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Solutions and Sustainability

Putting Their Faith in a Trust

Elizabeth Mehren, LA Times
To the last four Shakers, their idyllic Maine village is sacred soil. Their religion may not survive them, but now their land will.
NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — For more than two centuries, the Shakers deftly balanced prayer with pragmatism. God would provide, they were certain. And what God overlooked, they took care of themselves.

Thus these pious men and women came to invent such practical devices as the spring-loaded clothespin, the flat-bottom broom and the circular saw. They patented a washing machine in 1858. Their multi-chambered oven from 1878 strongly resembles contemporary restaurant ovens.

The clean, graceful lines of Shaker furniture helped inspire Danish modern design. Their straightforward style of building influenced the founders of the Bauhaus movement.

“Hands to work, hearts to God,” preached Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers’ founder.

The Shakers were never large in number. At the sect’s peak before the Civil War, 5,000 claimed membership in the monastic Protestant fellowship in which men and women live as brothers and sisters. The group, known formally as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, counsels self-reliance and mandates celibacy.

Today, four Shakers remain: two elderly women and two graying men. They are pondering the future not only of their faith but of their way of life.
(9 November 2005)
A long, respectful article about one of the most successful and creative sustainable societies in history. Particularly interesting is their complex attitude towards technology. -BA

Marx’s vision of sustainable human development

Paul Burkett, Monthly Review
…With global capitalism’s worsening poverty and environmental crises, sustainable human development comes to the fore as the primary question that must be engaged by all twenty-first century socialists in core and periphery alike. It is in this human developmental connection, I will argue, that Marx’s vision of communism or socialism (two terms that he used interchangeably) can be most helpful.2

The suggestion that Marx’s communism can inform the struggle for more healthy, sustainable, and liberating forms of human development may seem paradoxical in light of various ecological criticisms of Marx that have become so fashionable over the last several decades. Marx’s vision has been deemed ecologically unsustainable and undesirable due to its purported treatment of natural conditions as effectively limitless, and its supposed embrace, both practically and ethically, of technological optimism and human domination over nature.

The well known ecological economist Herman Daly, for example, argues that for Marx, the “materialistic determinist, economic growth is crucial in order to provide the overwhelming material abundance that is the objective condition for the emergence of the new socialist man. Environmental limits on growth would contradict ‘historical necessity’….”

…An engagement with these views is important not least because they have become influential even among ecologically minded Marxists, many of whom have looked to non-Marxist paradigms, especially that of Karl Polanyi, for the ecological guidance supposedly lacking in Marxism. The under-utilization of the human developmental and ecological elements of Marx’s communist vision is also reflected in the decision by some Marxists to place their bets on a “greening” of capitalism as a practical alternative to the struggle for socialism.4

Accordingly, I will interpret Marx’s various outlines of post-capitalist economy and society as a vision of sustainable human development.

…The demand for more equitable and sustainable forms of human development is central to the growing worldwide rebellion against elite economic institutions—transnational corporations, the IMF, World Bank, NAFTA, WTO, and so on. But this movement needs a vision that conceives the various institutions and policies under protest as elements of one class-exploitative system: capitalism. And it needs a framework for the debate, reconciliation, and realization of alternative pathways and strategies for negating the power of capital over the conditions of human development: that framework is communism. The classical Marxist vision of communism as de-alienation of production in service of human development still has much to contribute to this needed framework.
(October 2005 issue
Heavy-duty Marxist theory in a long essay, trying to make the case that Marx is relevant in a world of global warming and peak oil. -BA

China: Renewable Energy Investment at Record High – Report
Reuters via Planet Ark
Beijing – Global investment in renewable energy hit a record $30 billion last year, accounting for 20-25 percent of all investment in the power industry, and with solar power the fastest-growing energy technology, a Worldwatch Institute report released on Sunday said.

The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based organisation working for environmental sustainability, said the renewables sector was growing as a result of government support and increasing private sector investment.
(7 November 2005)

New Turbine Design May Boost Wind Energy
AP, Star-Tribune via Yahoo! News
Recent howling winds have been like sweet music to one local company, which says its new vertical wind turbine is substantially more efficient than traditional propeller designs.

Officials at Terra Moya Aqua Inc. unveiled their new turbine Friday, saying the design already had attracted interest from both domestic and foreign buyers.

Company officials said traditional propeller-driven turbines are able to convert 25 percent to 40 percent of wind power into transmittable energy. But TMA’s design is 43 percent to 45 percent efficient, creating up to 80 percent more power from the same wind.
(5 November 2005)

California City Struggles with an Opportunity To Become Nation’s Solar Leader
Terence Chea, AP, Environmental News Network
LIVERMORE, Calif. – Here in the sunny suburbs east of San Francisco, voters get a chance to make their community a national leader in solar power at a time of soaring energy prices and global warming.

A measure on Livermore’s ballot Tuesday would grant a housing developer the right to build what it claims will be the country’s largest completely solar community, with 2,450 new homes equipped to harvest the sun’s energy.
(8 November 2005)

Proselytizer for Pedaling Acts on His Words
Andrew Jacobs, New York Times
Michael de Jong wants you to take your bike to the plane.

It might seem like a loopy proposition, but Mr. de Jong, a Dutch-born millionaire, real estate developer and cycling maniac, is on a worldwide crusade to get industrialized man out of his car and onto the saddle seat. One prong of that mission is to convince otherwise sensible people that taking two wheels to the airport and back is less daunting than it seems. Cyclists, after all, never get stuck on the Van Wyck Expressway, and they do not have to lug their baggage quite as far as they would if they took the subway to the AirTrain.
(8 November 2005)

Shell Solar tops efficiency record for thin film PV modules
Shell Press Release
Shell Solar recently achieved a record 13.5% light to electricity conversion efficiency for it’s leading thin film CIS (Copper-Indium-Diselenide) photovoltaic technology. This proves that the performance of thin film technology can be at least as good as that demonstrated by many traditional crystalline silicon products available in the market place today.

The result was independently verified by the TUV Rheinland Group in Cologne, Germany based on a 30 x 30cm sized module. The result also underscores Shell’s commitment to maintaining leadership in the development and commercialisation of thin film PV technology – considered the most promising technology for long-term cost reduction in solar electricity.
(1 November 2005)
Lower embodied energy, if less efficient, solar panels certainly seem like a good way to go. It would be interesting to see a report on availability of various rare elements, and what limits apply to the growth of this technology. Indium for instance is a quite rare material, and prices have been rising with the growing use of LCD technology for computer monitors and television screens, for which it is used. There’s an interesting article on film PV costs by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory which suggests that the largest materials cost is actually for the encapsulating materials. -AF