Friday, December 16, 2011

ThruAnotherLens

I recently had cataract surgery on my left eye. Prior to the surgery, I was unsure what the results would be. Since the surgery, when I close my right eye, whites are stunningly white, the blues vibrant. If I close my ‘new’ eye and look through the cataract that remains on my left eye, I see a murky greenish color instead of the white that exists.

I could not have known. I would have argued intensely that what I use to be seeing was clean, pure white.

I was seeing through another lens.

During the winter of 1974-1975, I sat in my newly unfinished home and read about energy. I had run out of money, the soffits were not enclosed, snow blew in. Friends thought it probably never got above 50 F in the home the whole winter. My driveway was a 1/5 of a mile, we had three or four feet of snow straight down (not including drifts) and my truck was stuck next to the house. I traipsed through the snow to the highway and hitchhiked to town to buy groceries (needed food stamps the last two months of the winter) and to get books. I was in my early 30s, strong as an ox and having a great adventure.

So my trusty dog, Yoni, and I sat next to the wood stove and I read about energy. Energy for Survival ,written by Wilson Clark in 1975, covers it all. I had read Limits to Growth by Meadow and Meadows when it first came out in 1972. In the March of that year I was hired as the energy coordinator for the low-income program (TriCounty Community Action), and wrote the first low-income weatherization proposal for the state of Minnesota and administered the program for a year. Along with weatherization, I wrote a small addition for a grant for solar energy heating panels.

Although, I no longer worked for the CAP and was on my way to the university to get a master’s degree in psychology, the solar grant came in. I took it on. From there it just grew.

While getting my master’s I developed, tested and installed several thousand square feet of solar hot air panels. For three years, I was chairperson of one of the solar energy organization making frequent trips to the Twin Cities from central Minnesota. During the late 1970s, I sat on a federal organization for solar energies.

At my home, I put up a 40-year-old wind generator that I spent more time on the tower trying to get it to run than I got electricity. During the next decade, I put up two more wind generators. I put up solar electric panels. I prefer solar electric panels.

Having lived the first ten years in my home without electricity, I now had off the grid solar and wind with batteries and a small inverter. I was the cat’s meow. Besides my psychology studies, I continued to read every thing I could on energy. When the International Energy Agency reports came out, I trekked to the library to get copies. Although, I had read about Hubbard’s Peak Oil theory, I had not quite put it together then. I did constantly match known oil reserves against consumption, realizing we would be depleted essentially by 2040.

As you can see, I was an advocate for “renewable”, “alternative” energy. I was as ardent as a “religious” believer. I didn’t think in terms of maintaining the status quo or business as usual. In fact I use to suggest in the late 1970s to the chagrin of the Minnesota Energy Agency, that we should not conserve but use it up so we could get on with what was coming because there would be less people in the world to be effected– I hadn’t really thought out what was coming.

I did believe solar, wind, biomass, and methane were the ANSWER. Right up to about 2006.

What happened? First I saw reports showing that ethanol was an energy loss. I had stock in the local ethanol plant, actually designed their logo and first website. But the data came out and it was a loser. I disinvested.

Then I looked through another lens. I stepped back and looked at the whole process of making wind and solar devices. It took several years to work through the mind change. I saw a show on the mining of copper on the History Channel’s Modern Miracles. I looked at other components of wind and solar - the getting of basic materials, the refining, the manufacture, the assembly, the installation and all the necessary transportation. I saw the environmental degradation. I finally I saw clearly that solar, biomass and wind devices were not “renewable” nor “alternative”. They are an extension of the fossil fuel supply and burning world along with the devastation to the environment of the land, river, underground water, ocean and air.

I had looked through a different lens.

I spent several decades on the front lines in one of the poorer counties of Minnesota as a licensed psychologist. The feedback I got said I did a fairly good job.

