Sustainable Green Living For All

April 10, 2008

Depending on who you are, the word "ideal" evokes either thoughts of nobility and striving for good or it evokes thoughts of foolishness and a lack of realism. Frankly, I have to confess that lately I have been more in the latter camp. I guess I've often heard the phrase: "If you're under 30 and you're not a liberal you have no heart...but if you're over 30 and you're not a conservative you have no brain." Honestly I don't remember who that quote is from (Churchill?) and I hate that it seems more & more like reality to me...but I'm over 30 now and I think there's definitely a grain of truth in it. Coming from Seattle I can't help but feel a twinge of nostalgia when I think of hippies and Democrats, but being conservative-leaning I always try to see things through a practical lens. And just to make things more complicated ----- since I grew up spending every weekend in the Cascade mountains, I fell in love with what nature has to offer and I want to support those efforts that will ensure that we don't see it disappear. That's why I love the fact that sustainable, green living appears to be gaining in popularity among conservatives as well as among those sweet, nutty hippies who have always loved it just because it was an "ideal" they promoted. Sustainable living and green products are now becoming practical -- not premium. Case in point: my new favorite clothing company, Portland-based Nau which designs & sells very technical outdoor gear that is made entirely out of recycled materials...and sells for less than equivalent gear from other brands. It is a total win-win (and that's what I call IDEAL!). Check out our review of some of Nau's products to get an idea of the quality of gear they are producing. It is unreal, especially for the price. Sustainable green living used to require lots of effort and cost -- real, monetary cost -- to track down products that worked okay but cost way more than their more effective counterparts at the supermarket. While promoting an "ideal" was inspiring, it wasn't too practical. So it used to come down to what you're willing to sacrifice for. Organic vegetables that go bad in 2 days? Too expensive & annoying. Walking everywhere? Not realistic. Public transportation? Maybe if you live in New York or London where nothing beats the Tube. But when you have to connect 3 buses just to get to work, and it ends up turning a 15 minute drive into a 1 hour bus-connect marathon followed by a 20 minute walk, public transportation is definitely NOT ideal. But things appear to be hitting critical mass -- consumers are able to find green products not just because they are demanding it but because companies are finding it economical to provide the gear. Thank you Nau! I think getting onto a cheap renewable energy source is one of the most critical things facing this generation -- right up there with protecting us against terrorism. I know I'm no expert in political matters, but I just humbly think that we can do this. We can protect ourselves. And we can get ourselves onto renewable energy. Which will help protect ourselves, because we won't be giving a billion dollars a day to oil-producing nations that want to kill us. Which will help us be a beacon of hope in the world, because with cheap renewable energy we can more easily provide fresh water to those who need it --- by using that cheap energy to do saltwater desalination. Personally I think solar energy is one of our best bets. Sunlight is a plentiful and renewable source of energy, if we can just harness it. And I may be naive, but I can't think of significant downsides to it other than the real estate it would take to install & operate solar farms. But those should decrease as performance of solar cells increases. And that's the next piece in the story... I have been pleased to see the Utah-based Wasatch Venture Fund investing in solar energy. One of the companies it has invested in is the New Mexico-based Advent Solar, which manufactures solar cells and modules. My understanding is that solar cells are made mostly from silicone, which is one of the most plentiful resources on the planet. That silicone could capture sunlight (another very plentiful resource) and help us turn saltwater (another very plentiful resource) into fresh water (a very limited resource). I believe the reason solar hasn't really caught on in the past is that it isn't efficient -- it takes a whole roof full of solar cells capturing sunlight all day just to toast some bread. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. But that's just an efficiency problem. It used to take a whole room full of computer processors (made out of -- you guessed it -- silicone) to run simple processes by today's standards. What changed? Moore's law and Intel. As many of you know, in 1965 Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel) predicted that the number of transistors on a chip would double about every 2 years. Intel has delivered on that ever since then --- meaning that the same real estate of processor size was able to pound out more & more performance. Click here to read more about Moore's Law and Intel's application of it. So, my stupid little brain thinks: "Wow. Double the performance very 2 years? While decreasing costs? Using silicone? Isn't that what we need to happen with solar energy? Double the output of energy per square inch of solar cells every 2 years, while using silicone and decreasing the cost of those solar cells. Pretty soon a single solar cell on your roof will capture enough energy during 1 hour of sunlight to power your home & cars for a week." Heck, if you could do that then everyone would drive electric cars with solar panels on the roof, would have homes with solar panels on the roof, and out in the Utah desert you'd have a solar farm with enough panels to power all the public transportation you could want. No more money going to the Middle East for oil. They may have sun & silicone, but we aren't in shortage of that elsewhere. And with all that cheap solar energy you could power water desalination plants to provide fresh water to those who need it. So that's my thinking on green sustainable living. Peace, progress, and water for all. But then again I may just be getting nostalgic for my Washington State roots, so you'll have to forgive me for shooting for an "ideal."

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