Friends and Renewable Energy
Only when we see that we are part of the totality of the planet, not a superior part with special privileges, can we seek effectively to bring about an earth restored to wholeness.
"Your God Is Too Small," 1996
In God's marvelous creation, our planet is continually bathed in new energy from the sun. Winds blow, clouds form, rain falls, plants grow, and all life exists because of this ongoing infusion of energy into the earth's natural systems.
Until the industrial revolution of the last two centuries, civilization operated almost entirely on the "daily bread" of solar energy, which in one form or another renews itself regularly. Now, however, we seem locked into a way of life that is dependent on nonrenewable fossil fuels. John Woolman asked us to see whether the seeds of war are in our possessions. The drive for control of petroleum resources is clearly at the root of much deadly conflict today. Global petroleum extraction will peak soon (some experts say as early as 2012); if demand is not restrained, oil prices will soar and wars will continue.
World food production is likely to drop as fossil fuel prices rise. The burning of fossil fuels also leads to environmental problems—particularly climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions—that threaten the long-term future of civilization itself.
Our historic testimonies of simplicity, integrity, equality, and peace call us to reexamine our patterns of energy consumption and see what changes are required of us. We can, in fact, live richly, justly, and simply without the heavy reliance on fossil fuels that upset the balance of nature and will soon be used up. When we bring the necessary changes to our homes and places of worship, to our communities, our nation, and the world, we are helping to preserve God's creation for future generations.
Choosing renewable electricity
The electric utility industry is responsible for about the same amount of atmospheric pollution as transportation. Choosing renewable sources of electricity for our homes and businesses that generate less pollution is a good way to act locally to solve a global problem.
Renewable energy sources reduce air pollution, slow global warming, lessen dependence on imported oil, and strengthen local economies. Unfortunately, for a number of economic and regulatory reasons, alternative electricity options have not come to market as fast as some had hoped for.
In some states that have introduced electric retail competition you can buy renewable energy directly from electric companies or utilities. If you live in a state without electric competition, you can purchase tradable renewable electricity certificates (TRCs) from renewable sources for specified amounts of electricity. Check out the May-June 2004 Quaker Eco-Bulletin, "Renewable Electricity Is Something Everyone Can Buy," by Ed Dreby.
What goals might we set?
- Efficiency and sustainability. By 2020, at least one-third of all energy could come from renewable sources and the efficiency of energy use could be doubled.
- Cleaner power generation. We need to tighten limits on all power plant pollutants, and nuclear power should be phased out.
- Cleaner transportation. Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV's), pick-ups, and minivans should run as cleanly and efficiently as the cleanest cars. Incentives should promote public transportation and increase the market share of clean, efficient vehicles powered by hybrid motors and fuel cells.
- Investments and subsidies. Taxpayer subsidies of the coal, oil, and nuclear industries must stop. We must invest instead in renewables, taking care that the transition is also fair and just to affected workers and communities.
Types of renewable energy
Biomass. Organic matter from agriculture and forestry waste, municipal and industrial solid waste, and energy crops can be used to generate electricity. Since plants absorb CO2 during growth, there is no net release of greenhouse gases when they are processed as biomass fuel.
Photovoltaics. Solar cells convert sunlight directly to electricity. The current system for pricing energy largely ignores environmental impacts. This gives the impression that solar is not competitive with electricity from fossil fuels. But given that the global demand for energy will soon exceed global fossil fuel production, photovoltaic systems are expected to play an increasing role in meeting the energy needs of homes, businesses, and other markets.
Solar heating. Capturing and storing solar energy to heat buildings and water has great potential for reducing the world's dependence on fossil fuels. The technology is simple and cost-competitive with conventional heating systems.
Wind power. Of all the renewable energy technologies, wind power is currently the most cost-competitive and the fastest growing energy source when compared to fossil-fuel-based electricity generation. Possible dangers to migrating birds and other impacts on wildlife need to be considered in locating wind turbine facilities.
Hydroelectric. Electricity can be generated from flowing water in rivers, or from dams or sluices where water passes through turbines. There is good potential for small, low-head dams, which tend to have lower impacts on ecosystems and human livelihoods than large dams.
Geothermal. Heat from the earth can be used to produce electricity or to heat water for space heating. Geothermal energy is an especially valuable resource in the western United States.
Hydrogen. Vehicles powered by fuel cells can run very efficiently and cleanly on compressed hydrogen. However, hydrogen can only be extracted from hydrogen compounds, such as water (H2O) or methane (CH4). That process consumes more energy than the hydrogen fuel contains, but it may also help increase the supply of portable fuels needed for transportation systems. Using wind and solar for extraction avoids the many environmental problems of fossil fuels.
Systemic problems need systemic solutions
In addition to making personal lifestyle changes, we are called to work for changes in energy policy.
