Saturday, October 28, 2006

Inquest Iraq

I attended Inquest Iraq today (see link in yesterday's post). It was a very powerful presentation.

The war in Iraq was started with deception, was poorly planned and disastrously executed. But we knew that already.

What I learned with infinitely more clarity today is that in this fight there is no victory only loss, waste and destruction. I think this precious clarity is the true benefit of attending events like this, where one can listen to and question people who have witnessed the war from both sides. Today's event was planned and convened by people dedicated to peace (the American Friends Service Committee) so one might expect an impassioned plea to change the direction on the War in Iraq, and that is what I heard.

But more than simply a call to "give peace a chance", what I was faced with is the indictment of our country in a far more personal way than I had ever felt before. I have personally blamed the Republicans, and blamed Congress, and Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush. I've felt powerless in the face of the seemingly inevitable March to War. Sure, I voted for Kerry and was depressed when he lost (if he lost). And I've condemned the war to family and friends (mostly to close friends) and I even decided before Jack Murtha spoke out, that we needed to Recall our Troops. But in truth I have done very little, incredibly little to bring about the radical change that is needed.

Somehow our country, our media, our congress (both parties), our intelligence agencies, our civilian and military leadership fell into a sort of hypnosis about the inevitability of it all. There were a few voices warning of the danger, some wise souls willing to risk (and often lose) their careers to point out the false premise underlying our rush to war even as we began it. But most of us fell for the lies about WMD and terrorist ties and that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the US. It was time to finish what we (or rather he) started in 1990 by invading Kuwait.

But having discovered this threat/WMD lie too late, we decided that perhaps we could create something wonderful to behold, a bright shiny democracy in place of the much despised dictator. We fell for a new lie, that we could will remake Iraq into a new nation (at gunpoint) and through our narcissism thought they would become just like us if we could just show them the way. We forgot that violence begets violence and our very presence would bred resentment (especially since we were desperately and violently interrogating every Iraqi male we could find about WMDs and terrorists when neither existed). Our administration somehow felt that we could ignore the Iraqi resistance/insurgents out of existence even as our humiliating and imperious treatment of Iraqis fueled the nascent resistance.

We have since glossed over these first 2 years with the "mistakes have been made" excuse. We no longer talk of spreading democracy or liberating the Iraqis, we have lowered expectations to the point where a stable, secure and (possibly) unified Iraq is all that can be hoped for, even as we still lack a plan to achieve even this much. So now two lies/figments of GWB's imagination have been exposed as simple mirages. But wait! 2,800 (US) men and women have died, we owe it to them to stay (complete the mission--the same one that was declared "accomplished" in May 2003?) until the country is stable, don't we?
If it were not the exact group that got us into this colossal mess in the first place, I might be tempted to consider a "new plan". But given that the deceivers are still in charge (at the most charitable they can be considered "dupes"), I say nonsense!

No more. We need to withdraw our troops without delay! We are creating more terrorists than we are killing. We have caused the untimely deaths of more than 2.5% of the Iraqi population (or we are at least responsible for their deaths as the occupying power in charge of security). Think about that...1 person in 40 in Iraq has died since we attacked.

And finally I get to what I realized today. I have been living my own lie. I've been denying my share of responsibility for what has been going on in Iraq. I am against it, I've told myself. I have always been a peace-nik. I called it a bullshit war from the very start. I have seen the death and destruction (daily) and I've been ashamed of Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, the patriot act, the torture. I've been disgusted that all this was going on in our name.

But it took today's presentation by former diplomats, Iraq veterans, and Iraq citizens for me to realize that I have never accepted RESPONSIBILITY for the war and the deaths personally. Unlike our leaders who say they accept responsibility, but do nothing, I believe that taking responsibility means taking ACTION.

My first action will involve retelling the stories that I heard today (to the best of my ability knowing that it will be so much less powerful coming from me). I will become more politically involved (somehow before today I actually felt that voting was all I needed to do). But now that I realize that people in Iraq are dying because I haven't yet convinced enough people that we need change, I understand how much I am failing to act everyday.

Perhaps the best quote today came from Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, (her website has much more on her views)
"We need to act as if lives depend on immediately bringing US troops home from Iraq...because they do."

Friday, October 27, 2006

1/2 year of blogging

This is just to note that I've been blogging for 0.5 years!

This is my 72nd post which means I'm averaging one post every 2.5 days.

I'll likely have more to say after I attend Inquest Iraq at Northwestern's School of Law in downtown Chicago tomorrow, but I wanted to say that this group (with help from the American Friends Service Committee) has drawn together a great set of people to speak out in favor of a more humane and rational (and peaceful) approach to resolving the Iraq War. The event draws together a former CIA analyst, a US diplomat, an Iraqi doctor, an Iraqi peace activist and several Iraq War Veterans (among others) to provide a firsthand account of the impact of the invasion and occupation on both soldiers and Iraqi people.

Tonight I got to hear several of those people involved explain briefly some of their own personal stories as well as what and why they are advocating that the US change course in Iraq ASAP. If anyone (in Chicago) has time to attend Inquest Iraq tomorrow I strongly urge you to do so.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pounding the Table for Solar Thermal

About 90% of the interest in solar energy seems to focus on solar PV, which remains anywhere from 1.5-4 times as expensive as metered electricity from fossil fuels (depending on local rates and solar resource). But some day soon America will wake up to the fact that solar thermal energy (i.e. solar hot water) is fully competitive with fossil fuels. Federal and state subsidies (to the extent they exist) are just icing on the cake.

Yes, solar thermal still requires a relatively large capital outlay on day one, but that is balanced by the low (some might say non-existent) O & M costs for the following 20-30-40 years of system life.

