Posts I could write

Six carboys are ticking away happily in my office closet, and today I took apart the pedal grinder and scraped the apple sludge out of the crevices – hopefully by next year we’ll have a more streamlined, easily cleaned assembly based on this year’s successful architecture. A lot has been going on, and I haven’t had the chance to do much of it justice in this blog. As a placeholder, here’s a list of posts I’ve thought to write recently:

  • I picked out five new apple trees from Fedco to plant in the empty spots in the orchard next spring.
  • The garden is pretty much cleared out; I harvested about a bushel of root veggies (potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips) from an area smaller than our small kitchen. This makes me unreasonably happy. Root vegetables seem to have a dietary and spiritual substance that other garden vegetables lack.
  • Alexis is half way through her last year of med school, studying for the national exam. Soon she will be interviewing with residency programs around the New England area.
  • I’ve been playing a lot of music recently, and today I bought a decent quality fiddle and bow to replace my rock-bottom beginner hardware. Probably one of the bigger discretionary purchases I’ve made.
  • At Kauf’s suggestion I recently read Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. I’m generally sympathetic to McKibben; long ago I was influenced by his End of Nature. But I can’t decide whether the book is potentially prescient, or merely hopeful.
  • Meanwhile, the actual economy continues to falter. Venerable financial institutions have stumbled; a fifth of mortgage holders owe more than their property is worth, and folks are too scared to shop – it seemed the day would never come.
  • On the work front, Holly and I have made what may turn out to be a modest advance in an aspect of solar cell processing technology.
  • The financial crisis has dramatically changed the landscape facing renewable energy companies. The birth rate of cleantech startups may be slowing, and existing companies are being advised to cut costs and prepare for a rough time.
  • The US just picked a smart, progressive black guy to be the next president – how cool is that? Unfortunately, he’s taking office just as a once-in-a-century multifaceted shitstorm blows in. On the bummer side, California wrote marriage discrimination into their state constitution.

There’s probably more, but I’m grasping for some sense of how it all fits together, what the scene taken as a whole portends. So much is up in the air. On the one hand, the headwind that cleantech faces as a result of the financial crisis confirms a suspicion I’ve long felt. I worried that the general public’s appetite for clean energy was merely a pocketbook issue (in the case of fuel prices) and a good-times magnanimity (in the case of climate change), and that interest would evaporate at the first sign of adversity. And, at least anecdotally, that indeed seems to be the mood at least among venture capital types. On the other hand, there seems to be a reasonable chance that Obama could make renewable energy a major focus of a massive Keynesian intervention to prop up the economy, which would obviously provide a major boost to our efforts.

It’s not at all clear just how deep the economic problems will go, or how fundamental the causes are. A glance at the Case-Schiller index indicates that the inflated housing situation was pretty much doomed to come to a sticky end given the huge leverage involved, but it’s debatable the extent to which food and energy scarcity and global warming are feeding the flames.  As oil crept up on $150/bbl the historical comparisons were mainly to the 1970s; now with housing and energy deflation folks are talking more about the 1930s.  For several years now Holly, Keith, Brandon, and I have kept up a running semi-joke about “The Hard Times”; a sort of worst-case scenario in which energy and climate factors cause an economic collapse that throws much of modernity for a loop and leaves small communities to fend for themselves with improvised technology.  For the most part the HT (or, for Brandon, HTv2.0 – postulating Hobbes’ State of Nature as the original release) are good for a reliable laugh, and provide a satisfying narrative tying together many things that I like to do anyway – e.g. pedal-power contraptions, growing fruit and vegetables, playing home-made music, developing small-scale renewable energy, brewing, etc. (I was pleased to find that barrels of homemade hard cider were the primary item of regional trade in Jim Kunstler’s recent fictional account of tHT.)  But it is a bit disconcerting that a tale we were kicking around in pre-Katrina, pre-oil shock, pre-cleantech bubble era seems to get more and more plausible by the month.


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