By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association
“Why should I go to the IREA Fair? I’ve already been there,” is a comment occasionally heard. Those who have made repeat visits have answers: there’s always something new to learn; new workshops are added each year; even repeat ones are refinements and improvements on the past.
IREA makes a successful attempt each year to bring new ideas and new speakers. Last year, the Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, shared his story of greening a community that had been devastated by a tornado. This year, the Energy Director of Bloomfield, Iowa, will tell the inspiring tale of a forgotten small town that used home grown energy to stimulate economic growth.
Living in a consumption oriented society presents a challenge to organize an event which advocates the need to bring human expectations and aspirations in line with ecological limits. Such limits are not readily seen or recognized by the public and slowly accumulate to a point where they can no longer be ignored.
The scale of our energy and environmental problems is immense and our society has yet to implement appropriate solutions. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity, altered biochemical cycles and changes in land use are reaching a tipping point which will render the planet less hospitable for human well being.
While conventional sources of oil have peaked, the new unconventional sources of energy are more costly to develop, require more energy to secure and process and have substantially greater adverse environmental impacts.
An energy transition has also been set in motion but needs to be dramatically expanded to an appropriate scale. A recent report from a Stanford University team headed by Mark Jacobson claims our society could be powered by renewable energy in 20 years.
As a goal, it may not be reached, but it does provide a direction toward which we can aspire. The challenge is for individuals and communities to take actions now toward such a goal. The technologies have proven their worth and continue to improve while lowering their costs. Solar incentives are still in place until the end of 2016.
IREA’s annual Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair provides examples of what individuals and communities can do to lessen their adverse environmental impacts by using less energy, using cleaner energy sources and moving their lives to sustainability while reducing economic costs.
There are many examples of the advocated technologies and practices in the surrounding area. The growth of the local food movement is well documented; restaurants are proud to feature local foods; grocery stores highlight locally grown foods. Fair workshops will present simple techniques from bread and cheese making to home butchering to save money and become independent.
The Fair offers a broad scope of topics worthy of consideration. Adverse human impacts on the world’s oceans will be explored; solutions are offered. Quality speakers will share how they live lives consistent with their values: car enthusiasts will provide guidelines for improving personal vehicles; green builders will help people sort out how they can improve their homes at low cost.
A tremendous variety of topics will be available. If visitors are overwhelmed by what they have learned, in a concluding Sunday session Jack and Judy Speer will help them sort through what they can take home for their own lives.