Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Solar Farms

I was raised by a barking dog. I learned how to bark but not how to bite. That's a tough fact of life. Sometimes you don't learn the important stuff. There was a lot of bitching about the world at my 1982 dinner table. At the end of the dinner I would play video games or sort baseball cards. Then the cycle would start the next day. As early as 9 years old I was trained to thoroughly examine a politician's administration and judge it from top to bottom and then do absolutely nothing to change it. Bitching was sufficient. In fact, I came to see humanity as nothing more than a giant troupe of actors to be judged and critiqued from afar. The favorite activity was to see a problem developing and then wait for the axe to fall and say, "I saw that coming."

Oh, what fun that was!

This went on for easily 15 years and still goes on today in a lesser amount thus completely skewing my outlook on and place in the world. You would think I could move on from this but it's only recently that I isolated the problem and I see I've got my work cut out for me.

Proactive or preventative measures were not something I knew existed until 1999 when I took a class called "Prosocial Behavior" at my hippie college Humboldt State University. The class basically tried to reverse 30 years of brainwashing that I am not to meddle in any realm of the world except by bitching about it all as much as possible. Steve Stamnes taught the class is probably the best method I've ever seen, which is guest speakers like Julia Butterfly Hill from her tree sit, and a jigsaw method which required groups exchange ideas. I did not do well in the class mainly because the street activism I did in Santa Cruz was such a monumental disaster in every way that to have ignorant 19 year old kids tell me feeding the homeless was "good" made me sick. I fed the homeless for 2 years and wasn't sure if it was good or not. Parts of it were completely wrong. This conflict is one of the themes I'm trying to capture in the book I'm writing. If I can't do any good in the world at least I can write about how I fucked it all up. That should be good for a laugh.

I recognize my limitations but want to change and am paralyzed by what must be done. Lately, I've been reading Plan B by Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute. There's a link to it on the left there that's growing cobwebs since no one is using it. It's a lot of information and as one person it's easy to get overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. Along with trying to stay sober and get a girlfriend saving civilization is a lot to ask. 600 million cars set to double by 2020. Even if 1 billion hybrid or electric cars were running I would say that's not going to work. Maybe the future will turn out like The Jetsons and maybe it will turn out like The Minority Report. Or maybe like WALL-E. But 1.2 billion cars? Come on!
Right now mankind uses 8,500 megawatts of solar energy or 8.5 gigawatts for you Back to The Future fans. That's PV solar, not thermal gathering solar.
That 8.5 GW has to increase to 200 GW by 2020 in order to close the coal power plants that are going to melt Greenland and the North Pole if they keep operating.

When I was in Todos Santos the demand for solar energy was universal. The sun was there and the electric grid was not. So everyone had to fight to get the grid extended but the electricity is expensive as it comes from La Paz where I think a natural gas or oil plant provided energy. It was right outside the city and I don't remember any nasty ash or pollution. Maybe natural gas. I don't know. La Paz really is a gorgeous city of 180,000 people. It's like a paradise during the winter. Go there and get your heart broken. It's fun!

My point is that solar and wind power is already past the experimental stages. What it needs now are contractors and skilled installers. I'd like to return to Todos Santos and build a solar farm. The town is still wild with only about 4,000 population a mango farmer who sees expensive equipment on a hill thinks nothing of taking it and selling it. It's not even considered theft, especially if the victim is a gringo. But the demand is there and they are already paying for electricity so the goal is to learn enough about 1+ Megawatt solar farms to build one in La Paz. A mere mile out of town is vast empty shrubland perfect for solar farms. It would only need maybe half a megawatt to take care of Todos Santos and Pescadero.

I'll start my new prosocial activism by pointing out that BP has a gigantic solar division BP Solar
so while boycotting BP oil is understandable, the oil money finances the solar research. It's kind of senseless crying over spilled milk like BP loves losing money. It'll be the most expensive clean up in history and I'm considering getting a Hazwopper certification and going to Louisiana to work scrubbing marshland. They give you a room and board so the money is all banked. If you want to boycott something you should boycott your government, which has failed to tell the environmental truth about our resources for over 100 years. Or Shell oil which is intentionally attacking indigenous Ecuadorians and destroying their jungles in a mad genocidal dash for oil.

Let me put it this way. The total cost of a pack of cigarettes if you include health care costs and days lost at work is over $10. That information was used to put taxes on cigarettes (fought by the tobacco companies) to even out the cost to the idiots who are smoking. Cigarettes would still be a dollar a pack if the companies had their way and everyone would be paying the additional costs for someone to get lung cancer. $5 isn't even half of what they really cost us all. In fact, if you buy a pack for $5 you are basically stealing $5 to make up the difference.

