Rebuilding locally to meet the climate challenge

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Climate change has captured public and political attention. Many consider it the major global challenge we face. If we reflect on how we reached this point, the only rational explanation is that growing human populations combined with the current development patterns created it.

Central to long-term human well-being and healthy ecosystems is how we use energy. Continued urban sprawl, expanding interstate highways and airports, excessive dependence on inefficient cars, massive expansion of alternative fuels, consumption of foods from distant places and heedless consumption of electricity and consumer goods reinforce the factors contributing to climate change.

A livable world is dependent on redesigning our communities to reduce energy consumption and increase our use of renewable energy. If people can walk to work, shop in their neighborhoods, eat locally-grown foods, bike and use mass transit, energy consumption will drop. Improving the efficiency of existing homes and buildings and providing for safe neighborhoods will encourage people to build energy-efficient homes on vacant lots and refurbish abandoned buildings.

The current solutions to our energy and environmental problems place heavy emphasis on energy production. Implied is securing more energy to continue living our lives in a way that contributes to climate change. Ignored is the fact that how our communities are structured creates conditions that dramatically influence our energy consumption.

Communities designed with energy efficiency as an organizing principle will enable citizens to lead more energy-efficient lives. Consumers will still have a responsibility to include energy efficiency as an important consideration in their behavior and consumption. We can reduce our energy consumption today simply by using less of it. We can also consume more local foods and products, produce some of our own electricity and limit our purchases to green and efficient products and services.

It has been estimated that car ownership and operating expenses are the second-biggest budget item after shelter. For those who aren’t ready to abandon their cars, cleaner transportation choices are available. Many of these choices will be on display at this year’s Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair.

University of Iowa students will feature a solar-powered electric car they built. Students from Augustana college will bring their electric vehicle. Chris Schneider, the hybrid guru, will return with his display. He hopes to bring his neighborhood electric vehicle, which he uses exclusively for transportation within LaCrosse. Such vehicles can be used in Illinois cities that enact an ordinance to permit their use. A growing number of Illinois communities have enacted the permissive legislation.

Saturn of Naperville will also be present. The Chicago Prius club is returning and hopes to have more cars on display than in previous years. A range of vehicles converted to run on biodiesel or batteries will also be shown.

Two Illinois heroes of the planet will again join us. Dave and Eileen Wetzel of Decatur were successful in getting legislation passed this year, which makes it legal for Illinois citizens to process waste cooking oil for personal transportation.

A new special feature will be the Midwest Alternative Fuel Expo. The organization is working to persuade 100 owners of alternative-fueled vehicles to come to the fair. A special section of the fairgrounds will be set aside for them. Look for their sign and spend time talking with them. They are offering two workshops to teach others how to convert a vehicle to battery power and how to convert a hybrid electric vehicle to a plug-in hybrid.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

from the June 27-July 4, 2007, issue

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