Friday, December 16, 2011


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

Perhaps even more eye opening, angering and discouraging is the DVD “Why We Fight” 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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Supporting Fossil Fuels?

I have pestered this theme of solar, wind, “renewable”, “alternative” in various essays. The dramatic change from my original stance, hope, dream of a different future underlies the primary reason. I believe with this essay, I have finally captured my view of these concerns. The only piece I have not addressed in depth is the auxillary equipment – blowers, electronics, batteries, etc - needed for the use of these devices. I did hint at and to my satisfaction in

This essay originally started as an email exchange between myself and a proponent of a locally manufactured solar hot air panel. This particular firm had received millions of dollars in public money to build a building and to install these panels on low income homes. I totally disagreed with the public money dispersals. As for the low income homes, I felt that good weatherization of these homes was an adequate step and only in the case of medical necessity should these panels be applied.

This exchange helped me to clarify my position on “renewable” and “alternative” energy sources. This position that had been stated in other essays:

Here is my reply.

Solar hot air panels offer a perfect example of wrong thinking about energy and our energy future. Solar and wind devices are not renewable or alternative. They are extensions of the fossil fuels system. There is a vast infrastructure that allows the manufacture of these solar hot air panels as well as other solar and wind energy capturing devices.

For a solar hot air panel there is a copper plate that is an absorber, an aluminum frame, glass for glazing, insulation, gaskets as well as a blower to bring the heated air into the building. Each of these major components and all others are supported by fossil fuel energy and the massive equipment needed for mining, processing, manufacturing basic material, fabricating parts, assembling devices, installation and transportation during each of these steps.

To reiterate there is:

pit mining for raw materials,

drilling for oil and natural gas anywhere and everywhere,

mountain top removal for coal,

processing of raw ores like copper and aluminum,

manufacturing of processed ores into usable material,

fabrication of parts for solar and wind devices,

assembly of solar and wind devices,

installation of solar and wind devices,

periodic maintenance and parts replacement of solar and wind devices

all the transportation involved in each of these steps

Coincident with this use of fossil fuels are various modes of serious environmental degradation from earth moving, chemical use, spills, and air, soil and water pollution.

See my newest essay/pictorial:

Calling solar hot air panels renewable, alternative, clean, green or sustainable is highly misleading and false advertising. It is clear that even with the spurious assessment of “renewable” to devices requiring massive inputs of fossil fuels that these solar hot air panels do not qualify since they require an additional input of electricity to make them function. It is quite simple – no juice, no heat. Even wind puts out something once installed without additional electrical inputs. Without electricity, these panels become expensive wall decorations but not a provider of energy.

These solar hot air panels are used for the six month during the cold months of the year. During that time sunshine during the day is available for only about half of those six months because of cloudiness. Also because of shorter days during the winter, usable sun is not completely available during the daylight hours. This makes these solar hot air panels working considerably less than half of the year. Once again they sit on the wall as a very expensive wall ornament.

These panels are also a waste of precious fossil fuel energy. Approximately one square foot of solar heating panel delivers 2/3 of a gallon of fuel oil equivalence across the heating season in Minnesota. Being generous and saying one square foot to one gallon of fuel oil equivalence (and not subtracting the energy from the electricity) this would amount to 60 gallons of fuel oil equivalent for the two years. This wouldn’t even pay for the transportation energy required to move material around to get the panels together and installed.

Given all the fossil requirements for extraction, processing, raw material manufacture, further manufacture for each of the components plus all the transportation requirements, subsidizing these panels is subsidizing fossil fuels. In addition, it is implicitly supporting fracking and tar sand pollution out of the need for the raw energy and material needs. There is simply no way that this device is green or clean or whatever feel good definition that has been fallaciously attached to it. It is business as usual.

See my newest essay/pictorial:

All the rationalizations to maintain the goodness of this approach can not hide the massive fossil fuel use, the underlying support of fossil fuel use, and the environmental degradation to get basic materials and process them for these various “renewable” energy devices. We can lie to ourselves to justify our behavior, but not to physics, geology and ecology. The sooner we come to terms with the end of the fossil fuel era and adjust our living, the better it will be environmentally and climatically for the next generations.