Here's what Lester has to say about Nuclear Power:
"Nuclear energy is expensive to maintain and poses a serious threat to security. If we use full-cost pricing—requiring utilities to absorb the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, of decommissioning the plant when it is worn out, and of insuring the reactors against possible accidents and terrorist attacks—building nuclear plants in a competitive electricity market is clearly not economical."

See? Nuclear power is only cheap if you toss the wastewater in your backyard. If you pretend that the earth is not a toilet then...shit...it's expensive!

Now, the same math can be applied to gasoline: if you include the costs of pollution a gallon of oil costs $15. Right now we're getting taxed like $1 and that's probably squandered on useless anti-pollution stickers. Gasoline is the same price in France, except they add $12 in taxes. If you want to drive in Europe then you carry the full cost of driving. America has intentionally let drivers get away with murder because we're about "freedom". But like Lester Brown says, "The cost still exists. Someone has to pay that $15 a gallon." Someone makes up the difference either today or tomorrow. That's the problem. We're generating this debt that is getting nearly impossible to pay off. We will have a vast interstate highway and advanced infrastructure but it's balanced on the thinnest foundation of debt and false economy. Never mind that it's irresponsible, it's the same kind of creative accounting that led to Enron's collapse. We're kind of in the stage when Enron was selling $200 shares and lighting cigars with $100 bills. With some trickery they bought themselves some time, but eventually it all collapsed. I hate using the sky is falling cliche because it's all speculation and is like falling back on my useless bitching strategy. Old habits die hard.

Oggy Drinks Vodka and Burns Bridges

Oggy descends from the top of the bus lockers, straightening his wool poncho around his waist and scratching his curly beard, picking crust from his eyes and he rubs his back. He pats his pants pockets for the left over tofu crumbs from last night. He saved them from the night’s dinner, feeling that if he ate an entire tofu cake it would be gluttonous. What kind of a person eats that much food? What kind of a monster would devour the planet and leave only piles of pollution for the next generation? Not Oggy. Oggy lifts his head to the low clouds. Rain falls into his mouth and he thinks that rain is the purest form of water, even if it is filtered through a cloud of poison. The important thing to remember is that the water is not processed.

A man limps past Oggy with a bag of used clothes. That’s the future, thinks Oggy. Using clothes until they turn to dust. We’re procreating for no reason, complicating our lives and taxing resources with no objective. Literally manufacturing pets to drain our bank accounts. Why? Oggy looks around for someone to ask this question and sees a woman leaning against the lockers. Her eyes are half closed but she is standing and awake so Oggy says, “My name is Oggy.”

“Who the fuck cares?”

Oggy presses on.

“We’re pioneers. This is a land of unspoken reality.”


“The most important thing are natural resources. We’re nearing 7 billion humans and the planet can only sustain 2.5 billion so I think it’s time we concentrate on minimizing our impact.”


“Our goals should be to manage our appetites.”


“I had a whole plan to save civilization but it was stolen when I lived in the forest.”


“The main point was the banishment of western consumer lifestyle and replacement with an agrarian-based culture.”

“You got any weed?”

“What that means is an intentional community. Nothing is manufactured that can be eliminated. No more waste!”


“And no more waste means we’ll begin healing the earth instead of destroying it.”

“Got a cigarette?”

“We’re toying with disaster. Our approach to resources is like there is no long term consequences and we live forever. The planet can not sustain 7 billion Americans.”

“I hope they got the apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast.”

Oggy begins to do deep knee bends as part of his morning preparation that Abe taught him in the woods.

“My teacher told me that if I believe in it then my mind can heal the world.”

The woman scratches under her breasts and nods off. She hasn’t slept in 40 hours.

During one of Oggy’s bends his right knee gives out and Oggy falls backwards onto the wet pavement. The woman coughs. Oggy rolls around on the pavement until he finds the strength to stand up.

“What happened?” he asks.

“Ya fell on your ass.”

Oggy sees a crow gliding over the shelter with black wings extended into the breeze.

“In the woods you can see the crows gather in the evening. They call each other home to the redwood trees.”

“Could I borrow a dollar,” says the woman.

“I renounced paper money. You know it’s not based on anything. It’s a false currency.”


“False. It’s false. It represents nothing.”


“If we respect a false currency then it only gives the government more encouragement to continue to print it. But it doesn’t represent anything.”

“I want coffee.”

“So this way, we’ll defeat the government. We’ll win.”


“We’ll fly like the crow and gather in the trees like one big family.”

Oggy tries to stretch his legs out to touch his toes but can hardly touch his knees. He reaches high above his head.

“Not long ago I couldn’t do this. My arms were completely broken. I couldn’t lift my hands higher than my shoulders. Now look.”


“That’s what my teacher showed me how to do. He’s so smart. I’ll see him in a few days. I’ll see him and tell him what’s going on down here. He knows how to win. His name is Abe.”
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.