Letters to the Editor
Robert Nipper says that green movements “are not a bad thing,” but that anything related to “sustainability” is “a Communist front bent on control.” A child of a Nebraska farm family, solidly Republican, I was raised to believe that the Bible taught us to care for the land and water. My grandfather, who homesteaded 2300 acres in the late 19th century, would never use chemicals. He said they “spoil” the land and make it “unsustainable” for future crops. There’s that pesky word, used by a Cheyenne County, Nebraska, Commissioner, back in the ‘50’s.
As an adult, I earned a reputation for creating energy-efficient housing that took advantage of the sun in its design – dubbed “passive solar design.” In 1994, this led to an invitation from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to gather individuals to consider how we could move toward the use of solar energy faster. I decided it would be sensible to include creative people who had done something significant for the world for the first time, one each from a variety of fields related to how the society works – an anthropologist, an architect, a developer, a scientist, a social worker, an engineer (Time Magazine’s Engineer of the Century, Paul MacCready), and 12 others. At no time did I consider anybody’s political beliefs, only the proven results of their creative energy.
Our final report announced the necessity to become “sustainable” before we could fully implement solar energy. We had to ensure all systems were energy efficient and could be sustained over the long term by making choices that conserved resources future generations would need.
Out of our conference came The Sanborn Principles for Sustainability, now being used in many countries around the world to determine whether a project uses sustainable methods. Example: draining all the underground water in an area can cause a farm economy to dry up. That is not sustainable. Instead, the Sanborn Principles suggest rainwater collection, conservation of water by using drip irrigation as they do in the desert in Israel, instead of wasteful flooding of fields (as in Mexico) or pivot irrigation in which more water evaporates than reaches the ground.
We hoped these Principles and the goal of making our planet “sustainable” over the long term would allow our children and grandchildren to have a better future. If we use all the resources they will need, they will not be able to sustain themselves and their families. None of this has anything to do with Communism, theoretical or political. The Communist system has collapsed everywhere in the world except North Korea and Cuba.
Nipper suggested that inquiring about “sustainable environment” would yield some unexpected horrors. I googled it. This statement summarized the results: “Achieving sustainability will enable the Earth to continue supporting human life.” The basic bottom line of my goals. I’m not having difficulty imagining, however, who, and for what purpose, decided to create a fear scenario around sustainability. Those who make money from exploiting resources like oil, coal, gas, water, and forests do not want the world to focus on sustainability and conserving resources. Despite their moniker, Conservatives are not about conservation of the world’s resources.
So, although it seems I am at least partly responsible for the blooming of the word “sustainability,” I have no intention of bequeathing to my grandchildren a world that looks like North Korea. The opposite.I want them to have an earth that sustains the wonderful life we live here in Ajijic in our all-solar house, our organic garden and fruit orchard with drip irrigation, all sustainable forever, generation after generation.
(Ed. Note: Ms. Harwood won the Solar 2014 Woman of the Year from the American Solar Energy Society in honor of a lifetime of work to promote renewable energy.)