A RETURN TO THE SUN
By Sun & REP
Vol. 1, No. 6, 1979, pp. 4, 12
Five thousand years ago men worshipped the sun. After a 50 century hiatus, man is turning his attention and hope – toward that same sun. Today, we are caught in the middle of the most sophisticated technological web ever spun on this earth. The spider is energy – fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, and nuclear power. There is one possible avenue of escape – the sun, and its energy in the form of wind power, water power, biomass, geothermal energy and others.
The energy dialogue poses three critical questions about our resources: (1) Are they limitless? (2) Are they safe? and (3) Who controls them? With regard to the first question, there is no infinite amount of any extractable natural resource: none are renewable. There is only so much oil, for example, and even though new reserves are periodically discovered, the cost of bringing oil to the surface is substantial and increasing daily. Also, the demand for energy is likewise increasing at an alarming rate.
The second point, safety, produces damning evidence against all fuels, especially nuclear power. Burning fossil fuels produces a staggering amount of air and water pollution; and nuclear fuels are hazardous to extract, transport, use, store and dispose of. Finally, because the raw material of fossil fuels is site specific, requiring elaborate extraction, transport, refining and distribution equipment and systems, no individual acting alone or collectively has the ability to control the fuel he uses for heat and cooling. The capital investment needed in bringing such fuels to homes, businesses and industries has been great, encouraging large and powerful corporations to dominate and control our energy.
Solar energy and its offspring, on the other hand, are limitless, ubiquitous and can be captured by anyone at a fraction of the cost of conventional energy. We simply must learn how to do it.
The price of coal and oil has been kept at artificially low levels for many years, encouraging over-dependence on energy resources which are environmentally hazardous and in some instances, dangerously depleted. Experts, however, now believe the sun can power 32 percent of America by the year 2000, if the government and private sector will direct their considerable expertise to the research and development of solar energy.
There is some basis for hope. From a budget of $1 million in 1970, Washington’s current solar technologies budget for fiscal year 1979 has exceeded $500 million, and along with hundreds of small manufacturers, the giants of American industry General Motors, RCA, General Electric, Grumman, to name a few are beginning to invest seriously in solar development.
Perhaps because of the energy crisis, a new philosophy has emerged about man’s relationship to technology and his environment. Recent events have shown that despite our presumed mastery of technology, technology is actually controlling us. We are learning that we cannot create our own environment and mutilate the one which nature has created and shaped over millions of years. We have learned that in an attempt to control and simplify our lives, we have instead complicated them and placed them in the hands of powerful and centralized interests far removed from the expression of public needs and desires. The movement for appropriate or small-scale technology is designed to enable all human beings to regain control over their lives. It is a recognition that we must understand. We must accept our limitations, as well as respect the world in which live.
Appropriate technology (AT) includes the various solar technologies, holistic and preventive health measures, solid waste recycling, acupuncture, natural foods production, organic gardening and cooperative arrangements of all types. In other words, AT encourages people to control the tools they need to enable them to live in harmony with their environment. AT recognizes that ecological balance must be maintained if disasters, crises, shortages, suffering and poverty are to be minimized; that greed must yield to need in maintaining the progress that we have attained in many fields.
Adopting the concept of AT might lead to some of the following: a group of Alabama tenant farmers receiving technical and volunteer assistance to grow and eat their own fish and use the inedible portions for fertilizing crops in an alternating cycle; a rural community in South Carolina building and heating their passive solar-heated homes for practically nothing, after a modest initial investment; a Nashville resource recovery waste system where thousands of tons of glass, paper and metals are collected, separated, sold and recycled, with proceeds to participating communities in a system where people can learn management skills.
Or it might lead to community gardens in Charlotte, North Carolina operated and maintained by groups of residents who supply, plant, harvest and eat organically grown vegetables at a fraction of their retail cost; Southern Georgia rural communities powered by wood-burning stoves, supplied with forest wastes for heating, cooking and washing; a community health clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, where doctors and trained volunteers teach and practice preventive medicine to residents
and are supported by the Jackson community; farmers in the citrus belt of Florida taking their products by truck to St. Augustine, setting up market stalls and selling directly to consumers, eliminating middlemen and 66 cents on the dollar they lose when processors, transporters, packagers and retailers take their cuts.
These are some of the ways AT can – and is already beginning to operate in the Southeast United States. The potential is here. The Southeast receives more sunlight than most sections of the U.S.; there are few organized co-ops, many isolated farmers and rural communities. The Southeast is politically, economically and socially poor, but more and more voices are being heard; complaining, questioning and demanding action. People want power to control their own lives and their environment. They want to return, not to a harder, poorer life, but to one that is safe, healthy and satisfying. People want to see, feel, hear and smell nature, not destroy it. They want a community which reflects and blends with nature, not one that overpowers it.
AT can help lead us to that time and place, but it cannot happen without changes in many of our assumptions and values. And AT has something for everyone – the rich, the poor, the powerful, the needy, White, Black, urban dweller, rural farmer, businessman, tradesman – all of us. It is the belief that each of us is a human being with the right and power to control the basic needs of our own lives, free from outside manipulation, and with the dignity that only comes with economic well-being and the pride of self-sufficiency.
SUN/REP is a new, non-profit, public interest organization committed to the advocacy and commercialization of appropriate technology in the Southeast United States. Direct your inquiries to: SUN/REP, Suite 412, 3110 Maple Dr., Atlanta, Georgia 30305. Phone: (404) 261-1764.