The switch to renewables requires a redesign of American life

On the way down to Nashville for the Hutchmoot we stopped for lunch at a friend’s home near Kansas City. While there I began looking at a magazine called World, as I recall. I glanced at an article in the publication pointing at holes in the recent plans for renewable energy.

The long and short of what my skimming told me — I didn’t have time to finish the article — Renewable energy such as wind and solar won’t work for the cars we drive. No kidding! The article also, if I recall correctly, pointed out that these energy sources won’t even provide enough electricity, even if they are developed to the nth degree, to meet our current electricity needs.

I’ve made the point on the blog before, as I recall, that we need to revamp the culture and our environmental design in order to get to where most or all of our energy needs come from renewable sources. We can’t work from the assumption that we can maintain the cultural status quo while at the same time switching over to renewable sources of energy. Instead, we must become creative in all aspects of our lives. Developing more efficient lifestyles seems like common sense to me — regardless of where our energy is coming from (Per my cursory skim the magazine article suggested nuclear, but I’d still rather see other avenues developed further along with more intentionally efficient living.).

Cameraphone capture of part of a wind turbine, going down I-80 on our way home from Nashville.

On our way down to the Hutchmoot last week, my wife and I were introduced to Rodney and Sidney Wright. Rodney wrote The Hawkweed Passive Solar House Book. He showed us around their house — inserting at least one pun into every sentence — pointing to all of the attention paid to making the home more energy efficient. The energy bill for the home was less than $50 a month for the 1,200 square foot structure in Paducah, Kentucky (a walkable community, he pointed out). The couple paid good money for energy efficient appliances, used prefabricated wall panels with dense foam insulation to build with and of course designed the home with climate and geography in mind, in a passive solar fashion.

It’s going to take this kind of intentionality in our design of life, I believe, in order to make renewables work. Sure some things might cost more now and then, but Wright made a point of saying that even though their uber efficient Swedish microwave/convection oven might have cost them $3,000 they built the home for only $85,000 (doing some of the work themselves, such as painting) just four years ago.

Wright also pointed out that we used to do better at designing our dwellings and communities as they relate to their local environments. What will it take as a culture to forgo the more common and under-considered living spaces we create in the United States?


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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