The previous post presented a rather gloomy picture of the outlook for renewable energy, primarily solar. It is critical for the government to help bring this industry to the fore. It is myopic, barbaric and inexcusable to squander our soldiers and our legitimacy on the world stage fighting to protect the flow of oil. We should have evolved beyond this stage a long time ago. Oh, but some of us did. The oft-maligned Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House during his too-brief occupancy of that place, during the latter part of the 1970s. This was both a practical and a symbolic act which should have signaled America's awakening to the perils of over dependence on oil as the basic fuel of our economy. Thirty years down the line we could have built upon this humble commencement and found ourselves inhabiting a healthier planet with a more stable geo-political script.
One of the first acts of Carter's successor, however, was to pull the shades and go back to sleep. Reagan, upon moving into the White House, promptly removed the solar panels from the White House roof. This suggestion was possibly proffered by Nancy's astrologer, who felt the panels might cause interference with celestial transmissions needed to accurately guide the first lady. Whatever the reason, the symbolism was clear. We are addicted to oil and we love the petro-monkey on our backs. From time to time we spout good intentions, but little has come of it. Just one more teensy weensy mall on the outskirts of town, and maybe just a lttle subdivision off the interchange and then we'll give it up.
Way back, even before J.C. came on the scene, someone here in New Albany took steps to build a sustainable energy future. Doctor James Nolan built the Nolan Solar Building on State Street in 1973-4. If you look up to the Northwest corner of his building, you'll see the solar collectors for his heating system. Doc Nolan, with help from plumber friends and other tradesmen, more or less designed the system himself. It contains ten manufactured solar collectors which heat a closed loop containing a glycol and water solution. That solution, in turn, transfers heated air to a duct system, providing a majority of the space-heating needs of his roughly 10,000 square foot office building. He says that the solar system supplies about 2/3 of his heating. The shortfall is provided by a natural gas backup system.
Doc Nolan's system was almost not built. Contact lenses required a longer process, over a period of some weeks, for testing and fitting than is required today. I was a patient and was interested in the hopeful technology. As I sat in his office undergoing tests for the lenses (the office was in the Elsby Building), Dr. Nolan would tell me about this or that bit of progress he had made concerning his solar project. It unfolded over the series of tests. Finally, he ran into a brick wall which seemed to doom the project. He persevered, however, and came into contact with a scientist in California who supplied names of people who got the project back on track.
His project received some attention while it was still new. Today, the rather modest building's heat system has been functioning efficiently for over thirty years.
As a nation, we have largely wasted those years. We are content with the Co2-choked staus quo. Why? Is it because we have too much invested in our current system? Is the political process so compromised that the will of the people can't influence it, but oil mongers can? Locally we seem predestined to build two bridges. We excoriate those who favor the 8664 project. And we continue building out, out beyond services, out where land used to be productive, out where we can keep going out some more, for space between us and "them", out where the air is fresh. Call me a crank, call me atavistic, call me naive, but I don't get the sense that there's any out, out there.
So are we going to waste the next thirty years as Lennon said, living with eyes closed, misunderstanding all we see? Can we provide the spinal support necessary to move politicians toward sustainability at the local level? (I'm under the distinct impression that breathing occurs at the local level, by the way.) New Albany is a city well-positioned to take advantage of environmentally appropriate choices. We already know that solar heating works in this locale. We can revitalize the inner city to rein in sprawl. We can benefit from the investment our predecessors left us by enlivening the older neighborhoods. We can exhort. We can motivate. We can, as Doc Nolan did, lead by example. Or we can pull the shades and go back to sleep. Maybe we'll dream of the Gipper.
Doc Nolan is alive and well, and still tinkers with his solar dream. So, if you see him thank him for his efforts. He has been a shining example.