Our energy challenge

April 20, 2011

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

An upbeat, informative presentation at the Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful Earth Day Awards Luncheon in Rockford recently was given by Steve Thomas. The former host of PBS’s This Old House and Renovation Nation of Planet Green did not disappoint the audience.

He started his talk by referring to the human effort expended in putting a man on the moon and reminding the audience of this planet’s uniqueness in its ability to support life.

He commented on the loss of knowledge and skills from simpler societies, referring to learning to navigate in the open ocean by stars, islands and birds from an ancient navigator willing to teach others so the skills were not lost to future generations. When we led a university field experience to Hawaii we met with a native teacher who learned similar skills and served as a navigator for a catamaran expedition from Tahiti to the Hawaii Islands. The intent of the trip was to establish proof of native sailing skills and instill pride in native students.

Thomas mentioned his grandfather’s presence as a missionary In Point Hope, Alaska, and shared photographs of the ice covered area. In 1988, whaling captains informed him that there was something different about the sea ice. Years later he recognized that the captains were correct in their assessment that ice was declining. Starting with this observation, it makes sense that rising planetary temperatures correlate with increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide from continuing combustion of fossil fuels.

He reminded us of our ethical responsibility to change our behavior and reduce fossil fuel use to maintain climatic conditions favorable to human well being and planetary health. He pointed to the spirit embodied in surviving WWII B 25 pilots who had a job to do and quietly went about doing it.

One area for major reductions in energy consumption is in buildings which consume 48 percent of the nation’s energy and 76 percent of our electricity. His initial foray into renovating buildings for energy efficiency occurred at what became the family home in Salem, Massachusetts which reduced energy consumption by nearly 30 percent.

One of his first projects shown on This Old House was an effort to save an old barn. It was infested with powder post beetles which caused the building to collapse after it was stripped down to its timber frame. A new frame was constructed and structurally integrated panels were hung on it to achieve a high level of energy efficiency.

During his stint with Planet Green Thomas had the opportunity to examine green housing across the nation. He summarized that experience by calling attention to the diverse perspectives and goals of those building green homes. A politically conservative couple built a green home because as conservatives they seek to conserve which includes limiting their energy use. A progressive couple choose to build a green home in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

Just as pilots in WWII, who came from diverse backgrounds, we too have a major challenge to address which calls for action crossing all income levels and political perspectives. We need to cut fossil fuel consumption and dramatically increase the efficiency with which we use energy.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 20-26, 2011 issue

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