the beautiful lotus flower photo above was taken by Bahman Farzad - my blog is freezing up and my little box with his photo credit keeps disappearing. until i can fix that, there is this
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Friday, August 15, 2014
A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak about solar power at a Yogi’s Beyond Coal event. In spite of my passion for communication, I am not much of a public speaker and adding amplification usually makes it that much worse. But- if you are always encouraging others to conquer their fears, it doesn’t leave much wiggle room – right?
So, I spoke and much to my surprise, I had a wonderful time and people were appreciative of what I had to say. I think the appreciation was because I shared good news- not bad news, but good news. All too often, we focus on what is wrong (myself included) as opposed to what is right. Yogi’s Beyond Coal is about shutting down coal fired power plants – a mighty and noble goal- and, an incredibly worthwhile endeavor as coal fired plants are the biggest contributors to climate change, not to mention the local health hazards these plants pose. Rather than dwell on climate change or coal ash ponds or hazardous chemicals coming from smokestacks- I focused on solar.
I have been living on solar power since sometime in 1995. I love living on solar! In our mountains, power does occasionally go out across the area from storms. We never know the power has gone out- solar doesn’t go out. Not only do I feel great about living on solar, I feel pretty great about working to make it available to everyone that wants it. Solar is a real solution. The price of residential PV systems continues to come down. Right now, solar is costing in the neighborhood of less than $3.50 per watt and it is predicted that soon, about 2018 – even if coal were free to burn, power stations won’t be able to compete with solar!
No mining, no blowing the tops off mountains, no burning, no coal ash ponds, no toxic burden, and no compromise – solar makes use of the sun, which is shining and sending us energy continuously.
It is completely possible to go solar and North Carolina is a great place to do it! North Carolina is actually #2 in the nation for installed PV in 2013 (woo hoo) AND- more people are now employed in the solar industry than in the mining industry AND Germany just produced a record 50% of its electricity needs through solar in June- a huge milestone on the march to renewable energy!
There was a recent program in Asheville- “Solarize Asheville” –and through this program we were able to sign up 50 Asheville homeowners to have solar electric systems installed in their homes. From young families to retirees, the group is incredibly diverse. The average system installed is about 4.2 kW.
The collective impact of these 50 systems is that about 226,000 pounds of coal will be displaced by clean solar each year. That translates to an offset of about 210 metric tons of carbon dioxide not going into the atmosphere.
Another way to think of these systems, in terms of carbon, is in carbon sequestered. These 50 systems are approximate to the carbon sequestered by about 5,394 little tree seedlings that have grown for about 10 years.
In what now seems like another lifetime, my husband and I worked at Greenpeace. We loved working at Greenpeace- every day, for years. But there came a time when we both felt we just couldn’t focus on the problems anymore and we really wanted to focus on the solutions. This was the birth of our company, Sundance Power Systems – we design and install renewable energy systems. And- the thing about renewable energy systems? It’s a solution- this is the reality of renewable energy – every single system installed is a victory. Every system installed takes us one step closer to the world we all want to live in- sustainable, clean, healthy and renewable.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Is it just me? Or, does there seem to be an unprecedented number of energy related spills going on right now?
In November, in rural Alabama, a train derailed and exploded, releasing 2.7 million gallons of crude oil. In January, a massive chemical spill (a toxic chemical used to clean coal) into the Elk River in West Virginia has left residents still unable to use their water. February has seen spills left and right: a coal slurry spill on the Kanawha River in WV- basically the same area that is still suffering from the earlier chemical spill; a massive release of coal ash into the Dan River in Virginia; another train derailing up in Minnesota that has 12,000 gallons of spilled crude oil; a train derailed and spilling Canadian crude oil in Pennsylvania and just this week- so close to home- 5,000 gallons of fuel oil were spilled in Hominy Creek and have since made it into the French Broad River.
What is going on? At what point do we stop the madness? When we no longer have clean water to drink- it’s game over. Between the spills, the accidents, the fracking, the coal ash, the heavy metals- things are looking ominous.
What happens when solar spills? Oh- right, it’s called a nice day.
There are a number of ways in which we really need to step up and take action.
First- we need to pay attention and hold the corporations behind these spills accountable. Next, we need to let our elected officials know that we are paying attention and we demand accountability. And- we need to take steps to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels- through efficiency, reducing our carbon footprint and making the switch to clean, sustainable and renewable solar, wind and water power.
