The shadow of solar


Published: 4/7/2021 11:04:26 AM

Where to put solar? The question hangs over the Recorder’s pages and planning board meetings, because these great arrays, though they produce electricity, also hamper agricultural productivity, displace wild lands and harm our historical New England appearance. Parking lots, power line rights-of-way, landfills … that’s where they would seem to do the least harm.

But does solar truly correct the energy mistakes of the past? (There’s no perfect time to ask such a big question, so why not now, as the “crunch” of solar is felt locally?!) Clearly, something has slung life on a dangerous trajectory. Is it fossil fuel burning alone? Or could it be the high-powered takeover of natural processes by a species that’s perhaps become lost in its many capabilities? If the latter is closer to the truth, consider that diverting sunlight from its appointed rounds for refined energy, a la the solar revolution, is likely to disturb the Earth-system too. (The same for meteorologic interference — wind turbines marginally slowing air movement).

If global warming were the only issue, it might be a case of poor power sourcing. But it’s safer and more useful, and arguably correct, to understand our current crises, social and environmental, as connected. And all of them the result of energy of various kinds brought to bear on fine-tuned energy systems — from individuals to the global ecology — in a misguided spirit of dominance. Crisis hasn’t hit only the climate, or only the equilibrium of natural processes “out there,” but also our human spirit, socially and individually. Yes, there’s off-kilter air and ocean chemistry, dead soils and vanishing wildlife, but there’s also our lost sense of direction as a society, confusion around our given oneness and our faltering confidence, vitality and joy.

Maybe the mechanics of Earth-life and the condition of humanity and of the human spirit are tied together. It’s easier to see this if one tries letting go of the presumption of human dominance. Our belief in industrial miracles — and our current sense of dependency on them — was formed recently, in the fossil era, when hydrocarbons pulled from the Earth were considered a fuel, safe to burn even in vast quantity. Now these same false “fuels,” and the infrastructure they helped build, are feeding the illusion that we’re setting the stage for a beautiful, green solar future.

Business has leapt to the opportunity, and it’s going green guns. But our elected policy leaders, I believe, are making assumptions that are popular but unsupportable and obsolete, about continued human dominance. They’re assuming, despite hard evidence, that it’s right and proper to commandeer “others” (non-human in this case), and even the elemental energies of life on Earth.

As I’ve let myself absorb, more and more painfully, the systemic poison of my White privilege, I’ve become even more wary of this promised “clean, renewable” energy future. I see an uncomfortable parallel between hanging onto White supremacy and hanging onto similarly dysfunctional refined energy with which to continue to dominate … all life. The solution to both is simple but challenging: to help each other every hour of every day in this crucial adjustment. Happily, I believe it’s spirit-raising right from the start.

Jonathan von Ranson is a retired community newspaper editor/publisher and stonemason. He and his wife live in Wendell Center in an apartment they built that has a hand pump and composting toilet and is lighted with kerosene lamps and a couple of (embarrassingly solar) Luci lights. He began studying life in energy terms after a conversation/interview with Bill Mollison, co-founder of Permaculture, in 1982.


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