below what the panels mounted on their roof produce. The energy system benefits because the timing is right, since in California solar power production coincides pretty well with peak energy demand, especially during the summer. The volunteers, well they get to learn all about solar up close and personal from a really nice bunch of dedicated folks. The GRID Alternatives organization is able to deliver solid work on a very tight budget while training new workers.
Roof-mounted solar water heater
Another win might be making energy production and consumption newly visible. For the home owner, the direct connection between the 240 Watt capacity of each panel and household energy consumption is evident in the utility bill. For anyone who happens to pass by, the panels are a reminder that alternatives are available, and in this neighborhood the reality of alternatives is underscored by the neighboring roof-mounted solar water heaters. Just imagine what a fortuitous confluence of good will, willing hands, and incentives could do to shift the energy system toward sustainability!
One of GRID’s current project is Kinsell Commons, an eight-unit housing development with East Bay’s Habitat for Humanity.
The development seems to be part of a small but growing oasis in what appears to have been an unrelentingly bleak light industrial landscape. The few neighbors seem friendly and the new library across the street next to what looks like a new school looks promising. As of a few days ago the inverters and solar panel brackets were in place. The panels tested well, but it will be another few days before they are on the roof converting East Bay sunshine into energy and $$.
Kinsell Commons solar panel installation
Amidst all the constuction someone thought to plant a garden in the common area and the first tomatoes are just now turning red. An edible garden – another way to go green. Solar power, solar water heating, tomatoes: rays of hope.