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"It doesn't make sense to put in a $10,000 heating system to provide

$100 worth of heat a year."

"A more useful definition.. .defines sustainability with four system conditions that apply like the laws of gravity."

What is Sustainability?

I am frustrated by how loosely we use the term "sustainable." In the "sustainable sailing" article in HP125, I would conclude that yes, while under sail, the boat's transportation energy is using a renewable resource. But coming to a port to restock usually requires turning on the motor, unless you can maneuver in and out of port under sail. Installing PV and a wind generator on a sailboat reduces fossil fuels, but does it make one sustainable?

My wife and I make 150% of our household electricity with sunshine, we heat 99.95% of our water with a solar thermal system, we drive fuel-efficient cars and buy green tags to offset our car and air travel, and we buy local food. We plan to install a solar air collector to supplement a high-efficiency wood heater, and to buy an all-electric car fueled by our solar-electric system. Yet even after all of that individual effort, I feel that we are not close to living a "sustainable" lifestyle.

A more useful definition by The Natural Step ( defines sustainability with four system conditions that apply like the laws of gravity. In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to increasing:

1. Concentrations of substances extracted from the earth's crust (like oil, natural gas, or cadmium);

2. Concentrations of substances (chemicals) produced by people;

3. Degradations by physical means (breaking or diminishing nature's cycles);

4. And in that society, people are not subject to conditions that undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

We can't be sustainable even in complete isolation unless our society becomes sustainable, because of the interconnection of all living things. Almost every activity in our modern lives fails at least one of the four conditions and will eventually lead us to a deadend. We are focused on "less bad" and tactical measures that do not address fundamental issues. Until we recognize where we are and where we need to go, we could make things worse with our good intentions.

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I would like to congratulate the Youngs for their efforts, and for the efforts of all individuals working on developing renewable energy including the Home Power crew. My request is that we work toward the truth in our communications and build a common understanding of what "sustainable" means.

Randy Sadewic • Santa Fe, New Mexico

Subsidies, No!

I bet most Home Power readers agree with me—they value long-term freedom more than short-term payoffs. So, I cannot understand the presence of three articles in HP124 promoting solar tax credits and subsidies.

Haven't the prices of propane and electricity increased enough that we solar people should be able to find plenty of business? Incentives always push the general public back farther than they thrust the favored group forward. It is the paperwork, the bureaucrats, the certification, and worse, the personalities that rise to the top in these contrived challenges. The subsidies are mostly aimed at electricity. They distort everything.

Home Power readers know that American society indulges in and is drunk on electricity. The unsuspecting public is enthusiastic about renewable energy mandates and subsidies on the mistaken belief that we can stay drunk on electricity, but escape a hangover if it is solar or wind electricity.

Can't we shop for our own energy and leave government out? This would encourage traditional, but forgotten, cost-effective uses of solar energy:

• Solar-powered children walking or biking—not riding in cars—to school

• Windows and skylights for daylighting

• Passive heating and cooling

• Solar drying—clotheslines

Big government, big business, and the banks have cast a spell to wean us from traditions that work for us, and shift us to a new energy order that works for them. Steve Baer, Zomeworks Corporation • Albuquerque, New Mexico

To send a letter to Home Power's Mailbox, write to: [email protected]

or Mailbox, c/o Home Power PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520

Published letters are edited for content and length. Due to mail volume, we regret that unpublished letters may not receive a reply.

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