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Back in 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a "Warning to Humanity" that made clear we are destroying many of our life sustaining natural resources. More than 1,800 top scientists, including nobel prize winners, signed this declaration that says we must act quickly to avert disaster. Vital natural systems upon which all life depends are being destroyed including water, air, soil, forests and more. With the birth of my son that year and my daughter two years later I knew that we had to take action in order give them hope for a bright future.
For our new born children this meant starting with local organic food that we prepared ourselves. Of course we also started looking at our waste, energy consumption and thinking about our dream sustainable home. In order to make some of the ambitious changes we were planning, we downsized to a townhouse.
Towards the middle of the ninties we got the chance to tour the award-winning Toronto Healthy that incorporated solar thermal and PV, sustainable building materials and passive solar design, as well as rain water collection, and a Waterloo Biofilter to process sewage waste onsite. This was the moment when Leigh (my wife) and I realized that our dream home was possible.
By 2001 completed (mostly) construction of our sustainable design award-winning Wilson Natural home near Orangeville Ontario. This was the culmination of decisions we started to make back in 1992 to strive for a lifestyle that was as fully sustainable as we could imagine. Our new home incorporated renewable materials like straw bales (that are also super insulating and "breathe" making for better indoor air quality), passive solar design as our primary heating/cooling system (we have no furnace nor do we have an air conditioner), a green roof, active solar photo voltaic systems, and a wind turbine. You can learn all about our home and how we built it by viewing the first documentary video that follows.
In 2003, we had the electricity Black Out encompassing all of eastern North America. This event spurred 1800 people to tour the Wilson Natural home that summer as people began to realize how fragile our energy systems really are and how dependent upon them we've all become.
Looking to find out how to make the ideas of large scale sustainability and especially renewable energy take hold in North America, a family vacation to Europe was partially turned into a documentary filming adventure. Having visited the off-the-grid home of Leonard Allen (owner of Solera Energies Company, a solar system provider we've worked with for many years), we were told by Leonard that the Solar Capital of the world was Freiburg Germany.
So, off we went in the summer of 2005. As you can see from the documentary now available for free on this web site, we learned a great deal from the wonderful people of Freiburg. We visited a twenty unit apartment that uses 90% less energy than conventional buildings of this type by incorporating passive solar design, solar photovoltaics, a green roof, sewage processing to generate electricity from the biogas, and much more. A visit to the wind park developed by the local community demonstrated how a feed-in tariff makes investing in renewable energy "interesting". Last, but not least, the amazing solar factory built by Solar Fabrik showed that our industrial systems could be powered by 100% renewable energy creating net zero carbon emissions, get this, making solar panels.
John Wilson created TheSolarVillage.com web site in 2005 as a part of the production of The Solar Village documentary video he produced (see the Village tab on this web site for a preview of some of the chapters in the documentary). You'll also find highlights and excerpts from this documentary in this Open iPub ebook.
Looking to delve deeper into the potential of Solar Villages like Freiburg, that essentially was the birth place of the green movement, we began work on Hope for a Change: Renewable Energy, a documentary that allowed us to hear directly from the creator of the German feed-in tariff program, Dr. Hermann Scheer. In addition we interviewed Dr. David Suzuki on why we need to act quickly. Scheer makes a clear case for how easy it would be for Ontario to be 100% powered by renewable energy. It is easy to show, by the fact, as he says, that Germany has produced 30,000 MW of production capacity from renewable sources in the past twenty years, with one third the land base and less wind/solar resources available. With typically around 25,000 MW required in Ontario, it is easy to see that 100% renewable energy could be achieved. And, if Ontario can do it then so can Canada and each community, village, province, state and country in the world. Ultimately that is what the Solar Village is all about.
