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Friday, October 12, 2007

Honoring progressive leadership

Today the "former next President of the United States" joined such great leaders as the 14th Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Albert Arnold (Al) Gore, Jr., along with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was awarded the prize for "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Al Gore is not the first "politician" to win the Peace Prize; far from it, as many of the winners have been U.S. and world politicians. What is notable for me, in light of the direction this country has taken in the past three decades, and most dramatically since Bush's "election", is that only two Republicans have been awarded this most important honor. And of the two, only Henry Kissinger (1973) could be considered a Republican in the modern sense of the GOP. The other, President Theodore Roosevelt, was a progressive reformer who endeavored to move the Republican party into the Progressive movement. This put T.R. into the same company as his cousin F. D. R. and solidly into modern liberal territory. (I purposly say "liberal" and not "Democratic". The U.S. ideology has shifted right since Reagan to the point where very few Democratic politicians, at least in Federal government, represent the traditionally diverse, liberal issues espoused by the Democrats in the past.)

[P]rogressivism made great strides under American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Progressivism historically advocates the advancement of workers' rights and social justice. The progressives were early proponents of anti-trust laws and the regulation of large corporations and monopolies, as well as government-funded environmentalism and the creation of National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

"Old-school" Democrats are well represented in the Peace Prize, with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson, 2002 and 1919, respectively, and George Marshall, originator of the Marshall Plan winning in 1953. Most striking, however, is the realization that post-Goldwater Republicans, the so-called conservatives of today, consider peace and promoting peace a sign of weakness. (Today's conservatives are better termed "neoconservatives" with all the justly deserved negative connotations associated with the label "neocon".)

As with all dark periods in world history, this too will end. I can't help but feel that Mr. Gore's Nobel Prize is yet another sign that the Reagan legacy is losing strength and that true progressive ideas will soon take root. Republican Senators are retiring en masse, the Democratic party is millions of dollars ahead of the GOP in fundraising, and concepts like global warming, alternative energy, increasing fuel economy, and reducing consumption are being discussed by more and more people.

We may yet survive. . .

(Okay, I derailed my Nobel Peace Prize essay and turned it into a political statement. That happens. To read more about this year's award see the story at the BBC News website.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Think globally, generate locally.

We hear more and more in popular culture and the media about generating electricity with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, but relatively few people have actually seen this technology in action. Two Kennebunk, Maine women received some good news this week that will give local residents something to see, and hopefully talk about, on the subject of solar power.

A group of citizens, teachers, and school district administrators and operations staff in Kennebunk formed an Energy Advisory Committee (EAC) eighteen months ago to address energy, recycling, and other sustainability topics in the Maine School Administrative District 71 facilities in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. (The idea for our group, SEA, was germinated in that group.)

This group has enjoyed tremendous success, attaining Energy Star certification for the 2.5 year old Kennebunk Elementary School, achieving impressive electricity and heating fuel savings across the school district, and driving a sharp reduction in trash through an innovative composting program implemented at the beginning of the current school year.

As I alluded to earlier, two members of the EAC have achieved yet another notable milestone in the local efforts to slow global warming. Jennifer Neise and Sassy Smallman raised seed money and applied for a Maine Public Utilities Commission grant to install a PV array at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. Neise was notified this week that the EAC was awarded this grant, and that installation of the 5.6 kW photovoltaic array can proceed.

The energy data from the array will most likely be available online, and the panels will tentatively be installed where they are prominently visible to the public. I would suggest that a placard be installed to direct people to sources of information about PV specifically and alternative energy in general to maximize the educational potential of the installation.

When people start to see concrete action taken at the local level, they will begin to realize that individual, incremental progress can be made in combating serious environmental issues.

On the web:
Middle School of the Kennebunks
Pemetic Elementary School, Southwest Harbor, Maine online PV reporting system

This graph is from Pemetic's PV array:

Here's what Pemetic's array looks like: