Some Passivity We Can All Applaud

Many people now have told me that they dislike talk about global warming because it makes them sad. I understand and I get it. So those of you who prefer not hearing about global warming don’t need to. Provided you are prepared to support the work of those who do, and to stand with the representatives who take the necessary action to prevent it. That is the moral and ethical point. Preventing it is the job of our public officials and representatives. You don’t need to worry about it so long as you back those to do their job, who work to prevent it. Because the impact doesn’t depend on whether we pay attention. But it does depend on action. So here’s something to have our state representatives worry about for the rest of us:

My friend David Borton teaches energy engineering at RPI. David wrote in response that the NY Draft Energy Plan does not even mention passive solar energy anywhere.

Why does that matter?

As David put it to me, when you design a building to take advantage of the sun, that’s as permanent as the building. No need to replace or buy anything more. The sun just keeps doing its job every year. For free.

I took a look at David’s own home. He designed it so that it has one due south exposure. During the hot months here, the sun is actually so far north that a true south exposure means zero sunlight during the summer, no solar warming. But all through the colder months, the sun pours in, shredding the heating bill. There are other ways to take advantage of the sun in that simple, passive way. All it takes is thinking about it in the design stage. Government needs to think about passive solar when it lays out streets, orienting them to allow the builders and buyers to maximize their southern exposures. Or orienting government buildings to take advantage of the free energy out there. It’s not rocket science. It isn’t costly. And it can save a great deal of energy – and money – I think I’ve heard that the state might like to save some money.

The US has a great deal of influence in the world through what we build, what we sell, and through the example of what we do. We have an opportunity, even at the state level, to incorporate intelligent environmental design into the way we construct our buildings, our streets, our cities and our towns. And if we do that job well, we will have plenty to export to go with those designs.

What the sun provides does not have to be created by burning fossil fuels or building nuclear power plans. The sun doesn’t pollute the air, the water or the tax bill. It’s truly clean energy. We should be demanding that the state make every possible use of solar power available. So we don’t have to pay for the state to burn fossil fuels and deal with all the damage the pollution causes, the carbon that is warming the world, or the particulates that are trapped in our lungs.

There is another benefit. As the state increasingly adopts sensible solar design and technology, the cost of similar improvements in our private facilities will come down. Architects in this area have poo-pooed the value of taking the environment into account, but if the state leads, more and more will learn the tools of environmental design, benefitting us all. And technology that is out of reach for most of us will also come down in price as it proliferates and give us all more opportunities not only to protect our own pockets but also to contribute to a sustainable world.

There’s some passivity we can all applaud. So make our state reps do the worrying. And the benefits of solar energy will keep paying back in the New Year and every year thereafter.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, December 22, 2009.

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