This is a global problem. The use of these precious energy sources and material resources deprives half of humanity from access. This techno-fix remedy is typical neocolonial use of people and their resources for the good of a few. In the short and long run, fossil fuel and resource use will be about food (shifting away from fossil fuel based industrial agriculture) and about critical uses (clean water, water access, emergency vehicles) and not about these panels or the other solar and wind devices.

When I first saw the bigger system picture of energy extensions of fossil fuels, I thought that at least the various “renewable” energy devices could be transition technologies. This is not my belief now. The consumption of valuable energy and material resources are a major error. This is simply 20th century techno-fix for a 21st century world. Actually, it is a 1970s approach.

Along with the other essays mentioned, this one spells out the process of my coming to realize that solar, wind, and biomass were not what they were made out to be:

If destroying the next generation’s physical future could have something even more important, it is the social illusion/delusion that this approach fosters. From politicians, to Joe and Jane middle class, to false hopes for the poor this approach allows people to believe we can maintain a semblance of the status quo where growth and the “American Dream” still thrive. These are the false assumptions, hustles and dreams of what we did economically this last decade. It brought the world economy to its knees. This is simply a more of the same.

I was challenged why I would choose this particular misuse of public funds over all the examples of boondoggles and hustles out there. I can see your point. It may be a boondoggle but it is your boondoggle. Get yours while the getting is good. There are state and federal bureaucrats that have a vested interest in maintaining the fiction about solar and wind devices because of their job.

All though I would disagree, if a private party wants to spend their money on any one of these devices that is their choice if the devices are available. I actually have been asked about these solar heating panels and have told the various people that it is a high quality piece of equipment. I said no more because I was asked no more.

Besides my believing that this is a poor use of precious resources, that it is a poor application once weatherization has occurred except in necessary medical situations, I believe we are teaching poor future skills to people. If a person or family lives in the north and they have done what is necessary to weatherize their home and possibly apply passive solar, then they need to put on an extra pair of socks, another sweater. See:

The disparity between the haves and the growing number of have-nots is not addressed by putting up these feel good panels. It is a political situation that must be addressed at the grass roots level possibly by opting out of the system as peacefully as can be. This is what Kathy, my partner, and I are trying to develop at our orchard/garden for the next generations.

RREAL, the makers of these panels had to learn from me, the value and first step of weatherization in a somewhat contested encounter. They also were discounting of peak oil five years or so ago. I do not know if they have come to realize the importance of peak oil, peak water, the environmental degradation of heavy resource use and the devastation of fracking and tar sands. What if RREAL did come to this realization? Not a damn thing would change because it is the nature of the beast. Rationalization wins.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Machines Making Machines Making Machines

Solar and wind capturing devices are not alternative energy sources. They are extensions of the fossil fuel supply. There is an illusion of looking at the trees and not the forest in the “Renewable” energy world. Not seeing the systems, machineries, fossil fuel uses and environmental degradation that create the devices to capture the sun, wind and biofuels allows myopia and false claims.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) is only a part of the the equation. There is a massive infrastructure of mining, processing, manufacturing, fabricating, installation, transportation and the associated environmental assaults. Each of these processes and machines may only add a miniscule amount of energy to the final component of solar or wind devices. There would be no devices with out this infrastructure.

How else would we do it? There is always the old way. Who of us will go down in the mine first?

Let’s make an aluminum frame:

After getting the metal and barring accidents, it needs to be extruded. The extruding machine pushes heated ingots of aluminum through a die to get the shape of the frame. It then must be cut to transportable size and then heat treated.

As a teenager, 15, I worked in an aluminum extrusion plant in Florida. The extruded aluminum would be on a small gauge rail cart that we would push into a huge shed. The shed was heated to 375 F. When it was done we would push it out the other end of the shed to be loaded on trucks. Because it was Florida in the summer, our shirts were wet with sweat that dried immediately when we walked into the shed. By the end of the day my shirt was caked with salt.



How about some selective black chrome.

Used on solar hot air and hot water panels.

Lots of energy and chemicals here.



Wind Generators