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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Bad news/good news
October 29, 2008 - 8:19am

First, the bad news. (And I guess the bad news could be good news, if you look at it a little bit sideways.) The bad news is that the green movement is now spawning Kitty Kelly-style exposes with a definite Ann Coulter twist.

The particular expose I have in mind is Green, Christine Catherine MacDonald. The author, a former media manager (and, presumably, mole) at Conservation International tells a sordid story of sustainability promotion as big business, including tales of executive salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and compromising cooperation between big green and big business. The bad news is that this book will give those who wish to believe that the whole "global warming" issue is a red herring designed to separate the American people from their God-given wealth another thread to cling to. The better news is that, to any discerning reader, MacDonald's story is fairly thin gruel. The worse news is that most of MacDonald's readers probably won't have much in the way of discernment.

The reason I think this could be good news in disguise is that, if the sustainability movement is deemed worthy of an expose, we must be achieving something like mainstream status. I mean, think about it. Kitty Kelly didn't do exposes of ordinary folk, nor of the Harold Stassen's of the world. If you're worthy of an expose, you must be pretty important. (Of course, I could be wrong about that.)

The real good news comes out of MIT. It's actually a couple of months old, but now it's getting the necessary attention to have a significant impact. One of the main problems with existing renewable energy technologies is that they're intermittent -- you only get solar power when the sun's shining, you only get wind power when the wind's blowing. What the researchers at MIT have discovered is a simple, nature-mimicing way to store excess power generated during sunny or windy (or both) periods, so as to allow round-the-clock power availability without significant GHG emissions. And the technology is easily scalable down to the point where each household could well serve as its own power source. A quick description is available here. (Lots of other energy research going on at MIT -- just look.)

The fact that energy storage, like generation/collection, is scalable down to the household level is something I find tremendously encouraging. Given the global credit crunch (and the next three global financial crises, in whatever forms they take), I'm betting that gazillions of dollars will never be available to totally rework all of the world's energy infrastructure. And, if it were, we'd just end up with a 21st century power grid which exhibited an even higher degree of brittle interreliance than the 20th century grid that got us into this mess. Local communities, local households -- the technologies are rapidly becoming available to let power generation be expanded at the same granularity -- indeed, the same locations -- as does power consumption. Collection and consumption in local equilibrium gives the most efficient -- and, with luck, the least destructive -- global energy infrastructure.

And, with small-granularity energy infrastructure, we won't need big-granularity energy businesses. So our major environmental organizations can avoid a whole raft of compromising situations (and situational compromises).


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