Some ways we can begin to address the spills include-
*Greenpeace has a petition, started by campaigner Ben Kroetz, to Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, which says: I am writing to demand that Duke Energy clean up the coal ash in the Dan River and prevent future disasters from occurring at its other unlined coal ash dumps. This toxic waste must be removed and stored in dry, lined landfills to protect the safety of our drinking water, rivers, and lakes. You can sign this petition here: Sign Ben's petition
*To support the citizens of WV- there are a number of groups on the ground and working on the spill issues. Check out West Virginia Citizen Action Group here: http://www.wvcag.org/action_alerts/ as well, Climate Ground Zero at http://climategroundzero.net/ and there are numerous campaigns at Earth Justice http://earthjustice.org/action that address all of these issues.
*2013 was the worst year yet for rail car spills – this one is harder to address as effective work is almost always needed state by state. However- one big step with far reaching consequences is to take action against the Keystone XL pipeline. The Keystone XL is a proposed pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries. It is estimated that 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil would be transported, refined, exported and burned each day. Tar sands oil has a massive carbon footprint- sometimes requiring more energy to produce than it creates. Numerous climate scientists have predicted “game over” for the climate if the pipeline is built and the tar sands are exploited.
On May 4, 2012, the Department of State received a new application from TransCanada Corp for the pipeline. The Department is considering this new application. On February 5, 2014, the Federal Register published a Notice that invited members of the public to comment on any factor they deem relevant in consideration of this pipeline. This 30 day public comment period will close on March 7, 2014. There are two ways to submit comments- you can submit to regulations.gov . Or comments may be mailed directly to:
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Please take a moment to raise your voice for our climate, our children, our future. Don’t postpone this action as the deadline for comments is March 7th and is fast approaching.
(this blog is actually from an article I wrote for the February issue of the Sundance Power newsletter that was then picked up and carried by WNC Green Building Council as well. photo credit goes to AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Monday, December 30, 2013
I’ve been thinking about the tragedy at Fukushima, on and off, for the past two and a half years (to say that I am a ruminative thinker would clearly be an understatement). Beyond signing a few petitions and feeling despair, I have done little else on this front.
To be honest, nuclear power and nuclear weapons have never sat well with me. I’ve always felt in my heart that nuclear power is intrinsically wrong and a violation of the sacred wholeness of life. Indeed, perhaps the most egregious violation against life that we as a species have yet committed.
At this point in my evolution of consciousness, what bothers me most about nuclear power is the thought of nuclear power and prana. Or rather, what nuclear power does to prana.
Prana is the stuff we are made of as well as our life-force energy. Prana is the force that moves the tides; swirls in the respiration of trees; fuels the beat and flutter of the hummingbird’s wings and spins the world. Prana is beautiful, mystical and everything. Hard to define but we know it when we feel it. Folding forward in Pashimattanasana we delight in the sensation of prana moving up the spine and back muscles. Breathing deeply, we replenish our tissues with prana. Easy to affirm in our choices with food, no way to miss the prana of luscious, fresh strawberries straight from the garden yet difficult, perhaps impossible to find in packaged and processed foods. Prana is that sacred current of life force animating not only our bodies but our spirit as well. The nature of prana is that it flows in and out of all of us, linking you and me as well as the jaguar and the mountain. In the flow of prana, truly we are one. There are many deep and reverent definitions of prana in the yogic teachings yet the one that I return to over and over comes from my yoga teacher, Yogi Bhajan. The simplest and most profound definition he accorded prana was this: “Prana is the life force of the atom.” If nuclear power is the result of splitting the atom and the atom is the most basic component of prana, what does that mean for life on this planet?
The first time that nuclear power entered my consciousness was when Three Mile Island suffered instrument failure and there was a large scale meltdown in 1979. At that time I was just barely a teenager. Honestly, I had not really given much thought to nuclear power, let alone power generation in general. I was raised in an era where my environmental concerns were about litter and pollution and the loss of farmland for the ever increasing sprawl of suburbia. When the towers at Three Mile went into meltdown, my mother threw us in the car and implemented a personal evacuation, driving us from Maryland down to North Carolina. At that time, I was bewildered by the whole concept of nuclear power, bewildered that we appeared to be the only ones leaving the area and especially, bewildered that the leaders of our country would expose us to such dangers just to procure electricity.
Thirty-four years later, I am still bewildered that our leaders find the risk of nuclear power to be acceptable. I’m equally distressed that we just don’t seem to be able to muster the numbers needed to take nukes off the table of options.
The tragedy at the Fukushima Daiishi power plant brought my deep and long running unease with nuclear power front and center and while it disconcerts me on a regular basis, I have not yet managed to do anything constructive. I confess that as I’ve attempted to articulate my misgivings about nukes, I find myself simply overwhelmed by the many levels of wrong that come up when you consider nukes. Even the birth of nuclear power is shrouded with the energy of death and destruction. Nuclear power was born with the atomic bomb which of course was the effort to harness the power of the atom to destroy life.
