Solving Global Problems Locally

Something noteworthy in the current debate about climate change and energy crisis is that we talk about a HUGE global problem and automatcially assume that any solution to a problem must be global, or at least on a VERY LARGE scale.

I have been following the T Boone Pickens story with great interest. Here is a guy loaded with $$$ he made producing oil who has figured out that oil is a dead end street, and he is using some of that $$$ to wean us off our “oil addiction”. Very admirable, I think. Where are all the others ? This is not about charity. This is about making money the market economy way, about taking a chance on something that’s sure to be a safe bet. Anyone talking up the environmental theme to be a bubble, hasn’t grasped the severity of the situation. This is not a bubble. This is about years and years of change and adjustment to out economic and financial system, and probably trillions of dollars of investment.

The T-Boone plan is a great example how we can achieve that seemingly unachievable change. When Al Gore says we can do it in 10 years, you first shrug and think he’s nuts. But is he ? Isn’t is just a matter of trying ? Think of the combined efforts during World War II to keep the economy cranking harder and faster than ever before ! That’s the kind of effort we need.

But apart from the large scale efforts, I think a lot can be done on the small scale. It’s starts at home with your private energy use and conservation, insulation, recycling, landscaping… Cutting back on totally unnecessary demand – the kind that’s going on when nobody is home or watching – could be achieved over night, if everybody were on board. Turns out this is more of an educational rather than economic goal though. How do you get people to change their behavior ? Simply by increasing kWh prices above the threshold of pain ?

I’m almost finished with Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy”, and the book makes a great point about scale, about changing things at the community level. Community is what’s been going down the drain. Community level production of food and energy, neighborhood support, jobs in the community. One huge factor is energy. I had never heard figures on how much energy is lost during overland transmission. Burning fossil fuels in one place and theb sending the energy down 100s of miles of powerlines to the consumer wastes something like 30%. This energy needs to be produced locally,  and that’s a concern with the Pickens Plan that begs the question how to get the power from all those windy parts of the country to the air conditioners in the south and the heaters way up north.

The book is full of examples of how small production facilities, contrary to what we’ve been told, are more efficient than large ones – especially food !, and a power distribution system that consists of local plants – wind, solar, natural gas – that includes millions of home producers, their solar panels and windmills, would be more efficient than just replacing all our fossil fuel plants with eco-friendly plants, no matter what a fantastic step ahead that would be. Read McKibben. It’s a manifesto for small scale, and I think he’s got lots of good points.

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One Response to “Solving Global Problems Locally”

  1. I agree. Globablization is responsible for many of our social and environmental problems. Local economies preserve job and provide for better quality of life.

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