Coronavirus, Aspen Trees and Solar Power: Connecting the Dots

Coronavirus is revealing an important truth about culture, media, politics and mental models here in the United States. Cooperative behavior at all levels is completely overwhelmed by the forces of obfuscation, misinformation, and incompetent leadership, paving the way for uncontrolled viral spread. That cat may already be out of the bag and the pandemic on, but we’ll have March Madness, a sporting event but now more of a phrase with dual meaning. We are about to find out.

The greater good seems to have been forgotten as individual precaution among low information folks and high hubris folks (because they are low risk for infection or maybe because they think this is a hoax) actually make it worse for everyone, including themselves. Of course there are other explanations for abandoning precaution like economic pressures to work, (and I don’t mean to oversimplify) but the point is that cooperation is lacking in our collective cultural consciousness. This episode should remind us that a virus doesn’t recognize national boundaries or adhere to a particular political ideology. A virus cannot be “denied” out of existence.

Speaking of cooperation, I was in Crested Butte, Colorado last month where the largest living organism on earth resides. Yesterday I noticed on my bookshelf a piece of art my daughter did several years ago. It was a black and white image of aspen trees and it got me thinking about this. Aspens aren’t a bunch of individual trees. They’re actually all connected by an amazing root system, and that’s what makes aspens the largest organism on earth (here and here for example). So it dawned on me that this “root connection” is something we’re missing in our awareness but something we should cultivate. That is, our perceptions completely miss the “system.”

Aspen Grove by Grace Owen. Linoleum block print. Grace, like a lot of millennials paying attention, has an eye for wonders of the natural world that can teach us all. (Instagram: @gracecapua_art)

How does this relate to solar? We’re now seeing the operators of the massive electric grids making preparations for coronavirus. Many of us recognize the centralized grid as a pretty fragile system, but the human element comes to mind now with coronavirus. Or what about the insanity of bailing out the fracking industry now, one that’s been dying of its own terrible logic. What we do NOT need now is more disaster capitalism. Maybe we should reconsider the supply chain since the U.S. has long since conceded it to Asia– what can we make here? But where I’m going is the notion that a certain type of solar development makes sense. Community-driven and distributed are the key words. Quick word association– lots of rooftop solar, other nearby local and regional renewables generation, community microgrids, and public pool resource (where we recognize limits, i.e. my consumption takes from my neighbor).

And it shouldn’t stop at just a thought exercise on energy. We need integrative thinking, not more silos. All of our challenges are systemically connected. Is a great transition within our grasp? Many think so and maybe it is darkest just before the dawn to borrow the great singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris line. Even arguing the difference between dawn and sunrise, I still like the idea in terms of our aspirations for a new system. Question is how dark does it have to get before we can see the dawn? That’s up to us to design.


On design see here and here and here and here.
On cooperation see here.
On systems see here.
On great transition or great turning see here.

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