I am very excited and pleased to announce the launch of my new spinoff site, Off Grid Ham.
Twenty First Summer will continue as usual. I created Off Grid Ham as a separate platform to discuss technical topics related to amateur (ham) radio, electronics, and alternative & off grid energy. I feel this is the best way to serve two very different reading audiences.
I know a lot of technical people enjoy Twenty First Summer, and I hope all of you stick around! To dive deeper into the geeky stuff, please add Off Grid Ham to your reading list. If you are not a technical person, come on by Off Grid Ham anyway…you never know what you’ll learn.
New articles will not appear on Off Grid Ham on any particular schedule. If there is a topic you’d like to see me address, then please let me know and I’ll do my best.
It is because of the success of Twenty First Summer that I have the confidence to try a new venture. To everyone, no matter if you are a technogeek, a fellow blogger, or just a curious onlooker, thank you so much for your loyalty and goodwill.
For over a generation green energy has been the exclusive domain of the liberal left. The reasons why could run thousands of pages, but the oversimplified explanation is that clean energy is not economically viable and suitable only in niche applications. It is not cash flow positive nor does it have mainstream practicality, and therefore depends on government subsidies and complex protective legislation. Add that to the liberal foundational doctrine that feelings matter more than actually getting something done, and clean energy becomes a natural fit for them.
That was then and this is now. Renewable energy, particularly solar, is on the cusp of becoming technically and financially competitive with traditional fuels. The left hasn’t noticed –yet– that free market libertarian ideas are pushing it over the line (note: liberal and libertarian are not the same thing). How long this ignorant bliss will continue is uncertain, and I’m not sure it matters. What is certain is that just a year or two ago, the idea of two groups who so sorely disagree on everything else setting it all aside and joining forces to make solar energy go primetime would have been found only in a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch.
A nascent movement is gaining traction down in Florida where liberals and conservatives are in an unlikely collusion to pass legislation that would allow any private citizen to install solar panels on their home or business and sell the electricity for profit on the open market. In essence, they would become a miniature power company. As the law is right now, only state registered commercial utilities can sell juice. The new rules, if passed, would let anyone in on the action.
It is encouraging to see solar energy get the boost it so rightfully deserves, and let it be noted that all of this is unfolding without government subsidies, handouts, or special legislative favors. The plan does not officially break up the power company monopoly, but is it really a monopoly if anyone can do it? To be sure, Florida’s proposal is no magic answer. There are a lot of holes in the plan, and we are long away from completely powering our society with sunbeams and happy thoughts. Still, there is almost nothing negative about this initiative.
Conservatives should further their cause by spreading the Florida example elsewhere. Finding a reason not to do something is easy. It takes thought and effort to confront problems and find a path through them. Since the beginning of the clean energy movement, the right touted a long list of reasons why green energy would not work for mainstream use, and to be fair, for most of that time they had a valid point. Now there is a foot in the door that addresses many of these concerns. Here is the conservatives’ big chance to show everyone that free market solutions really do work.
Regardless of how the Florida experiment plays out (it has not even been passed into law yet), liberals are faced with no course to steer around the reality that decades of government largesse and mandates has failed to make solar a legitimate option. And I’m certain I’m not the only free market supporter who is taking some quiet pleasure seeing progressives forced into a position where, in order to achieve their long time goal of widespread renewable energy, they will have to admit that their other long time goal of solving the renewable energy “problem” with more government spending and regulation is a total failure.
The way I read this, two causes liberals covet (green energy and big government) have been turned against each other. Well played, tea party! Well played! Not only are conservatives stealing a worthwhile but horribly mismanaged liberal issue and making it work with capitalist policy, the liberals are cheerfully going along as if they were helping load their own stuff into a burglar’s getaway car. In this case the thief is doing the victim, and everyone else, a huge favor.
As I discussed in my last article, being ready for emergencies is not just for whackos. The other half of the equation is that a “disaster” does not have to come in the form of an epic 300 foot tidal wave or alien invasion.
Overnight, my territory in the upper Midwest USA got clobbered by about ten inches (25 cm) of snow, with about another 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) still to come before it’s over. The temperature, which is actually above freezing right now, is expected to drop to 5F (-15c) before sundown, then the high winds will kick in.