We live in a solar system so naturally solar energy is the basis of all life on our home, planet earth. Solar energy refers to the broad array of renewable energy sources driven by the sun including solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, passive solar, bio-gas, wind, bio-mass, hydro, wave, geothermal, and tidal for example. The other important form of solar energy is in farming to feed ourselves using sustainable techniques like permaculture and organic. Energy forms the basis for all life and so the Solar Village is all about striving to live within the natural limits for all our needs while at the same time improving our way of life.
Solar Village, the documentary video presents the idea of sharing what we learn to create thousands and eventually millions of sustainable communities around the world. In the end it isn't what you say that matters, it is what you do. By open sourcing what we learn, sharing our collective knowledge, and building upon the successes and failures we each share, we can build a world full of solar villages everywhere. Start sharing now, tell us your story so we can share it with the rest of the world - email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Some of our first Open Source ideas are here:
Solar Village Copyright © 2012 by John Wilson. All rights reserved.
Solar Village Web Site - www.TheSolarVillage.com
Ideas that you put into action are one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Just imagine our planet earth, that resides in our solar system, on the outer edge of our so called milky way galaxy, being what it truly is. We live in a Solar Village, one world, powered every day by the sun, on a small planet that we all share. Solar Village is the idea that we are one family, now genetically proven to be true, stranded for now, with limited resources, and each other to depend on. That we must share equitably the limited resources that our home is endowed with, along with all other living creatures, has become abundantly clear . We can do this as long as we take action quickly, within the next five years, and make the switch to the use of renewable energy and renewable resources.
Our earth and the life sustaining systems it supports require this of us as we are now beyond the carrying capacity. All natural systems are in decline, those same natural systems that are what make life for us possible. Our most critical task is to make the switch to 100% renewable energy in the next nine years in order to prevent runaway climate crisis (caused primarily by our use of fossil fuels), now a global emergency of the gravest nature, far more ominous in potential destruction than World War Two and potentially as destructive as a limited nuclear war. As such, we that now know this must mobilize our communities everywhere, one global family, working together for the peace that humanity knows is our destiny.
Ultimately we are fighting against oil, coal, and gas companies and their affiliated political relations, government puppets and various dependent industries. Let us be clear. Oil companies in particular are the largest, most profitable, and most heavily invested in the war to destroy our climate and nature in general.
Corruption of the political system, of democracy, is rampant because the stakes are so high...trillions of dollars of sunk investment in industries that kill us and cause climate change. Our enemies have more money. Through a corrupt political system they appear to wield total control over the way we live our lives. Fossil fuels are currently critical to almost every aspect of our lives. Energy is the real economy. Food is currently grown using fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides, harvested by massive fleets of tractors, transported globally, and picked up by us from supermarkets that waste energy. Every consumer item we use is derived from and with fossil energy. Our homes, the vehicles we drive, industry, everything currently depends upon non-renewable resources in the form of fossil fuels, uranium for nuclear power, and all the other finite resources we mine and derive out of the earth.
Dr. David Suzuki suggests we need to collectively look at the world in a new way in order to tackle these massive challenges. We need a transformation to a "biocentric" view of our shared world. Given the gravity of the situation you have to wonder how could we have delayed so long. One answer becomes apparent in the corporate sponsored idea of sustainability in a "triple bottom line". Triple bottom line, with three circles that intersect partially, put human beings at the centre of everything. That is not reality. Humans are animals within a limited biosphere.
How can we get people to understand and engage with the problems of climate change and the need to switch to renewable energy and resources? David Suzuki gives credit for helping him understanding the the question of how we get people to understand the changes we must make, to Hermann Scheer. According to Scheer and Suzuki we must move from an anthropocentric view of the world to a biocentric view of the world. Anthropocentric sees that world as three separate but overlapping circles with economy, environment, and society. Biocentric sees the biosphere as the only circle, in which humans currently are using 40% of the solar energy and resources on earth.
Society, economics and the environment are our ideas for sustaining life on earth as a human species. Currently our activities are consuming 40% of all the resources...just one species. We must change our ideas of life to this new boicentric view, so that we consume our fair share, and only use the daily influx of sunlight for our energy needs, just like the rest of nature.
