RE: Lost in Transmission

This was going to be just a comment on a recent blog post by stewardsofearth, but since it was getting to be too long, I just decided to turn it into a post instead. Also, I wanted to link the post here as that blog is good reading for anyone interested in sustainable living.

There’s a high initial cost to sustainable alternatives that some people are unwilling or unable to invest in. E.G. Solar panels, while getting cheaper are still not cheap enough for a lot of people. Same with LED lights vs CFL and plain ‘ol incandescent. It takes foresight and a willingness to take the plunge and, of course, it would help if they don’t just take all the myths about solar at face value.

But, as you say, it does take a combination of sustainable alternatives and a change in lifestyle to make it all work. We’ve just been spoiled for the past few decades by the abundance of… well… everything. Credit, oil, jobs, homes.

If there is any upside to this bad economy, it’s that children who grow up this decade will learn the value of frugality, efficiency and the pitfalls of conspicuous consumption. Keeping up with the Jonses doesn’t make much sense when the Jonses are about to lose their McMansion to foreclosure. Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to waste resources like they’re going out of style… which we’re going out of, just not in style.

There’s another bump in the road to the widespread adoption of sustainability…

The Cult of Me

There’s a particularly insidious and rather socially self-defeating mindset among people who shun alternative energy and a frugal lifestyle. It’s the I have to “sacrifice” this and that, but at the same time the effective end result is insignificant therefore the “sacrifices” are ultimately pointless.

Let’s say I’m in the habit of buying golf tees, whether I go golfing or not, just so I’ll always have a handy supply of the brand I select. Known for using pure cedar rather than biodegradable wood composite, the brand is not as sustainable. When I’m advised by my friend who’s well versed sustainability that there’s virtually no difference with regard to performance and that I’d be helping the environment by switching to composite, I laugh and say that “it’s just a golf tee. What’s the big deal?”

To me in my own I-choose-what-I-choose because that’s what I’ve always chosen mentality and the ingrained idea that this is such a seemingly insignificant thing, it’s a perfectly reasonable response. And perfectly wrong.

What I choose is important to me and simultaneously insignificant. We call that double-think.

The problem isn’t how small the golf tee is to me or how insignificant a choice it is in the grand scheme of things, it’s that there are countless others who think the exact same way. When those countless others do the same thing I did, laugh at the apparently simple change, the company that makes the tee keeps cutting down more cedar.

We’re happy to see things from our own perspective and we always do whenever it’s convenient. But from our perspective — our own narrow perspective — we miss quite a bit of just how large our sphere of influence can be. We also fail to grasp that spheres of influence are cumulative and even an apparently insignificant change, if adopted by many, will have a much larger effect simply because our interdependence.

What’s wrong with steam engines?

We need more steam engines. Ah, but we can’t burn our fuel, so let’s dig for it. The heat of the Earth itself would be more than enough.

And let’s not use the steam in the old fasioned way. Let’s use it in an old fasioned new way : It’s called a Sterling Engine.
And oh how we’ve neglected it. There are so many ways to power this wonderful device, only our imagination draws its boundaries.

The function is so simple, you could probably build one with an empty can… Oh, low and behold someone already has!

So we can build “farms” of these things, we can dig holes and use the difference in temprature of the Earth and sky (it doesn’t matter which side is colder or hotter, Sterlings can be designed to function with either side as “hot”) and all it will need is some difference in temprature between the sides.

What of Outer Space?

If I had a penny for each time I heard “the difference in temperature in outer space can be hundreds of degrees”, I would have had a jar full of pennies.

There’s your solution for long term energy supplies in space. Would you want an array of delicate solar panels exposed to the danger of space suppling power, or an array of hardy heat-exchangers exposed to space?

There’s also our own little trouble with fuel.

Well that’s my own gross over-simplification for the day… Now go forth and build!