Shall we give ourselves a quick review on the birth of all things nuclear? It was late in 1938 that a group of European scientists were successful in splitting an atom of uranium. A number of physicists were aware at this time of the potential release of tremendous amounts of energy if an atomic chain reaction could be sustained, meaning if enough atoms could be split at the same time. At this time World War II was approaching and many scientists left Germany and Europe and came to the United States and Canada, primarily to Universities. The rumor going around was that Germany had managed to develop the technology for bombs unlike anything ever imagined before in terms of power and destruction. A number of Hungarian scientists urged Albert Einstein to be in touch with President Roosevelt about Germany’s rumored new bomb making technology. Einstein urged Roosevelt to obtain uranium ore for the United States and to speed up research in this area. (Later, Einstein would deeply and truly grieve his involvement in splitting the atom and encouraging the development of this technology.) What follows is almost unbelievable. Roosevelt responded by forming a “Uranium Committee” and the decision to pursue research and development in atomic energy, specifically to develop the atomic bomb, was made in December of 1941.
By August of 1942, the Army had established the Manhattan Engineer District within its Corp of Engineers and from there, the top-secret wartime Manhattan Project was underway. The atomic, industrial and academic establishments came together as never before and in three short years there was the structure in place for large scale factory production. Factory sites were situated in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington. Workers at both of these sites had no idea of what they were constructing and what would take place there. This secrecy continued at Los Alamos in New Mexico. Here, a top secret scientific laboratory was created to receive the enriched uranium and plutonium created in Oak Ridge and Hanford.
Throughout this time of research and production, little to no mention was ever made of radioactive contamination or waste disposal. While I realize that there was a military immediacy to the efforts and most likely the feeling of a very big machine of power, I still can’t
quite get how this didn’t come up as an issue. Dr. Robert J. Oppenheimer was in charge of the Los Alamos facility and was a phenomenally intelligent man, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics three times. Interestingly enough, Oppenheimer was noted for reading research and important works in their original languages. In 1933, Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit and read The Bhagavad Gita in its original form. Oppenheimer later cited The Bhagavad Gita as one of the books that most shaped his philosophy in life.
Under Oppenheimer’s direction, the first atomic bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945 in an unpopulated desert about 200 miles from Los Alamos. This test was named “The Trinity Test” and for me, more foretelling of the future of nuclear power and humanity than any other incident thus far was the reaction of the man who became known as the father of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer has said that his first thought upon witnessing the explosion was a line from The Bhagavad Gita about death. In a 1965 television interview, with tears streaming down his face, he recalled the Trinity test aftermath in this way, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most were silent. I remembered a line from the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
After the Trinity test, the following months were spent with the scientists building more atomic bombs at Los Alamos. At this point, Germany had already surrendered and Japan was attempting to investigate surrender through diplomatic channels. Some of the very same scientists who had urged the creation of the bomb now begged the United States not to use it against Japan. In an attempt to recognize and alert the public to the sheer magnitude of destruction possible through the use of atomic weapons, these scientists created The Franck Report in June of 1945. Sadly, the advice of the scientists was not heeded and on August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb made with uranium was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. More than one hundred thousand people died and if you truly want to imagine hell, the accounts of what happened in Hiroshima that day will supply all the details you need. Three days later, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this one constructed of plutonium, on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
The day after Nagasaki, Japan sued for peace. I can only speak for myself and I try to imagine the self-loathing, the guilt and recrimination that I would feel if I had been alive at this time. I would have felt a personal accountability for my nation and yet it is very difficult to find any historical record of any kind of remorse from the American people. The only possible explanation for this is that the jubilation and relief of the war being over must have overshadowed any serious thought of consequences and accountability.
So, our nuclear power technology was born with terrible intention and horrific destruction. In October of 1945 President Truman asked Congress to create an Atomic Energy Commission to be in charge of all aspects of atomic programs, from research to medical uses to bomb production. Congress drafted the Atomic Energy Act in 1946 and the mission of the Atomic Energy Commission was spelled out this way : “…it is hereby declared to be the policy of the people of the US, that, subject at all times to the paramount objective of assuring the common defense and security, the development and utilization of atomic energy shall, as far as practicable, be directed toward improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living, strengthening free competition in private enterprise, and promoting world peace.” ( p 7 No Nukes )
In spite of this declaration of using the development of atomic energy for public welfare and world peace, by 1952 thirteen nuclear reactors had been built for weapons production. In 1953 President Eisenhower went before the United Nations and gave a speech that was titled “Atoms for Peace.” In this speech, goodwill was promised by the US, as well as sharing nuclear technology. This was the first time that nuclear technology was utilized as a foreign policy tool and this practice continues today.
