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New age town in U.S. embraces dollar alternative

Scott Malone, Reuters
GREAT BARRINGTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) – A walk down Main Street in this New England town calls to mind the pictures of Norman Rockwell, who lived nearby and chronicled small-town American life in the mid-20th Century.

So it is fitting that the artist’s face adorns the 50 BerkShares note, one of five denominations in a currency adopted by towns in western Massachusetts to support locally owned businesses over national chains.

“I just love the feel of using a local currency,” said Trice Atchison, 43, a teacher who used BerkShares to buy a snack at a cafe in Great Barrington, a town of about 7,400 people. “It keeps the profit within the community.”

There are about 844,000 BerkShares in circulation, worth $759,600 at the fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90 U.S. cents, according to program organizers. The paper scrip is available in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 50.

In their 10 months of circulation, they’ve become a regular feature of the local economy.
(19 June 2007)

Some Notes on The Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, Solar Ovens, and Small Wind

Nate Hagens, The Oil Drum
Since my dog has a broken leg, and my garden is reasonably under control, I decided this afternoon to drive the 20 miles from my cottage to Custer, WI, where the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association Fair (MREA) was taking place. The organizers expected 15,000 people to attend. I went last year (amidst tornado sirens) to see Jim Kunstler and my initial sense was that this years fair was nearly identical to last, in terms of product booths, workshops and types of people attending. From the MREA website:

The Fair is the world’s largest renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living educational event of its kind

Below the fold are some of my observations and thoughts from a few hours at the energy fair.

…I am beginning to increasingly look at large purchases not only in dollar terms, but in energy terms. Given my view on the future energy landscape, I should be (and am) willing to pay more ‘dollars’ for things today if they are the correct energy decisions for the future. I wish more of corporate and policy decisions were made in this manner. I am going to look further into small scale wind – my impression is that many of the current menu offerings are more like toys, and not great harvesters of energy. If some of you know more on this, please post links and info.

In sum, the people I saw at the fair were not dissimilar to the crowds at other alternative fairs Ive been to in the past (though pretty different than my brother at a Midwest Medieval Fair in Ohio). I got the sense the average person at MREA were in Custer because living partially/wholly off the grid is a lifestyle choice and wanted to learn about the latest gadgets, meet with friends and learn more about the alt-energy tribe. I did not get the sense, either this year or last, that a majority of consumers attended because they see the peak-oil-writing on the wall and are trying to get ahead of the curve on energy independence.

It also struck me today that these solar PV and home wind systems are complicated enough that you almost need an engineer in the family or alot of training/experience to effectively get and use the energy harvested from the panels/turbines. I think its great to want to be more self-sufficient and that these fairs are attracting large crowds. But the days of many of your neighbors having solar panels and wind turbines seem far far away to me.
(18 June 2007)

Limits and Brilliance

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
We find ourselves, as I wrote a bit ago in an essay called The Empire of Crime, without a contemporary sense of our immediate surroundings or much of a model for a working future.

This lends an air of surreality to our thinking. Like the hero of William Gibson’s story The Gernsback Continuum, we are shadowed by
visions of a future not our own:

…Indeed, we’re irrationally hung up on the past’s visions of the future…. Henry Jenkins, echoing William Gibson, calls this sphere of anachronistic futurism “The Tomorrow That Never Was”

…No wonder, then, that we cling like a monkey with a wire-brush mama to the idea of a future in which engineering conquers the human condition, where we can leave off serious worrying about the planet until the godlike AIs get here, and in which, in any case, we can always jump ship and scuttle off to another planet if things get too hot.

Unfortunately, wishing doesn’t make it so. Indeed, more and more of our best futurists, science fiction writers and big thinkers are trying to get us to dump our threadbare inherited tomorrows into the recycler, if only so we can start to think seriously about the real challenges we face today. A great example is Charlie Stross’ brilliant post The High Frontier, Redux, in which he eviscerates the whole idea of space colonization:
(19 June 2007)
Links at original.