We've already passed the tipping point towards catastrophic global warming. Scientist like Jim Hansen have said we must stabilize carbon in the atmosphere at less than 350 ppm. We are current nearing 400 ppm. Despite this view, that we've already passed the tipping point, we also don't know enough to not have hope that once we restore the carbon balance, that the biosphere will recover.
In 1990 David Suzuki setup the David Suzuki Foundation with the goal, after then 1988 climate conference, of getting the current generation moving quickly (the view at the time was that we didn't have time to educate the next generation in what he new believes was a mistaken view at the time) toward stabilizing carbon in the atmosphere at less than 350 ppm. The focus must be on the next generation as they are the only ones who can get through to the current generation of parents in time.
Science is under attack by people like the Koch brothers who are spending 80 million on an campaign to discredit climate change and global warming scientific theories. In doing so, they are undermining how we assess information. Now, information on the web can be used to justify and back up any viewpoint or theory, so that if you don't want to believe in climate change, you can find many sources that deny the scientific theory. Need support for some religious view, again you can find what you need to support that claim.The difficulty is that corporations, especially fossil fuel multi-nationals, are waging the same kind of campaigns as did the cigarette companies, discrediting the science in order to buy further time to reap the profits from their substantial investments. As the most powerful entities in the world, their influence on society is more than substantial. The question becomes, how can this be overcome by entities like NGOs, non-profits, individuals, political parties, and communities who have less power?
The critical question becomes that one that Gandhi had to answer in fighting the British for freedom for India. Today we fight for the freedom of future generations to have a future, against that empire called the oil industry.So, what is the plan for world peace? Our secret weapon is an idea.
You have the power to create your own freedom. This book explains how. My name is John Wilson. Over the past fifteen years my family and I have renovated our home adding enough solar to generate $600 per month. We’ve built our house using renewable resources like straw, sand and wood. Lately we’ve started growing organic food in our own permaculture (you'll notice links like this to web sites that provide a quick reference) garden. Recently we’ve been able to switch to an electric vehicle powered by 100% renewable energy. No, we aren’t millionaires, so yes, you can afford to do this, and yes, given that we are running out of oil and obviously nuclear doesn't make sense, this is going to be a brilliant financial investment.
So, you’ve noticed that our world is getting out of control. Inequality is increasing. Climate change is threatening all life systems on earth. Financial chaos never ends. Politics is polarizing. Food prices keep rising. Entertainment like ultimate fighting, gambling, tv and pornography are rampant. Addictions to drugs, alcohol, television, shopping, porn and the internet are making us fat, stupid, disinterested, unhealthy, lazy, and inactive. Wars are being fought, innocent people are being murdered in large number, to secure control over dwindling resources, without any end in sight. We appear to be on the careening train out of control with nobody able to stop us. Our “elected” leaders talk about change and yet change if and when it does arrive, is slow and often reverts back to the old ways after the next election. Experts talk endlessly about arcane details which don’t relate to our lives. Leaders talk but don’t act making the words meaningless. Our large complex systems appear unable to change direction. What are we meant to do, if we think quite logically that things need to change, as so many people do?
This should sound familiar. Our circumstances are the classic signs of the end of an empire. In this case it is the end of the American empire as it falls, as all empires do, through financial collapse and bankruptcy. If we play our cards right it could mean the end to empires period. Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British, American, or Chinese, they all rise and then fall. Complex systems, as empires most certainly are, are doomed, so say historians, to this inexorable pattern. We, the common people, have throughout history, been dragged along by these empires driven by centralized control over resources and through resources, which we represent as money.
