|There is no intellegent life down here|
2011 was filled with so many distractions that it is hard to pin point the biggest. 2012 could offer a lot of the same – especially since it will be an election year. In fact, it may be difficult to make predictions for 2012. But all is not lost even though politicians will continue to thrive on accentuating our differences,
Just as in other countries, the population is fed up. The current politicians are ill-equipped to stop the bickering and to work out the problems of today to allow for a future that will benefit us all, equally. Politics-as-usual is coming to an end and we will be witnesses.
The focus of the Solar and Wind Expo is to move the country forward towards a clean energy independent future. I bet most of you agree that this will not be possible without using the current available energy sources (like the Keystone Pipeline) while making the change to a new clean energy a priority.
The good part is we can and will do this. But we can’t wait until the left and the right stop fighting or the next election. If Obama wins and the House and Senate stay as they are, the conservatives will be unhappy and block everything that is proposed – more gridlock for four years. But if the Republicans win the Senate and the Presidency, I can’t see a much brighter future for clean energy either.
Let’s tell the President and Congress that we do not want to make this election about abortion, Mormons or putting judges in jail or we’re going to replace them all.
Action is what is needed in 2012. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is now occupying people’s homes and they are making a difference because of action not in-action. Whether you disagree or disagree with OWS you have to applaud positive action. We all have our opinions, but this coming year let’s put the differences aside and focus on our commonalities. Clean energy is one of these commonalities and if we need a pipeline now to make things easier while we transition to the future, then okay. But this needs to be the discussion, not blackmail as it is being presented now. Environmentalists will need to compromise as well those who support the expansion of fossil fuels.
The Solar and Wind Expo will continue its mission of showcasing clean energy products and techniques in 2012 and we are planning bigger and better shows than last year. In 2012 we are bringing a new event call Electropalooza to Maryland with the help of electric motorcycles manufacturers and race teams. Electric Motorcycles will race in time trials around a track with chicanes. This should be a good time. The event is coming together well and we have developed a website for those who want to participate. We will eventually incorporate the website into the expo website soon.
Speaking of websites, we are working on redoing The Solar and Wind Expo website and will be hosting our own blog in the near future with some interesting surprises. So if you’ve noticed very few blogs lately, that is because the focus has been on the redo. Stay tuned.
So another year goes by and another approaches, let’s make the necessary changes in 2012 to make a clean renewable energy independence possible. Don’t look back, make it happen. Happy Holidays.
by Claire Thompson.
A few years ago, back when she still had a job in the natural-foods industry, “my kids only got the best in terms of food,” said Corbyn Hightower, a mother of three who now lives outside Sacramento. Then, she said, “we lost everything, and we really started having to compromise.”
Hightower signed up for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. When she looked through the information pamphlet she received, she found out that SNAP benefits can be used to buy seeds and plants, not just food. So she went to Whole Foods, bought some seeds, and planted a garden of salad greens. “It was one of the things I could do that made me feel like my kids weren’t going to have to let go of [eating well],” she said.
Unlike Hightower, most SNAP recipients are not aware of this alternative use for their electronic benefit transfer (EBT). “I’m really proactive about obtaining information, so maybe that helped,” she said. “I’m not the typical EBT customer, although I’m sure there are a lot more like me now—people who always shopped at the perimeter of the stores and bought organic.”
This detail of our federal food-stamp program flies under the radar of many people active in food-justice and urban-farming circles, too. Daniel Simon, a graduate student and garden
advocate, didn’t know of the provision until 2008, when someone mentioned it to him during a chance encounter at a farmers market.
“The more people I talked to who thought it was a good idea but didn’t know about it themselves, the more I thought, well, somebody’s got to start a project to make sure that people on
food stamps get this information,” Simon said. Earlier this year, he founded the nonprofit SNAP Gardens to spread the word about this oft-overlooked aspect of the SNAP program, which was added as an amendment to the Food Stamps Act in 1973 by Sen. James Allen (D-Ala.).
Simon pointed out that 46 million Americans use food stamps (nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population), so “just raising that awareness alone is a huge undertaking.”
SNAP Gardens prints cheerful posters in several languages advising SNAP recipients that they can use their benefits for seeds. Simon said he’s gotten requests for the posters from farmers markets in 24 states and Washington, D.C. (While it’s becoming more common knowledge that EBT can be used to purchase food at farmers markets, many vendors are still unaware that they work for seeds and plants, too.) The posters are also designed to be displayed in local SNAP offices, community centers, or public housing locations. SNAP is a federal program, but administered locally, Simon explained, so local governments have more power to spread the word about different ways it can be used.
As an organic enthusiast but inexperienced gardener, Hightower admits her first few seasons were hard. “[Gardening] takes luck and a lot more knowledge than I went into it with,” she said. “I know other people who use SNAP and they live in apartments or are working two jobs. [Gardening with SNAP benefits] is not everything it’s cracked up to be.”
Simon acknowledged this. “Seeds and plants alone don’t make a garden,” he said. “It takes time, it takes skills, it takes land. How do you connect people to resources to make [gardening] a choice that has real potential?”
An online resource called SNAP-Ed Connection offers training and education materials for SNAP providers who want to give would-be gardeners more guidance and support. But “not many states are doing much in the way of gardening education for SNAP recipients,” Simon said.
