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Climate Change: An opportunity for American ingenuity (opinion)

Bonnie Turnbull
Tribune Guest Columnist

My friend, John Roskey, is re-inventing the windmill in a Carson City aircraft hangar. Fascinated, I visited this modern “Wright brother” at work.

John types commands into the computer. Wind blows against my face as I peer inside the wind tunnel, mystified. Nothing in there looks like a windmill to me.

John steps up the wind speed several times, then shuts down the fan, his data neatly displayed on a spreadsheet.

I return his enthusiastic grin, but — a bit embarrassed — ask, “Where’s the windmill?”

John reaches inside the tunnel and unscrews the plastic form that he had made on 3D printer. He runs his hands over the curves and along the blade as he explains that these complex surfaces were precision-engineered to focus and direct the air into internal turbines. John tells me that they mimic nature — how jellyfish and eels swim by creating vacuums in the water that suck them forward. John’s blades don’t spin at all. No worries about “big blades shearing off in high winds,” he tells me.

I ask John if he feels lonely in this work, in this big hangar, in his race against climate change.

He shakes his head, saying, “There are daily examples of new technologies, advanced by regular people, that could mitigate our (climate) impact. It is all very exciting. Creating solutions is far better than getting stuck somewhere in the seven stages of grief.

“Doing what we can and in our own way as our talents dictate is important and transformative. It has to be. Our climate is unquestionably changing, and whether or not we precipitated that, is arguably a moot point. Rather, it is our duty and privilege as stewards of the Earth to protect it as best we can.”

John has the imagination and confidence to seize opportunity. He’s building a future where our power sources don’t pollute, when they are selected as appropriate for specific locations and are essentially free after installation. No more cancer-causing smog. No more wasting time at the gas pump.

A Liberty Utility representative called this energy revolution “… an engineer’s dream.” It’s a transition as dramatic as the shift from the buggy to the car. Trillions of dollars stand to be made. The Chinese, seeing investment possibility, have already built an entire city, Denzhou, powered by the sun.

Stay tuned. John is building a website to open-source his research data and collaborate with other inventors. He will soon build a prototype windmill for his neighbor, an Internet service provider, who wants energy reliability and independence for his remote hilltop site. His customers will have Internet even when the power goes out and stable pricing into the foreseeable future.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that immediate, widespread adoption of renewable energy systems is not going to happen quickly enough to stop some of the worst effects of climate change right here in Tahoe.

We cannot wait for governments to act — 97 percent of climate science research tells us that the climate is warming, that people are responsible and that it endangers all living things. We, the people, must lead.

Ingenuity comes in many forms and all of us have the tools we need to start.

You may be surprised to learn that most carbon emissions do not come from cars, but from our homes, buildings, and the manufacturing, transport and disposal of all the stuff in them.

You may also be surprised that the citizens of the United Kingdom, who live a lifestyle similar to Americans, emit just one third the heat-trapping carbon pollution per person.

It’s clear that we can cut emissions without a substantial change in lifestyle simply by paying attention and wasting less. Experts believe we could eliminate about 10 percent of our carbon emissions practically overnight simply by making smarter choices.

To reduce your own carbon pollution — and lower your electricity bills — start with a free energy audit from Liberty Utilities. You may qualify for rebates on new Energy Star appliances. They may suggest that you run your dishwasher on short cycle, get a programmable thermostat, hang clothes to dry, insulate, plant a shade tree or install thermal blinds. There are strategies for everyone. Just pick one and get started.

We must act on the national level, too. If we implement energy policies which foster a healthier, more stable climate system, our nation will lead the world in the 21st century energy economy.

The climate is changing; we should, too.

Bonnie Turnbull is a retired teacher, advocate and organizer for numerous groups, current member of the City of South Lake Parks and Recreation Commission and South Tahoe Citizens Climate Lobby member. Among many things, Bonnie is instrumental in developing policy, working with stakeholders and is currently on a speaking tour giving a climate change talk to various groups.


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