Monday, March 14, 2011

Love in Washington; Tragedy in Japan; Innovation in Ohio; Hopes for a Sustainable Future

A huge congratulations to my friends Dave Hughes and Erin Stamper, who will be married this Saturday.

I spent the weekend at Mount Baker, Washington, for Dave's bachelor party. What better way to spend one's last weekend as a bachelor than skiing in a winter wonderland?

Left to right: Mark Pascoli, Andy Juechter, Ross Studlar, Dave Hughes, Colin McCrate; photo by Brad Halm

Since returning to town, I have been barely able to leave my computer, as I read, watch, and listen to news with rapt attention.

My heart goes out to the people of Japan. My sorrows and sympathies go to the casualties and their families. I hope that the survivors of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami can recover your lives and livelihoods as soon as possible.

I sincerely hope that the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi do not have a full-scale meltdown. I also hope that humanity learns from the experience.

satellite image of explosion at unit 3 of Fukushima I nuclear plant on March 14, from Digital Globe

Japan is not the only geologically unstable area with nuclear reactors. A similar or worse event could easily happen in California. As the anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman points out, the nuclear reactors in Japan and the United States are designed to withstand earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.5 on the Richter scale. The Sendai quake had a magnitude of 9.0over 10 times what the reactors were built to handle. No reactor is earthquake-proof (or terrorist-proof), despite the assurances of industry pundits. I stand with Wasserman that “this technology simply does not belong on this planet.”(1) If only we could get our elected officials to agree! President Obama's 2012 budget currently includes $36 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, to provide for the construction of new reactors. But with sufficient public pressure, that can be changed.

Civilization is better off with solar energy. It is clean and renewable, and a damaged solar panel will not give anyone radiation sickness. There is no time like the present to launch a full-force effort to transition to sustainable energy sources, solar included. (It would create jobs!)

Harvesting sunlight at The Homestead.
Structures left to right: green outhouse, tool-shed and photovoltaic panels, corner of Cabin 3

As a graduate of The Homestead at Denison University, I have seen the power of renewable energy up close and personal. I even used wrench and screwdriver to install solar panels, and hammer and saw to build parts of a strawbale cabin. The Homestead has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable technology. Homesteaders installed the first on-site solar-electrical system in 1983 (when I was a wee child in Kentucky); it is one of the oldest continuously-operating photovoltaic systems in Ohio. Homesteaders started work on the strawbale Cabin Bob in 1997; it is one of the first such structures on any U.S. college or university. And Homestead students were building cabins with passive solar heating way back in 1977. As Michael Noble (executive director of Fresh Energy) said, “First you change your lightbulb, then you change the law.”(2) The latter change is markedly more difficult than the former. But The Homestead and places like it give us glimpses of what is possible if we work together. Perhaps that can inspire us to move to change the larger world.

At work on the mudroom of Cabin Bob, 2004, Ross at far right.

1. Harvey Wasserman interviewed on Democracy Now! 13 March 2011, 32:28.
2. Michael Noble interviewed on Fuel (2008 film by Josh Tickell) 1:42:50
Low-resolution version of copyrighted image from Digital Globe is used for educational and informational purposes.

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