Here’s to Conservation and New England Ingenuity!

In my column, I focus on patterns we need to be aware of to keep each other well in the future. Last week’s column on the demise of dams for energy generated reader concerns. While the US currently has more than 75,000 dams, I am not suggesting that they all be dismantled. Such decisions are based on results of individual routine inspections for relicensing, safety or environmental concerns, and they come at enormous cost. I included patterns created by dams that eventually may require dismantling. For more details, check out James Workman’s thoughtful overview of dam problems in Issues of Science and Technology (www.issues.org/24.1/workman.html.)

 The demise of dams deals with more than acquisition of energy. Access to clean water is now a worldwide concern. Dams challenge that access. Resources that spell out the problem and what needs to happen are: Water Wars by Vandana Shiva; When Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce; and The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman. They are all available through Inter Library Loan, if not on your local library shelf. 

We had an eye-opening, first hand experience of the effect of unexpected storms, such as Irene, when multiple dams breached simultaneously. When dams must be dismantled, the process must be a gradual one in harmony with the environment. Today, dismantling carries astronomical costs which should discourage us from erecting new dams.

 Given the fact that dams will require prohibitive maintenance in the future, it is my opinion, based on these and other readings, that we need to say no to new dams. The economist, Jeremy Rifkin, in his 2011 book, The Third Industrial Revolution, does include building some small dams as a temporary measure while forms of renewable energy are being established, but large dams are clearly a guaranteed hindrance in terms of safety, balanced ecosystems and clean water supply.

 The new pattern that I find encouraging is that, in the US, we are actually beginning to conserve energy, the most important step of all! People are turning down thermostats and adding a layer of clothing. We are car pooling, recycling, and reducing car speed and unnecessary trips. Community gardens are springing up in many towns. People are carrying their own tap water in their own containers, upgrading toilets, replacing old windows with energy conserving windows and sliders, turning down water heaters, wrapping water heaters in insulating jackets, washing clothes in cold water and more.

 Solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are in the works. Initial costs are high, yet in the long run will be affordable. Neighbors compare notes on ways to conserve and our efforts show up regularly in positive results of surveys and savings on news reports. Clearly, we are waking up.

 Home-grown energy possibilities enliven conversations. Do-it yourself greenhouses that trap solar energy to heat both home and greenhouse, as well as provide year round fresh veggies, are here, as are courses in build-your-own solar panels and windmills.

 New forms of renewable energy will come from this healthy concern and exchange. Here’s to New England ingenuity! I hope the resources provided in this column are helpful.  I look forward to your letters, your questions as well as your additions and suggestions.

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