Renewable "green" energy will be the biggest industry in the history of humankind. Jay Warmke's When the Biomass Hits the Wind Turbine is a great way to learn all about it.
Jay is blessed with an off-beat sense of humor and a wonderful way of narrating truly earth-shattering history with aplomb and a light, loving touch. "I don't remember a time when the world wasn't about to end," he begins.
Neither do I.
But given this summer's life-threatening heat, its record drought and on-going string of apocalyptic ecological disasters, we could be easily convinced that unless we do something—NOW!—our ability to live on this earth could indeed come to a crashing halt.
With his wife and collaborator, Annie, Jay has founded an ecological community called Blue Rock Station, near Zanesville, Ohio. It features green power along with tours and classes designed to further our knowledge and commitment to a world worth saving.
His book opens with some obligatory personal history from a guy who grew up when "the price of fossil fuels is way too cheap."
To explain why, Jay backs us up to 1491, the year before native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus on their beach. We learn about charcoal, peat and the reason the Mayans dropped from a population of 14 million all the way down to 30,000 (hint: it had to do with energy and trees).
We learn that Pope Celestine 3 believed that since wind came from God, His church had the right to issue (or deny) permits for windmills. Warmke says as many as 4,000 operated in England when William the Conqueror took a census in 1086. The number jumped to more than 10,000 a century later.
None of them were used to generate electricity, discovered by Ben Franklin not with a kite (he would've been fatally electrocuted) but with a parlor game device that generated shocks just for the fun of it. It was Franklin who invented the term "battery" when he hooked up Leyden jars in sequence and used the system to zap a chicken. Ben later reported that the electrocuted meat was "uncommonly tender."
But for all the fun history—and there's a lot of it in this book—the most interesting time is the present. As Warmke points out, the era of the photovoltaic (PV) cell is rapidly accelerating. "The installed base of PV within the U.S. has more than doubled," he says. Since 1980 the price of PV modules has dropped from more than $20/watt to well under $5. As General Electric and others have confirmed, the price of solar-generated electricity—long dismissed as being far too high to be practical—is about to drop below installed new coal generators.
Which means, simply put, that even if you're a 1 percent billionaire who hates hippies and the planet, you're still going to invest in solar over nuclear, coal or oil.
In fact, says Warmke, in the face of the Solartopian revolution, the whole fossil/nuclear business is nothing but smoke and mirrors. "For the foreseeable future," he writes,"the battle for newly installed electric power will be between natural gas, wind and solar."
But the horrifically destructive fracking process by which natural gas is being mined is ecologically and economically unsustainable. Aside from destroying our water and bringing on earthquakes, Jay writes, fracking simply does not pay. It's heavily subsidized, barely covers investment if at all, and will not last. Ditto tar sands, the Keystone Pipeline and all the other insanely expensive eco-ripoffs being perpetrated by the corporate elite.
Instead, says Warmke, we're now in the midst of the greatest technological revolution in history, and its color green stands for both the planet and profit. As knowledge and mastery of PV improves, every building, every machine, every vehicle will be covered with it.
Like wind power, biofuels and nearly all other green energy technologies, PV power stations nearly always come on line ahead of schedule and under budget. And they are always "misunderestimated." According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, projections for how far and fast green energy would spread have been consistently low-balled. And not by a little. In many cases the predictions for the spread of renewable energy have been off by a factor of ten and more, in terms of energy produced, dollars invested and viability of market price.
To help prove the point Warmke provides a fascinating history of the electric car. It was, after all, the original plan of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to have a global auto industry based on batteries. As you ran out of charge, you simply drove into a station and traded out your limp battery for a freshly charged one.
But back then the power of the oil cartels was stronger than the magnetism of an electric vehicle. Rockefeller's petroleum—which had been used primarily to produce kerosene for lighting—suddenly became the basis for a new fuel called gasoline (airplanes still fly on a variation of the original kerosene).
Way too late, we are finding our way out of the fossil fuel dead end. Worldwide hybrid sales have jumped from virtually zero in 1997 to nearly 700,000 just 13 years later.
And as solar/wind-driven electricity skyrockets in popularity, the electric car has returned. It has come most importantly in the form of the hybrid, especially Toyota's Prius. Initially dismissed by bloviating "experts," the gas/electric combo is delivering 60 mpg and more in commercially available automobiles that look a hell of a lot like "regular" gas-driven planet killers.
In his brilliant chapter on "The Rebirth of the Electric Car," Warmke predicts that within 30 years half of all passenger cars will be electric or hybrid (if green patterns hold true, it will come a lot sooner). The most serious problem today, Jay says, may be that battery technology currently limits the range of an electric vehicle to 100 miles or less on a single charge.
But most people don't drive anywhere near that many miles every day. An automobile is usually on the road an hour a day or less. The batteries are rapidly improving. And "electric filling stations" are starting to proliferate. The heavily traveled Route 5 Corridor through Washington, Oregon and California is about to host the West Coast Electric Highway, with charging stations every 40-60 miles along the way. With the speed and power of the charge improving daily, 2 million or more electric cars may travel Route 5 alone.
But what makes green energy so exciting in general is its astonishing adaptability. According to Warmke, a new breakthrough now involves "the invention of a process whereby photovoltaic panels can actually be produced in a manner very similar to printing."
And, he says, "by printing the photovoltaic energy source directly on the surface of nearly any suitable product (be it paper or cloth or plastic), the only added cost will be in the production, not in the material."
As that happens, electrical generation will be everywhere. Politically, it will undercut the power of the energy corporations in particular, and all corporations in general. Distributed generation, as it's often called, will mean everyone can generate and use their own industrial energy, regardless of what the corporate 1 percent has to say or wants to charge.
Overall, Jay Warmke's often funny, always compelling excursion to Solartopia makes it clear that when it comes to green power, "opportunities abound that will make the Industrial Revolution look like a second-rate warm-up act for the real show."
And the real show is a green-powered economy that is sustainable, inexpensive and provides jobs for all those who want them.
As Warmke concludes: "One thing is certain. It's sure going to be exciting."
As is his book. Take it, read it and enjoy. Then go out and work. Shut a nuke. Stop a coal-burner. End fracking.
I'm sure if you visit Jay and Annie at Blue Rock Station, they'll have some suggestions. And that they'll be every bit as fun, provocative and productive as this excellent book.
Harvey Wasserman's Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.progressiveradionetwork.com, and he edits www.nukefree.org. Harvey Wasserman's History of the U.S. and Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth are at www.harveywasserman.com along with Passions of the PotSmoking Patriots by "Thomas Paine." He and Bob Fitrakis have co-authored four books on election protection, including How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election, at www.freepress.org.
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.
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By Jon Queally
Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.
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