Any US business in the south (and every business in CA) which uses hot water (or steam) in significant quantities should look into adding a solar thermal system to SAVE MONEY and offset fossil fuel energy use during the day.

Solar thermal generates heat (on-site) for the equivalent of 4-6 cents kWh, almost half the national average utility rate for delivered kWh. The wide range is partly because solar resource varies by location. Since solar thermal delivers heat (BTUs) not electricity (kWh), please treat this figure as a guide. While solar PV is 15-20% efficient, solar thermal systems are between 60-80% efficient.

The economics of solar thermal are so good that 3/4 of the world's installed solar thermal capacity is in China, and 25 years ago Israel passed a law requiring solar thermal on all new construction. Today 90% of Israeli households own solar water heaters. I can't think of a simpler economic argument in favor of solar thermal energy than this.

Solar Power 2006 Conference

In terms of attendance, Solar Power 2006 in San Jose CA shattered records at ~ 6,000 people. And another 2,000 attended the free to the public evening expo on Tuesday. The conference attendance was up strikingly from around 2000 last year and under 500 four years ago.

Unfortunately for those of us attending, the conference facilities seemed sized for under 5,000 so most sessions and panels were standing room only (I missed getting a seat for two sessions that I arrived for exactly on time...sigh!)

Nevertheless the atmosphere was undeniably upbeat due in no small part to the recently passed California solar energy initiative, we were even treated to an unscheduled appearance and brief speech by Governor Schwarzenegger.

The Expo was impressive and busy! Many of the largest companies had up to a dozen representatives present and even at that lines of people (a couple deep) waiting to speak would form often. I was really surprised by the number of Chinese companies with booths at the expo. I had expected (and was not disappointed by) a strong showing from Japanese and German solar companies.

Meanwhile I received a warm reception to my 3D solar module design from several companies. I also received a friendly brush-off from a few (mostly foreign) that did not appear to have technically oriented reps available to speak. I will have to reserve judgment on the success of the endevour until I am able to chase down all of the leads I generated.

I was excited to see a number of start-up ventures that are pursuing small scale (i.e. not for utility/large industrials) CPV (Concentrating PV) designs of various types, since this seems like a sensible way to bring down the installed cost of solar energy in the mid-term. As far as I could tell my design was the only one that did not require sun-tracking or a whole new approach to installing panels.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Promoting my new solar panel design

I'm heading out to San Jose for a solar panel manufacturer's conference next week. This should be a useful forum for raising awareness of my 3D solar panel design. I've prepared a brief marketing sheet explaining the basics of the design here. Color pictures included...oohhh.

I expect the Conference and Expo will be dominated by sales department types, but hope to initiate contacts at several panel manufactures that could lead to follow on meetings with those that might discuss technology licensing arrangements. I also plan to learn more about what sort of investment will be required to start manufacturing panels on my own. Make'em myself being the logical fall back position if (for whatever reason) licensing interest is muted.

Wish me luck :)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A neighbor climbs on the CFL boat

After the last post disparaging hope, it occurred to me that just this weekend something rather hopeful happened.

A neighbor of my parents came over for a visit. This neighbor has been a huge help over the years since he is very handy. He got some very bad news earlier this summer, when he found out that he had cancer (stage 3 pancreas or something like it). My parents think he may have only a few months left...

In any event this neighbor perked up when he saw me and explained that he had just bought 25 CFLs and installed them around his home. He knew I'd replaced 100 bulbs with CFLs in July. Of course I really felt great that he was following "my" example...but more than that, here is a guy who has lived a simple country life (loves to hunt and fish) and now is basically counting the days.

And what is he doing with his time? Buying CFLs and installing them around the house. I guess that is as hopeful as it gets.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Surrender hope all who enter...

I surfed off the beaten path today and ran across Solarkismet's site some cool stuff there, including a link to a truly subversive essay about hope.

At the start I was just outraged at the concept of "dissing" hope, but by the end I had to admit the guy has a serious point (although that second to last paragraph would be unreadable at half its length).

If you can do something to bring about a desired outcome, you don't (need to) hope. And if there is nothing you (think you) can do to bring about the desired outcome then hoping is about as effective as wishing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

An energy efficiency charity?

I have a partly formed idea rattling around my head which I'd like describe. As I go about making many small changes that I hope will add up to a lighter eco-footprint (and save money), I keep returning to the awesome scale of the problem of the climate crisis and how much more needs to be done.

My thought is to establish a "micro-charity" that asks for a very modest contribution from thousands/millions of people and then use this money to finance thousands of small eco-projects. These projects would consist of helping those in need do common sense things like upgrading lights to CFLs (aka swirl bulbs), installing better insulation, caulking windows, upgrading weather stripping, etc. Basically all the things we need to be doing ourselves to save energy, but doing them instead for cash-strapped citizens interested in more efficient living but behind on their bills.

The charity would help those with the greatest need take advantage of present day energy saving technologies and raise awareness in general of the actions we should all be taking to save energy (and money).

The charity would ask people to contribute 2 cents/day to help save the planet.

Maybe even call the charity "2 cents to save the world".

This amounts to a yearly contribution of $7.30 (an amount that even folks making minimum wage could scrape together). With a single contribution, one could replace 3-4 of the most used light bulbs in a house, saving the homeowner $15-20/year in electricity costs, before even considering the additional benefit of fewer CO2 emissions.

Contributors could suggest projects they'd like to see funded. Projects with the best payback would be selected. Partnerships with groups like Habitat for Humanity might be arranged where the charity could pay the upfront (extra) cost of more efficient lighting or appliances.

Obviously this idea is still a bit rough, but I'm interested to hear what people think of it.