Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Green Is The (Hudson) Valley

The injunction to Think Globally, Act Locally always made good sense to me. So I thought I'd make use of this space to start talking about the companies in this region that have sustainable energy solutions on the ground and running, and some of the forces helping to make it happen.

It's one thing to talk about the value of sustainability in planning how to proceed from here, and of course these issues need to be talked up, and ever more urgently. But special in the sight of earth-loving people are those who have moved past the planning and are already Doing something about it, and that's who I'm going to focus on.

It's only logical to assume that the Hudson Valley can develop into a leader in putting clean local energy sources to work. The area has more than its fair share of sun, water, earth, and all them thar natural elements, a highly inventive, forward-looking population, and a central spot in the history of environmental activism to boot. (Happy 90th Birthday, Pete Seeger! That's his famous floating environmental classroom, the Clearwater, above.) Here are a few of the players I'll start getting into more detail on in coming posts.

I crossed the river to check out the Hudson Valley Green Fair at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck a couple weeks back, where they filled a couple of halls with more than 80 exhibitors, and slated two days of workshops on every hue and shade of green activity. This was only the Fair's second year, and they hosted quite a variety of businesses and groups that offer to do more with less (energy).

Talking to people in the booths, the sense is the potential for this is still on the verge — which is pretty much where it's been for the last 30 years. But now everyone's optimistic, somewhere between waiting (because you can't just wait) and hoping for the other shoe to drop — from that mighty foot in Washington, D.C.

So the big news around here earlier this spring was the announcement from U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley), another local stalwart on the issue, that Washington was bestowing about $3.2 million on the Hudson Valley’s solar energy industry this year. Most of that will be funneled through The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), which Hinchey was a driving force in the development of. The funding bill also included 400 thousand plus for several renewable energy projects for local hospitals.

"Hinchey secures $4 million in funding for solar power, energy efficiency"
By Alexa James, Times Herald-Record, 3/2/09
At the Green Fair I found out how New York State is pitching in, too, with a variety of initiatives and programs both pilot and productional. In the "Environmental Disclosure Label" twice yearly in their electric bill, New Yorkers can now see where the energy they buy for their home originates from, hopefully inspiring them to choose to buy Green Power from participating providers. That's one way the state's Public Service Commission is supporting the development of renewable energy service from utilities that serve New York, and working at drumming up further interest in it among the general populace.

Related, here:
Posts tagged Green Tech
and the wider topic of
Appropriate Technology
(Photo of the sloop Clearwater
from James.Doyle on Flickr)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

"How do we come up with new ideas?"

Alison Arieff, blogging on design in the New York Times, asks this always-useful question, by way of giving some serious room to a gentleman who vividly "illustrates" the practical value of plain old seat of the pants blue-sky imagining.

She begins by listing a battery of common distractions we're all fighting through to remain optimistic enough to keep creative and productive, remarking,

"I can’t help thinking that we’re all so mired in it that we’ve forgotten how to get out of it — how to daydream, invent, engage with the absurd.

"That’s why I am so enamored with the work of inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson, a sort of R. Crumb meets R. Buckminster Fuller. Many of his musings are simply whimsical, existing primarily as a source of inspiration or delight. Others tackle very real issues, from environmentalism to alternative transportation to homelessness."

(Johnson's caption:)
"Auto Abandonment Zones are built to acccomodate growing numbers of drivers who lose the will to proceed further in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic. Drivers may pull off, leave car keys with an Abandonment Officer, and board a nearby train, phone relatives, or calm themselves in 'parks.'" (Bolding mine.)
As one who has spent far-r-r too much time edging along in traffic, in the pre-mostly-virtual world when the only way to get paid was to show up somewhere every day and be there throughout regular work hours — thus condemning you to rush hour drives — I found that to be wickedly dry humor. Arieff continues,
"In Johnson’s oeuvre, nothing gets to exist if it doesn’t have at least two functions: the skylight uses solar energy to cook the dinner, for instance, and the exercise bike operates the washing machine (cleaning clothes and toning the wearer’s muscles simultaneously)."

"Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas" (On Design blog), 5/4/09
For more examples of witty yet functional doubling-up, Johnson has visually proposed an array of gardening tool footwear, including the Weeding Oxfords, Shear Shoes, Lawn Aeraters, Lawn Edging Spurs, and the Watering Sneakers. Presumably, you could accomplish a lot of tasks among the dirt and weeds just by walking around — in a very deliberate manner, one would guess. Afterwards, you can relax in Johnson's Ten-Speed Hammock, or the Blooming Rose Chair with Ottoman (p. 62 in the book preview).

Now, a lot of this stuff is intentionally (we hope) zany; besides demonstrating some fairly precise drafting skills, the man's also a comedian. But the creative thinking on display, focused on real-world objects, can only spark a few fresh thoughts in anyone trying to see where things can progress in their own sphere of influence.

A vast number of such thoughts are drawn out in Johnson’s 1984 book: “What the World Needs Now: A Resource Book for Daydreamers, Frustrated Inventors, Cranks, Efficiency Experts, Utopians, Gadgeteers, Tinkerers, and Just About Everybody Else.” Let me recommend the final, how-to chapter, "Author's Tips for Inventing Useful and Useless Things," which is excerpted there at the other end of that link.
"I sit on the living room rug at home and look out the window at the garden. …I avoid my desk and drafting table, as such furniture has the connotations of serious endeavor, deadlines," etc.
He places a stack of typing paper and a pen or pencil on the floor next to him.
"I find that a few key words and a blurry scribble are all that I need for capturing an idea, but it is important to note down all ideas, since like dream images these products of the imagination evaporate easily and are usually impossible to retrieve."
Related, here:
Building 'Living Space' Around Railroad Stations

Where Do Great Ideas Come From?

Posts tagged innovation and creative thinking