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Reflections on the energy fair

August 19, 2009

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Each Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair is designed to be a rich educational experience. According to long-time participants, this one (Aug. 8-9 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill.) exceeded all previous efforts. Many expressed appreciation for all the work that goes into putting the event together, the broad diversity of topics covered and the quality of speakers. One vendor who has been present at all eight fairs indicated we must place far more emphasis on alerting people to the rich educational opportunities available.

Two demonstration projects of building with locally-grown straw broke new ground. A straw bale wall illustrated how doors and windows are incorporated. It also included a green roof featuring native prairie vegetation. A straw-clay wall was built over the weekend, demonstrating the ongoing process to visitors.

The hot, wet weather put a crimp in our attendance goals as we had expanded the program and the publicity surrounding it in anticipation of drawing our biggest audience to date. Despite the challenging weather conditions, our audience proved to be both hardy and cheerful. A few speakers failed to arrive at their scheduled times, but potential audience members quickly found other sessions to attend.

An increasing number of people see the fair as a social opportunity, and came with friends and family or looked forward to seeing familiar faces from previous fairs.

For the first time, three groups traveled to the fair by bus to both save money and demonstrate their commitment to reducing the adverse impacts of driving alone.

Considering the wet weekend conditions, it seems appropriate to close on some comments from Dr. Philip Whitford about the importance of coral reefs to global populations of marine and human life. Such ecosystems are the second-most productive in the world after tropical rain forests. Once again, human activities have degraded about 10 percent of the coral reefs; if current trends continue, an additional 30 percent could be destroyed within 30 years.

While multiple factors contribute to their decline, many destructive practices are supported by American lifestyle choices. Oceanside shrimp farms and ocean fishing trawlers support American appetites; snorkelers and divers eager to explore the beauty of coral reefs touch, kick and collect coral contributing to their decline, as do tropical aquarium aficionados. Luxury cruise ships add to the destruction every time they pull up to dock or depart.

While behavioral changes can lessen the damage to ecosystems, Dr. Whitford called attention to the need to curb human population growth as essential to protecting and restoring the health of the planet.

We also need to protect our local ecosystems. Frank Schier’s recent editorial calling for citizen action to stop urban sprawl from expanding along Meridian Road is an example of such positive action.

Perhaps the spirit of the fair is best summed up by a quote from a reporter who has covered the fair for several years: “Thanks again for another great renewable energy fair! You guys always put on such a wonderful and thought-provoking event with amazing speakers, vendors and presenters! I really enjoyed the sessions I attended and the vendors I visited with!”

Major sponsors of the fair were the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, ComEd and The Rock River Times.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. 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 active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue

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