There were important changes made to the Atomic Energy Act in 1954 that allowed for private ownership of nuclear reactors as well as private patent rights for the production and utilization of fissionable material. ( p 10 No Nukes) In 1954 the first nuclear power plant opened in Obninsk, just outside of Moscow in the USSR. The first commercial nuclear power station opened in 1956 in England and the first commercial nuclear power station (The Shippingport Atomic Power Station) for the US followed in 1957 in Pennsylvania.
It’s interesting to me when people claim that renewable energy (solar, wind and hydro power) is not feasible and is reliant on government subsidies. In fact, nuclear power has been subsidized from the very beginning and in spite of private ownership that governmental subsidization continues today. In the late 1950’s legislation was passed that would protect the nuclear industry in the event of an accident. The nuclear industry is not financially liable for any accidents, the government is. Back in 1956, the industry had received $14 billion dollars in subsidies- it would be interesting to research the total amount of money spent by the government and taxpayer on nuclear to date but that is not really the issue of this paper.
When our government dropped the first atomic bombs it is safe to say that we did not have a real grasp of the hazards of radiation nor the severity of the legacy of nuclear waste on organic life. While numerous scientists did die as a result of contact with radium and other radioactive sources it wasn’t until the bombs were unleashed on Japan that radiation sickness was seen for the first time. What little thought was given to radiation and the effects on life was concerned only with what was visible- radiation burns, and no one thought to consider the impact of ongoing low levels (or even high levels) of radiation. Illustrative of our limited understanding of the technology we create was the fact that originally the scientists planning the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki thought that the radioactive fallout will disperse itself evenly throughout the earth’s atmosphere. That is not what happened. Particles from the fallout collected in the air streams that travel the world and more fallout actually happened in the northern temperate zones. And still, it was thought that the dangers of radiation were external, no one had thought about what happens when radioactive isotopes are taken into the body as a consequence of being part of our food or drink.
When I think of atoms, I think of little miniature solar systems with fantastical little electrons standing in the place of planets. At the center of this little solar system that is the atom is, instead of the sun, a nucleus. The nucleus is full of protons and neutrons jam packed actually! And this atom is, according to my yoga teacher, full of prana as well. In science it is a matter of fact that the force that holds the nucleus of an atom together is actually the strongest force in nature.
When you bombard the nucleus of an atom with a neutron, the atom splits apart- this is what is called fission and this is the process by which nuclear power is generated. Uranium is the heaviest natural element, because of this, uranium atoms are large and this makes the atomic force weaker than a smaller atom. In a nuclear power plant, uranium atoms are bombarded with neutrons; this splits the atoms and releases neutrons. The neutrons that are released as a result of this split then collide with other atoms and this creates a chain reaction. This is fission and the result is a release of energy that is then used to heat water. The water is heated to about 520 Fahrenheit and this incredibly hot water then spins turbines which are connected to generators which produce electricity.
Lately, it seems to me, that if we are splitting atoms we are destroying prana. The very divine essence of life force that flows through every living aspect of ourselves and our planet and we are smashing it to smithereens so we can have electricity and weapons. Just sit with that for a bit.
In return for splitting the atom we receive energy and the legacy that goes hand in hand with this sort of energy, radioactive poison. This radioactive poison is present at every nuclear power plant, every mining site, every weapons test site and all of the places were spent fuel rods and nuclear waste are being held until we figure out what to do with them. Radiation can cause cancer, leukemia, premature aging, heart disease, genetic damage, birth defects and poor health overall. While every nuclear generation station releases some radioactivity daily it is the accidents that are potentially catastrophic to the planet. These accidents waiting to happen have the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people and contaminate areas for centuries.
There are five accidents that are considered to be the world’s worst nuclear accidents. The most recent, Fukushima, Japan was upgraded to a level 7 in a matter of days. Note that a Level 7 is the highest, or most severe rating for a nuclear accident. Previous to Fukushima we had Chernobyl, Ukraine. The accident in Chernobyl was caused by an explosion and fire in the reactor, this accident is considered the worst ever yet many scientists and watchdog groups think that the Fukushima disaster will surpass the Chernobyl accident in lethal radiation and accident scope. Before Chernobyl which happened in 1986 there was Three Mile Island in 1979. This accident was caused by instrument failure and has been labeled a “5” on the scale of nuclear disaster. In 1957 there were two situations that fall into the worst nuclear incident category- an explosion in a waste tank in Kyshtym, Russia and a fire in the operating reactor at Windscale in the UK. Never mind the accidents for a moment; we still don’t have a method for storing the waste from nuclear power generation and weapons creation. This is no small matter as according to Greenpeace, the waste remains highly radioactive for 240,000 years. How do you even begin to design a system for accommodating a waste like that? It is beyond our comprehension, really, this legacy that we are bequeathing to future generations of all the life forms with which we share the planet.