First a little psych. People are born into a forest. The social/familial and physical environment of the forest determines how free we are to explore that world. The more threatening in the many ways the world can be very threatening, the more restricted we are in our choices of behavior and exploration. In many ways we work out the issues – fears, hates, biases – of our parents. We choose behaviors that support the view of how we have learn to fit into the forest and can safely negotiate it. We spend at least the first half of life maintaining our “safe” behaviors and even creating our world to facilitate that maintenance no matter how hurtful it is. In my opinion, people don’t change; they manage their behaviors and feelings. The path (rut) in the forest is always there, in times of stress. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Wrapping our head around the implications of the end of the fossil fuel world takes time, years. To me this similar to the work done in AA. Most recovering addicts are not ready to do their psychological work until they have lived with the truth of their addiction and without use for as much as five years. It takes time to face the change, to look through another lens.

This is a story I had happen several times as a therapist.

When working with a client, I would try to help them come to a realization of the behaviors that didn’t work for them. Metaphorically, I might suggest to them that A plus B leads to C. I would try to get that message to them in various ways across the time I was seeing them. It is not easy to wrap your head around the betrayal and pain and loss. It takes fortitude, persistence and courage. For some I was successful.

There were a few who one day would come to session and say to me something like, “I was just at the laundromat. The woman that changes the coin machine there said to me, ‘that A plus B leads to C.’ Why didn’t you tell me that?” The first time simply blew me away but I simply said, “What a wonderful discovery.”

Now I certainly can chalk some of that up to some failure on my part. In addition, I think it is the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, etc.”

They were ready to look through a different lens.

Here are a couple of eye openers and new lenses.

Economics has always seemed weird to me. I have done well with my little corner of finance, but the BIG PICTURE always seemed like pushing paper around and rich people playing monopoly. This last decade has brought that home to many. There are probably many good sources out there, but I would suggest The Crash Course by Chris Martenson. It will be a step for looking through another lens.

Coming to terms with the end of the fossil fuel era, the end of our way of life (the only one many of us have known) vis a vis resource depletion, environmental degradation, overpopulation and hubris is very hard to wrap our minds around and carries loss and trauma with it. We may be even more traumatized when we realize how we have been manipulated by business and government. Trying to see it is difficult because it is like trying to catch wisps of smoke.

We have been hustled our whole lives. You think you know that and maybe you in particular are immune. Not true. Well-trained psychologists, public relations people and advertising types are highly paid to get below your radar. It has been happening forever. Look at The Century Of The Self-Full Length Documentary - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyPzGUsYyKM

Perhaps even more eye opening, angering and discouraging is the DVD “Why We Fight” http://www.sonyclassics.com/whywefight/ which puts into perspective Eisenhower’s warning about the military/industrial complex. Also A Century of War:

Anglo-American oil politics and the new world order by F. William Engdahl. . 2004. From the beginning of last century, the world has been manipulated for black gold and other resources with the loss of many human lives and tons of environmental degradation and resource waste.

There is a perhaps another even less comfortable lens to look through.

We citizens of the United States of America and most of the developed world can be repulsed (or not) by the violence, but we have benefited from it. The violence, environmental devastation, ethnic cleansing, physical and cultural imperialism (missionary work applies here too), all in our name was good for business. Thus it has been good for us in the short run. The same goes for the rampant consumerism and its collateral destruction. Now, it is all coming home to roost. No free lunches.

Eye openers. New lenses. A clearer view is not always pleasant.

2 comments:

  1. John,

    Probably, in a market economy, the ERoEI* as defined at http://dematerialism.net/eroeistar.htm for wind and solar are less than 1.0. I would like to see your calculations that show that the ERoEI* of sun and wind are less than 1.0 regardless of political economy.

    Tom Wayburn, Houston, Texas

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  2. The best wind and solar energy devices are clouds and trees. They work. Their EROEI is good. No mining is needed, except that done by roots and mycorrhizae. They need no fossil-fuel subsidy. The only investment we need to make in trees is to stop getting in their way. And when we do that for the trees, and let them re-forest, they make more clouds, to add to the clouds that the sun makes over the oceans. Over the land, the sun and the forests cooperate to make it happen. They also make wood, with all its many uses. And of course, that's only a couple of the great multitude of primary services which forests do for the life of the Earth.

    But, awkwardly, humankind can only fit in to that natural climax-ecosystem arrangement if there are not more than about half a billion of us, worldwide. Preferably less. And we have never established any kind of control over our numbers.

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