Hard times are here–how will we use our energy?

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We are faced with the worst economy since the 1930s, so the recent dispute over jobs between the Carpenters Union and Comprehensive Community Solutions might mark the beginning of a level of social discord not experienced for a long time. If economists such as William Engdahl are correct, the U.S. economic crisis is nowhere near over.

Engdahl sees no evidence of a U.S. economic recovery and casts doubt on the validity of any federal statistics cited as proof of a recovery. He believes it will take 10 to 15 years before a recovery sets in, while The Long Emergency author James Howard Kuntsler believes this is just the beginning of a long decline.

For every job available, more than five people are looking for work. The lack of jobs is a national issue with devastating local impacts. It originated in corporate and federal policies that offshored American jobs to low-wage countries, along with the taxes that supported our vibrant economy following WWII. It intensified with waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while cutting federal taxes when higher taxes were needed to pay for the wars.

Additional economic blows came from the toxic financial wastes created and sold by Wall Street, and the federal decision to bail out the same banks that created the problem. Former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Paul Craig Roberts sees no systematic federal effort adequate to address the crisis in American incomes.

For years, Roberts documented America’s economic decline, and is now signing off in frustration after witnessing high unemployment rates, the transfer of jobs, technology and income to low-wage countries, Washington’s commitment to war, devastating levels of national debt and the loss of personal liberties. He feels our fate is sealed by militarism and greed.

Chris Hedges adds to the gloom with his view that we are on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history, and fears we will descend into barbarity. As conditions continue to deteriorate, cooperative community actions can help avoid a descent into competitive chaos.

Perhaps we should start with what local author Kelly Epperson has been promoting by encouraging people to laugh and enjoy life no matter how dire the situation may appear. Laughter helps to break the gloom and allows us to refocus on making the best of a difficult situation.

There is the good news in Rockford’s initiative of the Healthy Community Project as reported by Jim Hagerty. Partially funded by federal and state grants, the cooperative effort brings together various groups to develop and manage 40 community gardens that use rain water captured in barrels as supplemental sources of water. While targeted at providing fresh, nutritious foods to low-income participants, the effort can contribute to the redevelopment of a local food economy.

We can grow and process much of our food locally and shield ourselves from potential price spikes, supply disruptions and food quality issues associated with our increasing dependence on international supply chains. Karen King, owner of Choices Natural Market, encourages area residents to join the effort to support our local businesses.

Creating a Rock River Trail for hiking, biking, kayaking and canoeing can help rebuild the local economy. Such wholesome outdoor activities are relaxing, direct people’s minds toward natural beauty and can separate us from television, computers and cell phones. Escape needs to be mental as well as physical, and it is more likely to occur if we leave behind the accouterments of our power-driven society.

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 April 14-20, 2010 issue

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