With the help of a $ 1,000 microgrant from Awesome Food, SNAP Gardens will start working with The Dinner Garden—which sends out free starter packs of seeds by request—to set up a telephone hotline with gardening information. (Simon said that Dinner Garden founder Holly Hirshberg didn’t know about using SNAP benefits for seeds, either.) Part of the grant will also pay to include a flyer about using EBT for seeds with every packet The Dinner Garden sends out, with the assumption that many of those requesting free seeds might also be eligible for
Hightower said her garden doesn’t offset her grocery budget dramatically—it produces maybe five dollars’ worth of salad greens a week. But using her SNAP benefits to garden is worth it for other reasons. “It makes me feel good, like I’m holding onto my values,” she said. “My kids know that going out and picking your greens is normal; it’s part of our family’s culture. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t have this for yourself.”
by Stephen Lacey.
Cross-posted from Climate Progress.
Congressional Republicans are sticking to their attempt to force a
rushed decision on the controversial Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline.
Speaking on Meet the Press yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner called
the need for more environmental review “nonsense,” claiming “all the
studies have been done.”
As part of a package to extend the payroll tax cut as President Obama requested, Republicans have thrown in a major political and climate bomb—a mandatory 60-day decision on Keystone XL, the proposed 1,700-mile
pipeline that would bring energy- and carbon-intensive tar-sands crude
from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. The pipeline has been dogged by
public backlash after realizations that the environmental review was conducted by a major contractor of TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. The State Department eventually ordered a new environmental review of the project.
But Boehner and his congressional colleagues aren’t interested in
what’s best for the environment. They slipped the 60-day mandatory
decision into the payroll tax cut bill, knowing full well that the
project would be denied. The State Department has said multiple times that the two-month window would be insufficient and would virtually guarantee the project is killed.
“That’s nonsense. David, this has been going on for three years. All
the studies are done. It’s gone through every part of the regulatory
process,” said Boehner yesterday. (Note: Video starts with a 15-second
Along with a complete disregard for a sound environmental review
process, Boehner continues to spew thoroughly debunked job creation
numbers. On Meet the Press, Boehner again claimed that the pipeline would create 20,000 direct jobs—when an independent study from Cornell [PDF] found
that it would only create between 2,500 and 4,650 direct jobs. Even
TransCanada has downsized its figures, saying that it would create about
6,500 jobs. Boehner’s false claims were left unchallenged in the
However, the fate of this legislation is uncertain—and could be
near death. Boehner said yesterday that House Republicans would reject
the Senate version of the package, calling for an extension of the
payroll tax cut longer than two months. It is unclear if the House and
Senate will be able to work through their differences.
by Lester Brown.
Cross-posted from Earth Policy Institute.
The pace of solar energy development is accelerating as the installation of rooftop solar water heaters takes off. Unlike solar photovoltaic panels that convert solar radiation into electricity, these “solar thermal collectors” use the sun’s energy to heat water, space, or both.
China had an estimated 168 million square meters (1.8 billion square feet) of rooftop solar thermal collectors installed by the end of 2010—nearly two-thirds of the world total. This is equivalent to 118,000 thermal megawatts of capacity, enough to supply 112 million Chinese households with hot water. With some 5,000 Chinese companies manufacturing these devices, this relatively simple low-cost technology has leapfrogged into villages that do not yet have electricity. For as little as $ 200, villagers can install a rooftop solar collector and take their first hot shower. This technology is sweeping China like wildfire, already approaching market saturation in some communities. Beijing’s goal is to reach 300 million square meters (984 million square feet) of rooftop solar water heating capacity across the country by 2020, a goal it is likely to exceed.
Other developing countries such as India and Brazil may also soon see millions of households turning to this inexpensive water heating technology. Once the initial installment cost of rooftop solar water heaters is paid back, the hot water is essentially free.
In Europe, where energy costs are relatively high, rooftop solar water heaters are also spreading fast. In Austria, 15 percent of all households now rely on them for hot water. Germany is also forging ahead. Some 2 million Germans are now living in homes with rooftop solar systems. Roughly 30 percent of the installed solar thermal capacity in these two countries consists of “solar combi-systems” that are engineered to heat both water and space.
The U.S. rooftop solar water heating industry has historically concentrated on a niche market—selling and marketing more than 9 million square meters (29.5 million square feet) of solar water heaters for swimming pools between 1995 and 2005. Given this base, the industry was poised to mass-market residential solar water and space heating systems when federal tax credits were introduced in 2006. Led by Hawaii, California, and Florida, annual U.S. installations of these systems have more than tripled since 2005.
Despite the recent growth in U.S. installations, the country ranks 36th in installed capacity relative to its population, with just 0.01 square meters (0.03 square feet) installed per person. Cyprus, on the other hand, currently leads the world in solar water heater area on a per capita basis, with 0.79 square meters (2.59 square feet) per person. Israel ranks second with 0.56 square meters (1.83 square feet) per person.
Inspired by the rapid adoption of rooftop water and space heaters in Europe in recent years, the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF) has established an ambitious goal of one square meter of rooftop collector (3.28 square feet) for every European by 2020. Over the long term, ESTIF estimates that solar thermal has the potential to meet most of the region’s low-temperature heating needs.
Numerous policies promoting renewable energy use for water and space heating exist around the world. Some governments have gone a step further, passing laws requiring solar water heaters in new construction. For a quarter-century, Israel was the only country to have a national mandate for solar hot water in buildings. Then in 2006, Spain began requiring that solar collectors be installed on all new or renovated buildings. Portugal followed quickly with its own mandate. In the United States, Hawaii now requires that all new single-family homes have them.
Solar water and space heaters in Europe and China have a strong economic appeal, often paying for themselves from electricity savings in less than 10 years. With the cost of rooftop heating systems declining and more countries implementing favorable policies, the shift from fossil fuels to solar energy for heating water and space will likely accelerate.