Something is different today. My ability to write you these words that you are reading now, from one of your fellow commoners, simple thoughts, means, when we share this through the internet, we now have the power to transcend large complex systems like empire. Technology, science, ideas, wisdom and knowledge, shared through this global consciousness machine, means something new is possible. The idea, avoiding the inherent problems of empire through individually freely adopted protocol, for the a simple life system that works for our planet earth and life itself in harmony, synergy and freedom, I call Solar Village. This vision changes the nature of power from centralized to individualized and local community based using the design pattern ideas of nature, internet protocols, open source and freedom. In addition, since we live in a solar system that we share with many other living beings, we will make it work on the daily income of solar energy equitably distributed to all life forms by nature.
Now, perhaps as never before, we have the means to change the rules of the game from the bottom up without anything the ruling elite can do to stop us as, in the final analysis, they too will benefit while their system allows for it. Creating the Solar Village of millions of interconnected communities around the world, powered entirely, in all aspects of life with the daily influx of sunlight, is what we aim to achieve one individual, one family, and one community at a time. Building from the bottom up, despite the rules of the current system that favours top down, destructive modes of living, ignoring the price signals set corruptly by our current game called economics, we can despite the challenge, at great cost, with massive undaunted effort, sacrificing our own lives if need be, achieve a world that makes sense for all of us. Nobody need die in any conventional armed conflict to achieve this, but we must, given the peaceful nature of this transformation protocol work that much harder and smarter.
In reality this is happening all around us all the time. More often than not the every day, inexorable march towards a sane naturally constrained freedom through towns, cities and villages, is happening, in everyday ordinary ways. That it doesn't get noticed in the big headlines makes sense since media is driven by the profit motive that requires sensationalism in order to drive viewership. When you insulate your home you are an "ecowarrior", a hero, that goes unnoticed despite the profoundly important nature of your actions to the real natural world we all share.
Before we get into all that, I mean why bother reading any more if my credentials don’t warrant paying any attention to me. First of all I’ve failed at pretty much everything I’ve ever tried to do. I've tried a fair bit. Having failed, I’ve then picked up the pieces, learned from my mistakes, made adjustments and improvements, and proceeded to achieve a fulfilling increasingly sustainable life. I am lazy at some level as I think we all know ourselves to be. I’ve no degrees, no awards, and no honours, which likely places me in the same shoes as the majority of all people alive today. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen, and generally been an average human being with all our normal faults and foibles. Let me be clear, you and me, we are not so very different, deep down inside when we admit who we really are, we are all brethren, brothers and sisters, with all our imperfections and at the same time our natural beauty and active ability to create whatever we set our minds towards achieving. Create we must, for an idea not put into practice means nothing. It is what you do that matters not what you think. Here are my ideas for a sustainable world that works equitably using the power of the sun, ideas that implemented in the house I live in, the food we grow and the vehicles we travel with. If I can create a solar powered house, grow my own organic food, travel using electric vehicles charged by the sun, enjoy life, and feel good about the future I am leaving for my children then so can you. You can do what we've done in your own way. As we become a growing number, working together, we will transform everything far more powerfully than war, politics, and business.
Nobody controls the internet any more. It has a life of it’s own, protected in various parts of the globe by different entities, from government to rebel hacker. Rather than growing based on a central control system, the internet is defined by a few simple protocols or rules that are designed to ensure that it can’t be interrupted completely even if parts of it are under attack or being destroyed. Sounds militaristic because it was designed and developed by the US military. However, like the DNA in a living organism this internet protocol so designed has spread like wild fire in the open electronic commons. Whereas mainframe style centralized computing is like empire, the internet is like nature. We are nature, living in a solar system, and so we now must create our lives in the image of natures protocols. And so we can.
That is our house pictured in the middle of the next page. You can see lots of solar panels that provide all the electricity we need while also shading our windows. What you can’t see is our green roof that acts as a natural cooling air conditioner, straw bale walls that improve our indoor air, and much more. We have no furnace, we use no gas or oil. We use a wood burning stove to keep the house warm in the winter on days when the sun does not shine with an EPA rated stove the reduces particulate by 90%. It isn’t perfect by any stretch, however, as our life in the house continuously evolves it is 99% better than any other house we’ve ever lived in for achieving a life that is sustainable.