By local standards, this storm is not a particularly big deal. Yet there are people who will face serious weather-related problems that could have been entirely avoided with even a little planning. Already, I’ve had to give some gas to a guy up the road because he ran out and needed to fill the tank on his snowblower. This storm was predicted three or four days ago. Why didn’t he fuel up when he had the chance? I just don’t get it. There will be fatalities because of this storm.
The following is a pictorial account of my life during a snow storm. I took all the photos myself.
This photo was taken from my kitchen window. It looks very pretty and serene. But beyond the backyard things get rough.
This is as about as “plowed” as it’s going to get for a while. I saw very few cars on the road, only 4×4’s. Everyone else is stuck at home. Even in my big truck, it was a challenge getting around.
The temperature has dropped from almost 35F (1.6C) when this photo was taken about an hour ago to 31 (-0.5C) now. It also went from no wind to a modest breeze. I can’t get a wind speed because the weather instruments are frozen. Strong winds are expected later today.
The weather alarm does not lie. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. As much as I trash on the government in this blog, I have to be fair and say NOAA and their network of radio stations is a very valuable and worthwhile public service.
It is not possible to overstate the importance of amateur radio in times of mayhem. It requires almost no special infrastructure and can be run on backup power. There are hundreds of thousands of amateur radio operators in the Unites States alone. None of them are paid for their services and nearly all supply their own equipment. When there are no cell towers, internet, or landline phones, ham radio is there. Always. It’s the ultimate “mesh network” that is almost impossible to to take down. The top photo of UHF & VHF antennas is just a portion of my rooftop communications complex. The center photo is my HF (shortwave) radio capable of worldwide communications and a 75 watt 2-meter VHF radio, with a range of about 25-30 miles (40-48 km). The VHF is especially valuable when the public communications system goes down. All of this equipment is powered by off-grid solar energy.
The snow covered angled items on the roof in the top photo are a few of my solar panels. The bottom photo is the charge controller for the solar power. The photo was taken during daylight but due to all the snow on the solar panels, the system thinks it it night time and shut itself down. The 12.8 volts on the battery means I have a good charge and should be ok…for now. We are not expected to have any real sun for a few days, so at some point I’ll probably have to change my batteries off the generator.
Sometimes life here can be a real pain in the ass, but it is a great feeling to be in a nation where I can make my own choices and fly or fall on my own. For my readers outside the USA, it is customary for Americans to display a flag on their homes. Flags are most often seen on patriotic holidays or in times of war, but at my house, the flag is out 24 hours a day, every day. It is the symbol of a land and people who are not easily beaten down.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on April 19, 2014. We are reposting it for Earth Day 2015 with a few edits and updates.
I’m going to say up front that today’s blog article is not going to be a conservative hit piece on Earth Day, nor will it be a sappy New Age love song about windmills and composting. As someone who has been a strict vegetarian for close to three decades, incorporates numerous meaningful green practices into his life, and is gun-toting, flag-waving Libertarian (which is not the same as a liberal), I feel I have an understanding of this issue that belies the absolute left and right attitudes that define it.
April 22 is Earth Day, and for political liberals, leftover hippies, and various eco-activist groups, it’s a High Holy Day. Started by flower children in 1970 on the momentum of anti-Vietnam counterculture, Earth Day has evolved into a slick, professionally organized international media spectacle complete with its own website and corporate sponsors. Like all things liberal, Earth Day is heavy on shallow sentimentality, squishy platitudes, and calls for “investments” in green projects (taxescoughtaxes). The real message: We simpletons need big government liberalism to save us from our own stupid. And like all things conservative, Earth Day is an opportunity for overt mockery and to dismiss environmentalism out of hand, because in the Orthodox Church of “drill, baby, drill!” it’s apostasy to even hint that the green movement has a legitimate point buried in there somewhere, especially if it interferes with making a lot of money.
I absolutely do believe in a clean environment and the premise behind Earth Day. I also have a big issue with advancing the cause via rules and edicts that make for good press releases but never achieve their intended goal. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing with myself over how to resolve my conviction that we need to stop trashing the planet against my conservative sensibilities of resisting at every chance an egalitarian nanny state that, especially regarding environmental policy, regulates our lives down to the ridiculous, up to and including federal standards for…shower heads?
