Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday Hope Blogging

The big news, I suppose, is the passage of the California Solar Initiative. Most news stories seem to be focusing on its creation of subsidies for homeowners (which I believe would cover roughly a third of the cost of installing solar panels, on average). But job creation is important, too. Solar is labor-intensive; a UC Berkeley study claims that solar photovoltaics create 20 manufacturing and 13 installation/maintenance job-years per megawatt generated, as opposed to coal and gas plants, which create 11 job-years for each 100 GWh.

The Initiative also authorizes a solar water heater (SWH) incentive program for customers of San Diego Gas and Electric. If nothing else, this should demonstrate that "progress" is anything but linear. In 1897, 30% of the homes in Pasadena, CA had solar water heating. And by the early 1940s, more than half the population of Florida used solar water heaters. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes us to re-attain these levels.

Walgreens is taking a huge step towards solar power, as well:

Walgreens and ImaginIt Inc., a Denver-based clean energy solutions company, have agreed to install solar electric systems in 96 stores and two distribution centers in California and 16 stores in New Jersey. The new systems will generate more than 13.8 million kilowatt-hours per year, making this the largest solar project ever completed in the United States. The first systems are expected to be operational in early 2006.
Speaking of which, Gristmill mentions the response of certain libertarians to Whole Foods' decision to buy 458 million kilowatt-hours of wind-power credits (a move which the EPA claims is equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road for a year). At one point, the term "enviro-luddite" is used, which I think is indicative of a typical confusion between technological progress, and progress as the optimization of a given system. For a great many decades, the meaning of "progress" has been defined to a large extent by industry, and has naturally reflected industry's stake in proprietary technologies. In my experience, libertarians and conservatives are especially prone to this kind of thinking: progress is represented by technology, the value of which is defined by the marketing success of industry, the value of which is defined by a naive and romanticized view of markets (and a refusal to look at external costs). One potential result of this stance is that technology not only internalizes ideological constraints, but turns around and imposes those constraints on society as norms, by means of its alleged "inevitability" (you can't fight progress!).

In an article on a firm that's making paper from banana farm wastes, WorldChanging describes a different sort of progress:
Papyrus’ technology meets those criteria: BTT [Banana Tree Trunk, a waste product from banana farming] is the source of fibre; Production takes place amidst the plantations which reduces transport requirements and resultant pollution; No external water supply is used during the production process; Minimal amounts of energy are needed; There are no introduced chemical additives in the production process; No effluent is discharges or released into the environment: the only by-products are fluid (basically water) from the banana plant and off cuts usable as mulch which will be returned to the plantations from which supply of raw material is sourced.
It's easy enough to argue that banana paper isn't going to become the new industry standard. But to my mind, that's not the point. A process like this one represents progress not because it will put BoiseCascade out of business, but because it involves casting off the ideological constraints I mentioned above. It should be seen in the context of an overall revolution in design, in which unconventional products and processes are increasingly recombining, like genes. To extend that simile a bit further, one might think of conservatarian dogma as a clarion call to inbreeding.

While we're on the subject of paper, I'm very pleased to report that a federal judge has just slapped down BushCo's attempt to destroy forest protection laws:
[A] federal court has declared illegal a Bush administration's decision to eliminate safeguards for old growth forests and the rare plants and animals that inhabit them.

The ruling handed down late Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman vacates the administration¹s decision to eliminate the "Survey and Manage" standard of the Northwest Forest Plan. Her decision reinstates the standard, and requires that all timber sales on federal forests in western Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California comply with the standard.
The fact that I applaud this decision doesn't mean I don't enjoy a bit of wholesale destruction now and again. In fact, I think I'll end this post right here, and pay a little visit to Implosion World.

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