Freedom off-the-grid using solar also means switching the way we travel so that we aren’t enslaved by the oil companies. To start with we invested in a 1974 sailboat that is thirty five feet long and sleeps four or five people (our family includes myself, Leigh Geraghty my wife, Ian Wilson my son and Claire Wilson my daughter, as well as Scout our large black German Shepherd). You too could buy a $20,000 fibreglass beauty and turn it into a floating cottage powered by an electric motor. Yes, this means we’ve got 100% renewable energy powering our cottage that floats so we can go anywhere in the world...although thus far we’ve only sailed around Lake Ontario. Of course we’ve had to renovate things on the boat, removing the old gasoline engine and adding batteries, but all of that has added $20,000. Compare that to a cottage in Muskoka. Not bad for a moveable cottage that has no energy bills and can go anywhere water connects to Lake Ontario...and stay for free as long as we are at anchor.
Growing our own food using organic and permaculture techniques has been a steep learning curve for us city slickers without a clue about how agriculture works. So, even if you’ve never been able to keep a simple indoor plant alive, if we can get some potatoes to grow, harvest a bumper crop of herbs, and even start our own fruit orchard, then so can you. Let the adventure begin. We live in a solar system. Time to find out what the really means.
Let us get a little philosophical for a minute. Freedom requires a deep understanding of our place in the universe. We live in a solar system, on the edge of the milky way galaxy. We are the very living and breathing miracle that solar energy combined with some galactic material inevitably produces, with the ability to ask, who am I, where have I come from, where am I going and perhaps most importantly, why am I here?
We are capable of creating any world that we can imagine. Our challenge today is to integrate the ever evolving social, scientific and technological developments into a new way of thinking and living. You have the power to create this new solar powered world and this book will explain how based on the real world experiences of me, John Wilson, and my family, including my wife Leigh Geraghty, my son Ian Wilson, and my daughter Claire Wilson. If we can make the transition to solar freedom, then, together we can create solar villages and in so doing transform the world into something that makes sense for our children.
Ideas are the most powerful tool ever realized by humans. Making ideas reality is what gives you freedom. By actually living your ideas you create a revolution with each breath you take under our glorious sun.
How do you become the architect, builder, owner, and living proof that solar villages are our inevitable future? You simply look at the reality we live in to know that this is the future that makes the most sense. No more pollution, energy security, healthy food, freedom for all, and world peace. On top of that there is absolutely nothing stopping you from achieving this here and now. I'm not saying it'll be easy. Given what is at stake, our children's future, a better world for all, surely it is worth.
Talk is cheap. Here you will find only real working experience, hands-on, proof positive that this solar future is yours now, and here is the manual that can make it work for you. This isn't going to be easy. It is a natural evolution, but like all change it can be hard...which is also why it is so rewarding.
By using this manual to join us on the solar frontier you take us all one giant step closer to a future we all want. You'll see how to build a home that suits your lifestyle while being affordable by being completely off the grid. From grandiose mansion to comfy cabin, and around the world on a floating island chalet, you'll learn how to apply the solar building blocks to create the future that actually makes sense for all of us.
Part of our future is also about a new moral understanding of our shared responsibility for each other. That deep thought is realized in a simple way by starting to grow your own food, hanging your clothes out on the line, or installing a solar panel on your rooftop. Any or all of these may sound out of your reach. They are not as you'll see and learn in this book. Depth of moral understanding increases as we press a tiny seed into the soil. Smelling the fresh pure smell of bed sheets dried in the open air will actually intoxicate you in a clear clean way. Finding the electricity you need to run your computer provided by photons of sunlight, for free, will lift your spirit.
Solar Village has issued a "global emergency" alert because our current civilization (as of 2010) is on track to make catastrophic runaway global warming inevitable. Some of the most respected climate scientists, like James Hansen from Nasa, suggest we have less than ten years to make large scale changes. In order to prevent catastrophe we must make changes rapidly, starting right now.
