January 1st, 2007
So first off, Happy New Year! I hope you, unlike me, have not already completely violated your New Year's Resolution (um, getting up early and sticking to a schedule).
But I am hopeful about 2007. And I have a project as well: trying to get my adopted hometown, Berkeley, to commit to 51 percent green power by 2017.
Many years ago, as our family was facing a crisis, a friend of my father's accused him of being quixotic. As it turns out, his friend was wrong: my dad, who did indeed dream many impossible dreams in his short lifetime, was being very practical in that case. His "quixotic" solution to the crisis worked.
Lately I've been reading Don Quixote and thinking about windmills, which the famous knight errant famously attacked, believing them to be giants. And at the same time I've been freaking out about the global warming crisis: scientists say we have 10 years to change our ways, or else disastrous climate change will be inevitable and irreversible. In addition (with continual coffee drinking, much pondering is possible) I've been thinking about what I can do, as a citizen and a dad and a husband and a friend (and eventually as an ancestor), to help solve the problem. ... So naturally my thoughts turned to windpower. Might windmill-generated power help fight global warming? In Berkeley, say?
I called my brother Jake in L.A. He drives a car that's powered entirely by vegetable oil, and tends to know about this stuff. He in turn referred me to a friend of his, Paul Fenn, who wrote California's Community Choice law, which passed in 2002. This law allows cities to choose their own electricity provider. A couple days ago my son and I chatted with Paul and strolled around our neighborhood. I'm still digesting all the stuff he told us, but the gist of it was this: Berkeley can go green with much of its energy -- probably through a combination of wind and solar power.
I asked him where the windmills could go, and he said a great place would be the Berkeley Pier, which gets lots of wind and has a floor made of reinforced concrete, which could support the weight of a windmill farm. The thing for me, aesthetically, is that it would be great if the windmills looked like, you know, "real" windmills -- the picturesque ones I associate with Holland -- rather than the more robotic-looking ones you see at the Altamont Pass. Paul said he thought that might be possible, and agreed that those kinds of windmill are the coolest-looking.
Yesterday my son and I biked down to the Pier, to do some reconnaissance. Man, it's lovely there! People were strolling, fishing, and -- in one case -- engaging in a tense domestic argument while fishing. A loon was hanging out in the water nearby. A cheerful guy at a hotdog stand wished us a happy New Year. Over in Richmond you could see a huge chimney spewing some dangerous-looking stuff into the sky. But what I grooved on most was all that air over the Pier -- nice, potentially power-providing air.
Could there be a windmill farm here, we wondered? How would it affect the fishers, the fish, the birds? At the end of the walkable part of the Pier we came to a somewhat crude wooden fence. A woman was looking out through the fence at the Bay. We got into a conversation with her, and I mentioned our idea of trying to get Berkeley to go green with most of its power -- possibly including windmills on the Pier. She loved the idea! And, as it turns out, before she retired she used to be a grant-writer. She gave me her contact info, saying she'd love to help.
So now there are four of us: me, my son, Paul, and that woman (her name is Nancy). I think our next big step will be to go to the folks in Berkeley's government and see if they're into the idea.
It feels incredibly weird to try to do something practical about global warming -- rather than my usual, time-honored practice of cycling through anger, depression, and despair. But it also feels good. It feels ... quixotic.
What do you think?