Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solar Panels: The Eavesdrop Edition

This morning I had the fortune of being able to eavesdrop on two people talking in my local coffee shop about adding solar panels to their home (Yes. I get it. I’m a stalker).

The one person made a good point about it being a mistake to purchase the panels for their home right now. This is because Chicago already suffers from limited sun exposure during the winter months...though I don’t understand why because I was under the impression that the sun rotated around Earth, but I may have my facts wrong.

Solar technology is constantly improving its ability to capture energy from sunlight, even at low levels (Germany, a remarkably cloudy country, is leading the charge on many new solar technology advancements). However, the alternative energy of choice for places that have many months of low sun exposure is probably going to be wind.

These things aside, it was interesting to hear the other person’s reaction after hearing that solar may be the wrong way to go. He went on to say that if he couldn’t invest in solar energy then there wasn’t much that he could do right now (and then he started talking about the Chicago Bear’s playoff chances*). This fell right in line with a quote that I just read in Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce:
The environment is one more thing to worry about. It looms in the future at a time when we are beset with many other concerns. It is like being a single parent when the dog has run away, the children are fighting, the dinner is burning, the babysitter hasn’t shown up, we are late for the PTA meeting and have spilled gravy on the carpet—then someone doing a survey knocks at the door and wants to know how we feel about the proposed incinerator at the edge of town. Although the incinerator may affect our lives in the future, we are afflicted with pressing problems today.
This is a remarkably simple way of stating how environmental issues are treated in every day situations. Here is a person that had a brief moment to attempt and address an environmental concern through solar power, and once something got in his way he abandoned the idea and began to think about something else that was on his plate.

I guess the point of all this is that environmental issues require planning in advance because nature is inherently slow in its processes. This goes against our instincts to read and react in real-time meaning that we are going to have to train ourselves to place environmental issues further up our to-do lists when considering our options.


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