Understand the Problem
As of 2010 we have about ten years to make the switch to renewable energy. We are in a race against time. By 2020 it is estimated that global pollution from fossil fuel usage (carbon, methane and others) will, if we maintain our current trajectory, reach levels that will likely cause catastrophic runaway global warming. This is very clearly a global emergency, unlike anything humanity has ever had to deal with before. This unprecedented global emergency requires that we all work together as effectively, quickly, diligently and cooperatively as possible.
The other critical issue is that increasing use of fossil fuels along with dwindling reserves is causing economic chaos and uncertainty. Witness the 2008 economic global depression caused by oil reaching $140 per barrel just be before the financial meltdown. Also see Jeff Rubins talk at the Business of Climate Change conference and read his book about our world getting smaller as well as Jeremy Rifkin's Solar Civilization talk that provides recent analysis on the economic devastation caused by oil prices, also see Jeff Rubin - Economics of Global Warming video for a good overview.
The only quick and economically sensible solution to these problems is the rapid transition to renewable energy and ultimately renewable resources in general.
Take Action, Solar Villages
First, we start by addressing our own lives, becoming the change we wish to see in others as Gandhi is often quoted as saying. In our own lives, as is common with most other people, it is the house we live in, the food we consume, and the travel by vehicles that contribute most significantly to climate change as long as these activities are based primarily on the use of non-renewable fossil fuels, non-renewable uranium and non-renewable resources in general.
Food production as it is currently practised by industrial scale agriculture is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels for fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel for transportion around the world. Our homes, in the materials and energy we use to build them, and in the energy we consume each day through electricity from the grid (largely coal and nuclear in many places), as well as the use of gas and oil for heating, are major contributors. Vehicles like cars, SUVs, buses, trucks and trains currently consume massive quantities of fossil fuels. For all of these there are renewable alternatives that we must now make the switch towards in our daily lives.
As we begin to transform our own lives over the next few years, we must also begin to engage with our community, and start to transform the broader community systems, from food production, to houses, transit, commercial buildings and eventually big industry. Our earth community must become thousands of linked Solar Villages, working together to make the switch to renewables, in the next ten years.
Step 1 - Local Organic Food - Review the food you consume to make sure it is as much local and organically grown as possible. Consume as little meat as possible. Grow your own food organically and/or using permaculture techniques where and when you can.
Step 2 - Solar House - Make your home run on renewable energy. Make your energy use as efficient as possible. Switch to solar where possible for electricity generation and water heating. Switch to renewable options like like wind and hydro through the grid for the energy you can't generate on your own rooftop. Replace natural gas usage with pipeline supplied biogas converted to natural gas at organic waste processing plants.
Step 3 - Electric Vehicles Powered by Renewables - Make the move to electric vehicles for long distance travel that can't be accomplished by walking, biking, skateboarding etc. Electric transit like streetcars, electric subways, electric trains and even electric boats are now widely available (plus make sure they are supplied with electricity from renewable sources).
Step 4 - Community Development of Solar Villages - Get your community implementing solar systems on rooftops of commercial buildings through cooperative groups. Drive your government at all levels to use green energy legislation and feed-in tariffs (like the ones in Germany and Ontario, Canada) to cost effectively drive the industrial development. Feed-in tariffs are the most effective way to make the transition as shown by many studies. Remember that feed-in tariffs (FIT) require that any proponent, from home owner, to large utility scale solar/wind farms, have equal access to the grid, must provide the up-front-capital, and are guaranteed long term payment over a period of twenty years when the systems produce (thus the proponents take the risk), while rate payers (NOT tax payers), foot the bill. So, the less you consume, the less you pay, plus if you invest in renewable energy with FIT you can participate in earning potentially enough profit to offset the additional cost born by your consumption as a rate payer.
Time to get to work. Remember it is what you do that matters. Read on. Learn how. Start doing.