"Climate Change Starts at Home"

by Dick Riseling
Callicoon Center, NY
September 13, 2006

It is not a rhetorical question to ask: what is more destructive of life and health than climate change? Any hesitation is caused by the reality that for most of us, our pattern of life and thinking has removed us from daily knowledge and necessary adjustments required by nature, which is always the boss of life.

Superb media, science and popular culture abound in making the case that climate change is caused in significant degree by burning fossil fuels. A lot has been written about:

  • The political editing of science;

  • Corporate - oil control of the White House and energy policy;

  • About the difficulty of assuring access to oil in the future given our increasingly strained relations with the countries that export oil;

  • The tremendous increase in competition for oil from India and China;

  • The advent of "peak oil" itself;

  • Our increasing dependence on foreign capital to fund deficit spending;

  • The increasing economic divide in the US, which is already at a crisis level for millions of families in terms of climate change related health and budgetary problems.

So, it is possible to just start out with the statement that the cheap and plentiful oil basis of our economy and daily lives is no longer available. The lack of adequate corporate and national energy policy alternatives increases threats to our national security and is destroying the natural systems that make life possible and wonderful.

Dick and Sonja at erection of their wind turbine
Dick and Sonja at erection of their wind turbine

It's is not commonly stated, but nonetheless of fundamental and controlling importance, that there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. Conventional sources, including clean coal and nuclear, simply aggravate the current trend in climate change which is diminishing planetary survival. Renewable energy sources: solar, wind, and hydro, in my view, are the next step. There is too much to be learned to say that they are the solutions to the crisis we face. But these renewable energy sources emerge as actions that can be taken at every level: the individual, the small business owner, the farmer, the local library and school, and government buildings, as well as at the corporate level.

Taking initiative at the local level may yield answers. I live in Sullivan County, New York, 117 miles from NYC, on an 80-acre, tractor- and horse-powered organic farm with sheep, goats, draft horses, chickens, dogs, vegetable gardens and an orchard. We have a 10kw wind turbine, 8 kw of solar electric (photo voltaic), and a solar thermal system for heating my home, supplemented by wood and burning used vegetable oil from local restaurants in a modern furnace without any retrofit, We also have a farm truck that burns the restaurant oil, and a small two-story round straw bale house made from local materials that uses less than 50 dollars' worth of energy per year. We have a three-bedroom guest house, are energy independent, sell 2000 kwhs of electricity back to the utility, provide monthly renewable energy workshops and work closely with local towns and county government to accelerate the installation of renewable energy systems in the region. Our modest income enables us to have these clean renewable energy systems because of government subsidies and the savings in the cost of operation.

Our local State University Community College campus is cooled and heated, from athletic field house to dorm rooms to classrooms, by geo-thermal ambient temperatures of 45-55 degrees that lie as close as six feet beneath the ground. Geothermal is now being installed at local libraries and at several residences throughout the area. Solar electric is much better known and is installed on several residences.

Their wind turbine
Their wind turbine (inset: closeup)

Our local NPR Catskill Radio station, where I have a weekly program, "Designs for the Future," is powered by a hydro-electric plant. I am very fortunate in scheduling guests such as Amory Lovins, Hazel Henderson, William McDonough and others. This week my guest is David Korten, whose most recent book is "The Great Turning," a book I hope every classmate will read and share with his associates and family. We stream online at WJFFRadio.org on Monday nights at 7:30 pm. My program is also archived because several radio stations pick it up for rebroadcast. Once a month, I schedule an hour-long program on renewable energy and green construction. The general public is beginning to "get it" that they can make a difference on climate change by their own actions.

Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development is the 501 C-3 that I work with in bringing the huge benefits of nature to bear to reduce costs of government, reduce real estate taxes, and reduce cost to homeowners and business, while protecting and enhancing the beautiful natural environment of our region. Our SEED Project, Sullivan Energy and Environmental Design, seeks to capture the benefits of renewable energy I've listed above by fostering the development of municipal and county owned power authorities, as well as private local power generating companies. This project is just getting started. We are very interested in venture capital for wind farm sites that have been identified and measured, as they will be very profitable. Our project includes 8 wind farm sites; 12 business on-site generation wind installations; a 1,000,000 gallon per year bio-fuels refinery for space heating; a subsidized and revolving loan fund for homeowners and businesses for solar electric; a training institute for green building specialists, and renewable energy installers.

Our experience has been that government cannot make commitments for these new initiatives without grass roots organizing town by town, and civic group by civic group, so that's work that consumes nearly full-time commitments from several of us. In this work, we encounter the corporate, governmental and other obstacles to democratic self-governance. It all brings vivid clarity to the uncertainty of human success in cooperating with nature and in sharing the gifts of nature on a just and sustainable basis.

Our personal and civic engagements are merely a drop in the ocean of necessary effort to meet the challenge of climate change, but it's a way of being part of the change we wish to see in the world. It's a way to complete the democratic, self-reliant, self-governing activity that can possibly galvanize national success in coping with climate change problems, bringing a higher quality of life and community to millions.

I feel certain there is sufficient renewable energy to naturally and cleanly power the nation and planet. The question is, will we commit to radically alter current lifestyles and invest in a reorganization of our political and economic systems that preserves the magnificent natural systems that offer life? I'm fortunate to live on a farm where the humor, affection, and marvelous spirit and beauty of the animals and the landscape frame every experience. Whatever your lot in life is, I hope you will build something on it — something that preserves the irreplaceable glories of the natural world and the future's promise to everyone on this living, spinning ball that we all call home.

You may access more information about our local effort at www.sasdonline.org. I am very interested in hearing from classmates about their ideas and efforts. There is always a room and time for visiting here at the farm as well. My web site is applepondfarm.com.

Sonja and Dick Riseling
Sonja and Dick Riseling

(Dick's email address is renewableenergy@applepondfarm.com.)