Cabrillo College professor Joe Jordan knows renewable energy. He also knows that our nation’s current policy of business as usual, the “harnessing the powers of darkness” as it were, has huge implications for our ability to sustain life here on earth. Because instead of relying on the plentiful, clean energy we have ample opportunity to access, we’re focusing on non-renewable resources we dig from underground, and making a huge mess in the process. With incidence of war, poverty and injustice on the rise worldwide, it’s become all too clear that business as usual is no longer working.
Jordan’s lifelong commitment to solar and renewable energy culminates in one great truth. He posits that any truly advanced civilization, including intelligent life here on earth, will derive most of its power from the sun. The sun is the largest source of energy in the world, dwarfing everything we get from gas, oil, coal and uranium combined. Solar and renewable energy sources derived from wind, waves, green plants, flowing waters, tidal power, ocean and geothermal power, together provide enough energy in one hour for all of humanity for a whole year!
As many of us are aware, in the US we’ve been spending the vast majority of our resources for energy on our smokestack economy and too little on creating a renewable, sustainable future. Cheap and easy fossil fuels are running out, while potential for new jobs and opportunity abound in the renewable energy sector. We need energy alternatives that are clean, limitless, homegrown, democratically distributed. Together these hold the keys to eliminating poverty and war while promoting the health of the biosphere and revitalizing the global economy. Why aren’t we there yet, or at least on our way?
These are the questions Joe Jordan raised during his compelling presentation at TEDx Santa Cruz, leaving the audience with plenty of food for thought, and just in time for lunch. I ambushed him on the lawn outside of Crockett Theater during the break, finagled a business card and finally got in touch with him to learn more.
EB: Since your compelling TEDx talk, has any progress at all been made on the energy front?
JJ: This week the headlines were actually disappointing. Obama caved on the Clean Air Bill, a key energy issue, forcing the EPA to lower their standards, so unfortunately we missed an important opportunity to move toward sustainable policy on that front. Meanwhile though, R&D is proceeding along in solar and other renewable energy technologies, so new developments are happening all the time, we just need the impetus to start implementing them.
Locally, there’s a raging controversy going on about desal, which is actually an energy issue. At least 70% of the cost of water is energy-related. Are we going to create a plant using old, dirty, energy infrastructure that’s available now (despite the renewable mitigation efforts), or hold off and instead concentrate more vigorously on water efficiency or water savings, or wait until clean technology is available? It’s a hot issue in Santa Cruz right now, one worth paying attention to. Click here to learn more.
EB: Do you see a strong clean energy direction coming from the top down, as in government driven, or will it need to be a grassroots effort?
JJ: Looks to me like the latter is the only way it’s going to happen. Whether it’s Obama or even the City of Santa Cruz, there’s been lots of talk and little action. The City has some proposals for solar on parking garages and the like, but the major initiative has got to come from the people. Which makes sense because the energy issue is such a uniting, core issue.
Of all the possible things we can do to move along the path to sustainability, energy is related to all of them. It’s one of the fundamental problems we’re facing these days. Human greed and money have perverted everything. The money in politics has allowed everything to become such a problem. When we as a society begin to take control of our situation, we’ll start to see changes.
EB: What are some promising initiatives your currently working on?
JJ: You heard it here first, the CCA – Community Choice Aggregation, it’s a system that has been implemented already in Marin county and is being considered in others. It’s akin to forming a municipal utility district, with lower rates, more local control and greener energy options.
It works by enabling local energy producers to aggregate energy demand and supply it with their own mix of green and efficient energy generation. It’s a separate system from PG&E. It’s kind of a local community energy co-op. And there’s the promise of tons of new jobs right there! This is what the defeat of prop 16 is all about. We beat the corporations at trying to snuff out this possibility, now we’re ready to make it happen! Community Choice Aggregation is the follow up action to that.
EB: Which organizations today are leading the charge toward renewable energy?
JJ: There’s a little known group called the Offset Project in Monterey. They’re doing a version of carbon offsets, but within our regional community. They’re tied in with community choice aggregation. There is a project underway at Boony Doon school – they’re considering putting solar panels on the school as the first manifestation of this project.
EB: How about locally, where are the Santa Cruz initiatives?
JJ: Here’s a little known fact: I was one of the two originators of the whole Santa Cruz City Schools solar project idea – where several hundred kilowatts of solar electric generating capacity are housed on roofs of several Santa Cruz schools . Schools just pay for the electricity , outside investors paid for the solar and installation. It’s a win-win! It’s been a strong and successful local initiative that I would love to see continue to grow.
EB: What can we do as individuals to make a difference? How can we get involved?
JJ: Moving towards a more plant-based diet is one of the most important things any individual can do to save the world. In fact, this Tues, September 13th and 20th a recent panel which I participated in along with local author John Robbins will be replayed on EcoReview, Community TV. It’s worth watching to learn more about this critical topic. And cleaning up our act on transportation of course, although unfortunately we don’t have much individual choice there. But moving toward electric vehicles gives us a chance to green up our energy supply, unlike with liquid fossil fuels.
Locally, you can join Transition Santa Cruz, they’re leading the charge towards renewables and efficiency. Probably the biggest effort you can make is to get politically active to change the ground rules of how this society runs. We need more funding for the right stuff – R&D for renewable energy, which will make these technologies and systems more available. We can no longer look to our leaders to make these changes, so stay informed, get connected and as a society we can begin to make a difference starting from the grassroots level. Sky power to the people!!