Years before recycling became fashionable, I was lugging magazines and aluminum cans down from my 12th floor college dorm to a recycling center on the other side of campus. Back then, recycling required considerable dedication and muscle. As one can guess, hardly anyone bothered. Today, recycling is as straightforward as placing recyclables at the curb where they are picked up along with garbage. My neighborhood even has entrepreneurially-minded scrappers who will scoop up discarded appliances, hot water heaters, bikes, BBQ grills, and whatever metallic waste suburbia tosses away. I don’t know how much money they make, but it must be pretty good because there are more than one of them patrolling the streets competing for junk every week. In many locales, recycling has developed to the point that there aren’t any good excuses not to do it.
Renewable energy is one area that has made considerable progress but is still a long way from being a real game changer. Even with tax incentives and subsidies (which I have a problem with), the bang for the buck is just not there. I will be well into retirement before my roof full of solar panels pay themselves off. Fortunately for me, my motivations are not solely about money. For most, the start up costs of green energy for individual use is well beyond the budget. Germany is often held up as a proud example of a “successful” national renewable energy program, but the rationalization works only if affordability is taken out of the equation.
For the Germans, solar energy may be an environmental win but it is collapsing as a business model due in no small part to regulatory overreach and meddling. Progressives here in the United states have been trying for years, but they cannot come up with a talking point that gets them over the mountain of government incompetence. Green energy will never evolve beyond the fringe unless it becomes cost effective, and it will never be cost effective without free market-based energy policy. The environmental movement will never, ever embrace this simple truth. They run their mouths about how the US should emulate Germany’s example while completely blowing off the ugly fact that it is breaking the bank.
A recurring theme in my blog is making fun of the left for doing things just to feel good. It’s not an unfair criticism: A major piece of liberal dogma is that good intentions and feelings are a valid substitute for reality and actual results. But here’s where I split with conservatives: While liberals are all about being warm and happy even if nothing gets done, conservatives seem to be of the attitude that the value of something is proportional to the amount of difficulty and sacrifice needed to do it. Or to put it another way, if something is enjoyable it’s either not worth doing or you are not working hard enough. Some of the most pissed off, bitter people I know are conservative, possibly because they have forgotten that life can’t always be about that hard journey going for the gold. But what if I can do something that really does produce results and I can feel good about it…what’s wrong with that?
Unfortunately, most of what passes as “environmentalism” is really just fluff. Earth Day will have plenty of celebrity appearances and petition signings and resurrected Joni Mitchell songs. Within twenty four hours everyone will go back to what they were doing before. They have conned themselves into thinking they are environmentalists because they plop a blue bin full of junk mail at the end of the driveway every week. Toss in an annual one day feel good retro hippy trip and they are completely sold on the hustle. I don’t know what’s worse: Liberals who pretend to be environmentalists with their hollow showmanship or conservatives who never claimed to care in the first place.
I no longer accept the idealism of my youth that had me thinking I could singlehandedly save the world one aluminum can at a time. But it is within my reach to save my little slice of this big huge planet. Decades out of college dorm life, I’m still recycling. I’ve also been on solar panels for a while. They aren’t enough to run the whole house, but I can produce a significant chunk of my electricity with them. When I switched to a vegetarian diet 27 years ago, it was not for environmental reasons. Since then I’ve learned a lot about how dirty and energy-intensive meat production really is, and how many thousands of gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef. I work only a little over a mile from where I live; some weeks I rack up less than 25 miles on my vehicles. When the weather is good I get around on a motorcycle. These are things I do all the time, not just for display purposes. I don’t wear my environmentalism on my sleeve and people who do annoy the hell out of me, especially since most of them are pretenders.
Those of us who live our lives as if every day were Earth Day are a little vexed about the concept of waiting for a special occasion to take positive action towards keeping the planet clean, nor do we feel a need to show off how “green” we are. True Earth Day practitioners divorce themselves from the fad of environmentalism and go quietly about their eco-friendly business. It’s a lifestyle, not a hobby or a holiday. Conservatives will be pleased to know that when done properly it requires effort and is often a challenge; liberals can be assured that in the end, yes, it feels good. In a truly honorable world, there would be no need to reserve a spot on the calendar to commemorate what everyone should have been doing the whole time anyway.