Currently, for each dollar the U.S. spends on renewable energy research and development, $5.50 is spent on research and development for fossil and nuclear energy. This ratio should be reversed, to support a transition to renewable energy sources.
Also, government subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries make those mask the true costs of these energy sources. The public pays twice, once through taxes and again as consumers. We must work for policies that:
- Get renewable energy on the grid.
- Create tax incentives for renewable energy technology and eliminate subsidies for coal and nuclear power.
- Require that a certain percentage of electricity be generated from renewable energy sources.
- Plan for a percentage of transportation fuels to be derived from biofuels.
- Increase public funding of renewable energy development and rapid rail transit.
- Require renewable energy for government facilities and transportation fleets.
- Increase federal investment in research and development of clean-energy technologies.
Things you can do to save energy
Wash clothes in cold water
Most modern laundry detergents are designed to work in both cold and hot water. Hot water is generally necessary only for heavily stained clothes. Approximately 90 percent of the energy involved in washing clothes by machine goes to heating water, not in running the machine. Switch to an energy-efficient front-loading machine.
Use a clothes line
Recover one of the lost joys of simplicity while lightening your ecological footprint by using free, pollution-free sunlight and fresh air to dry your laundered clothes. During rainy weather it's possible in many cases to set up an indoor clothes line or drying rack that can be collapsed when it's not needed. Hanging clothes takes only slightly more time than using an automatic dryer, in exchange for the chance to enjoy the outdoors and sounds of nature.
Use the microwave
A microwave uses only one-third the energy used by a conventional oven. Because it heats the kitchen less, the kitchen will be cooler, and you will save on summer air conditioning costs.
Install a low-flow showerhead
Showerheads are available that use half the water of older shower heads. A family of five can save about 32,000 gallons of hot water a year.
Weatherstrip, caulk, and insulate
Seal gaps around doors and windows. Explore rebates for installing insulation.
Switch to more efficient lighting
Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are many times more efficient than ordinary incandescent lights and thus reduce CO2 emissions. Also, they now have more appealing light quality and come in many shapes and light strengths. Consider installing sensors that turn lights on only when they are needed.
Adjust the thermostat
Many people will barely notice a small adjustment in their home's temperature. Lower or raise the thermostat one degree at a time until you reach a temperature you find comfortable. Think sweaters and sweatshirts. Have your heating and cooling systems tuned-up. Consider installing a programmable set-back thermostat.
Use shade to help with cooling
Use drapes and awnings to keep out unwanted solar heat gain. If you must use an air conditioner, place it in a shady location away from the summer sun. Cut back shrubbery to ensure good air flow around the air conditioner.
Reduce "phantom loads"
Many appliances, such as clock radios, computers and televisions, continuously use small amounts of electricity. Reduce these "phantom loads" by putting appliances on power strips and turning them off when they're not needed.
Turn off the computer
Shutting down computers at night and on weekends saves significant amounts of energy without affecting performance. Make sure any power management features are activated, such as having the screen go dark after 15 minutes of nonuse.
Choose energy-efficient appliances
As a minimum, choose appliances with the Energy Star label. Savings on your energy bills will quickly recoup higher purchase costs. Buy appliances that are sized to your needs, and discard old appliances.
Reduce car use and fuel waste
Walk, bike, carpool, and use public transportation whenever possible. Keep you car engine tuned and tires properly inflated. Avoid unnecessary idling and rapid acceleration.
- How do energy issues affect your appliance purchases and lifestyle choices?
- How do you see the relationship between your habits of energy use and the "spirit that takes away the occasion for all wars and outward strife?"
- How has your life been changed by applying your knowledge of energy issues to daily life?
- How does the Spirit call you to witness to society for needed changes in energy use?
Alliance to Save Energy <www.ase.org>.
Alvord, Katie. 2000. Divorce Your Car. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.
Brown, Lester. 2003. Plan B.: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. New York: WW Norton & Co.
Energy Savers <www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/>.
Energy Star <www.energystar.gov>.
Heinberg, Richard. 2003. The Party's Over—Oil War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.
Natural Resources Defense Council <www.nrdc.org>.
Pacific YM Committee on Unity with Nature <members.aol.com/quakernature/index.html>.
Pahl, Greg. 2003. Natural Home Heating, the Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options. White River Jct., Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishers.
PartSelect, Energy-Saving Resources. http://www.partselect.ca/resources/Home-Energy-Saving-Tips.aspx
QEW's pamphlet, "Practicing Sustainability."
Union of Concerned Scientists <www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy>
Wilson, Alex, et al. 2004. Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, 9th Ed. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. <www.aceee.org/store>.
Also suggested by a QEW supporter: <www.homeownersinsurance.org/>, especially the section on energy efficiency.