This past summer, in 2013, the company responsible for the nuclear power plant in Fukushima (TEPCO) admitted that radioactive water has been leaking from the plant all along, continuously seeping into groundwater, drinking water and the ultimately, the Pacific Ocean. You will know, if you’ve been paying attention, that the news on this front has just spiraled ever downward.
I have not really even gone deeply into the issues of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. I have not spoken about the mining of uranium and the hazards and environmental assault that happens at this end of the process. Nor have I addressed the transportation issues and what happens in terms of exposure and hazard potential at this part of the cycle. Lastly, I have not talked about the potential for theft of waste material for bomb making and terrorism.
In my contemplation on this issue, it just seems that this heritage of grief and annihilation of life is part and parcel with the very act of smashing the atom, as, we are actually smashing prana. A sort of ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’ energy exchange. Our species has far too long believed that we are above or outside of nature, somehow above or outside of the basic rules of conduct. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from radiation. The consequences of our actions or inactions will catch up to us. It is time to act, regardless of how inconvenient, against atomic power. Another lesson from The Bhagavad Gita is that without action, the cosmos falls out of order and truth is obscured. Choosing inaction is not an option.
Take some time, but not too much time. Listen to the whisperings of your heart, the wisdom of your soul and then decide upon a course of action because it is up to us to restore wholeness and integrity where we have destroyed it.
Sources: Greenpeace, Various News Agencies/Reports as well as No Nukes: Everyone’s Guide to Nuclear Power by Anna Gyorgy & Friends
Monday, July 29, 2013
10. “I didn’t recognize you right side up” is the unilateral greeting you get from people now.
9. You wonder if any of your friends dread your daily handstand picture quite the way you do.
8. You hope that none of your friends dread your daily handstand picture quite the way you do.
7. You remind yourself that this began as an effort to bring playfulness and joy into each day.
6. You no longer get dressed without considering what will happen when you go upside down.
5. You can’t remember the last time you wore a skirt or dress without bike shorts underneath.
4. You never leave home without your camera.
3. People that you don't even know tell you all the ways your handstands can be better.
2. You find yourself wondering if you really did, in fact, lack playfulness and joy prior to hand standing every day.
1. You actually don’t want to do a handstand today.
*as with any top ten list, this is in the spirit of fun and jest :)
Friday, May 24, 2013
Today is my birthday and I am pretty freaking happy right now. My heart feels light, expanded, content even. (Could it be that elusive santosha?) And this moment of happiness just seems to keep stretching, expanding, shimmering and continuing. I think that thieving a bit of time to share my happiness, in words, will not diminish the state and may even inspire you to join me in a bit of fun.
If you know me, you know that happiness is not an expanded moment for me. Rather than enjoying the state of happiness, I tend to look for all the ways in which I need to be working for the happiness, or, at the very least, reduction in suffering for others. Heck, I even have trouble relaxing. Why relax when you can write yet another letter on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline? (Yes, my husband has been singing the party pooper song to me for more than 20 years now.)
But while I am still writing letters, still working for climate justice, still looking to do my part to make the world a better place, I am doing it with a big fat smile on my face. And that is different. This current nectar can be traced back to my beautiful friend, Amanda Hale. Certainly, just being friends with Amanda makes me pretty happy but this current spiral of happy started with Amanda and her handstands. Amanda is a handstand goddess and she resolved, on her birthday, to do a handstand every day and post a picture on Facebook. I found myself really enjoying Amanda’s handstand pictures and the innocent frivolity of it all. Then I found out that Amanda was inspired by Lauren Rudick who created #handstand365 when she posted a pretty great piece on mind-body-green about handstands, birthdays, expectations and why she was going to do a handstand every day for a year.
All I can say is that Lauren’s piece resonated for me, especially her desire to “bring joy and playfulness into my life every day” and “to remember that life is about being in the moment.”
I couldn’t wait until my birthday- I started 11 days ago. I’m really having fun- it’s pretty easy and seems to be spreading like wildfire. Every day, more folks are realizing a little bit of play and a new perspective can go a long way. I say- what are you waiting for? Get out there and get your handstand on.