Can using solar energy become a spiritual practice....
An exercise in cooperation that can help save the world?
Making the World Work... for Everyone
by Michael Powers
man asks God what heaven and hell are like. First, God opens the door
to hell and inside, the man sees a lavish banquet piled high with
sumptuous food of all kinds. All the banquet-goers are starving in
agony, however, because their eating utensils are all long as
yardsticks -- much too long to reach their mouths.
Next, God shows the man heaven, which surprisingly looks almost identical to the previous banquet, with heaping mounds of food and drink. But in heaven, the diners are well-fed and satisfied… because although they also possess yardstick-long utensils, they have learned to feed each other.
It is ironic that at a time of greatest technological prowess, the defining political struggle of our times is all about lack and limitation. There is simply not enough, we hear, so we must cut back… do without… embrace austerity.
Our world is divided like never before between those who have much and those who need much. Unfortunately, this often is framed as a struggle between those who have and "those who don't deserve."
In a way, this is not surprising… the two most daunting fears we face as individuals are rooted in lack and limitation – "I’m not enough" and "there’s not enough" – so why shouldn’t we embody these very same fears at the level of society?
But – is it TRUE? Or is it just so much rubbish?!
What if the real truth is we are actually very powerful beings… and we live in an abundant Universe?
As Marianne Williamson put it in her book, Return to Love:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves -- who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
But that’s not how it feels, does it? Too often, we are consumed by how much we don't have… how much we feel we are lacking. In her book, “The Soul of Money,” author Lynne Twist puts it this way:
"For many of us, our first waking thought of the day is 'I didn't get enough sleep.' The next one is 'I don't have enough time.' Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining or worrying about what we don't have enough of...
Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn't get, or didn't get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack...
This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice and our arguments with life..."
Genius-inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, who created the first geodesic dome (among other things), believed that just the opposite was true -- and he put it this way:
"Think of it... We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers.
We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all, to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance.
We know now what we could never have known before -- that we now have the option for all humanity to "make it" successfully on this planet, in this lifetime."
Faced with the Cold War of the 1960’s and the oil shortages of the 1970’s, Fuller created the “World Game,” which was intended to be the opposite of a “War Game,” because “while war games prepare for war, World Games will prepare for Peace.”
The World Game was a simulation exercise intended to answer the following big question:
After playing this World Game literally hundreds of times over many years – on college campuses and in corporate settings – one clear strategy for gaining “spontaneous cooperation” and winning the game slowly emerged.
One or more regions would propose connecting their electrical transmission grid with another distant region to allow for increased trade in renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro power and so on.
As soon as these connections were made, these additional changes also began to emerge:
Why would a global energy grid make such a big difference? It turns out that electricity is the basis for modern civilization. Without it, populations are literally in the dark and live out their lives in day-to-day subsistence.
But, with access to sufficient and affordable electricity, societies have…
It seems hard to believe but here is more one amazing statistic…
The earth receives -- in the form of solar energy -- enough energy IN ONE HOUR to power the entire planet FOR ONE YEAR.
So, it turns out there is no energy supply problem… there is only an energy distribution problem… caused by having not enough energy of the right kind, in the right place, at the right time.
This is where the World Game’s winning strategy – building a global energy grid or “internet of energy” – works its magic… by moving power AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT… from areas where there is too much energy, to areas where there is too little. As Bucky Fuller put it, “There is no energy crisis, there is a crisis of ignorance.”
Fuller’s “world-wide-web of electricity” is a very big idea… but as Former Alaska Governor Walter Hickel said in a speech before the United Nations:
“Historically, the world's most cynical leaders have used war or preparing for war as an economic strategy. War puts people to work and gives them a purpose. War concentrates the thoughts of a nation, making it think and act as one. But why war?...
After all, war is just a big project… Why not a big project (like the) Global Energy Network, linking the industrial and developing worlds with an energy grid… Two billion people live without electricity today.
Show me any area in the world where there is a lack of energy, and I'll show you basic poverty. There is a direct tie-in between energy and poverty, energy and war, energy and peace.”
It may seem odd to introduce technology as a solution into a spiritual essay like this one. But first of all, this is not new technology; in fact, in the mid-1960's it was possible to transmit power over 1,500 miles without significant loss -- and over 4,000 miles today, using high-voltage DC transmission.
And in fact, these are not terribly new ideas: the Global Energy Grid initiative has been endorsed by a large number of influential world leaders in the past 25 years, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Rev. Desmond Tutu, Vice-President Al Gore and journalist Walter Cronkite, who called the initiative, "an ingenious project that could help relieve much of the danger to our civilization posed by the modern four horsemen of the apocalypse: poverty, pollution, population growth and proliferation of nuclear weapons."
As far as technical support, no less an expert than Clark W. Gellings, a Fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute and an IEEE Life Fellow, published an essay in IEEE's Spectrum magazine recently and called for "Building a Global Power Grid," stating, "With a little DC wizardry and a lot of cash, we could swap power across continents" and solve a lot of global problems.
In fact, a recent NOAA study recommended building high-voltage "power superhigways" so that solar and wind power could be used to reduce CO2 emissions and more effectively fight climate change.
And China's State Grid Corp.,one of the world's biggest utility companies, just announced plans to build a "global energy internet," which is expected to attract investment of $50 trillion by 2050 and share renewables from all over the world. So, there are no technical or financial barriers to these developments.
No, what's really needed is a new consciousness: a willingness to move past our fanatical demands for independence... and embrace a new spirit of inter-dependence -- which is also a more accurate description of our present reality.
Our desperate need to cooperate applies as much to fighting climate change or terrorism as it does for creating new prosperity: our collective responsibiliy is to be good stewards of the planet... to “Think Globally and Act Locally.”
And since we have been focusing on the global level up to this point, let’s zoom down to the local level to what that would look like, in practice.
These days, many of us and our neighbors are in the process of installing new solar energy systems on their rooftops, on their homes or businesses… systems which will provide for most (if not all) of the power they need and also lower their power bills for quite some time.
Economically and environmentally, this is wonderful; but perhaps there is an even more important dimension to this undertaking: the spiritual dimension.
Everyone knows the gospel story of the Loaves & Fishes... Jesus feeds the multitudes with only a few loaves of bread and some fishes.
Some see this story as proof that Jesus worked miracles but others see the story as an important parable about how the universe actually works.
In this view, Jesus was able to create, amongst the hungry multitudes, a unexpected place for generosity… a place for charitable giving and sharing. A place where a person could give up the meager certainty of what they had -- in hopes of creating more abundance for all.
The miracle is that the man with the fishes didn’t say, “I MIGHT have some fish… first show me the bread!”
The miracle is that someone who himself was probably very hungry simply said, “Here, I don’t have much but I’m willing to share it with you.”
The miracle in the story of the Loaves and the Fishes is that Jesus created a place where abundance could occur… naturally. And when that happened, there was suddenly more than enough for all.
The solar energy systems we are putting on our homes are a lot like that… we are creating a place were abundance can occur. It is the embodiment of the story of the Loaves and Fishes.
In the daytime, the solar panels produce more power than we need and so we send the extra back to the utility for credit (and they, in turn, send it to the business community).
At night, we need more power than we can make, so we take back from the grid the power we need. Sometimes we are feeding the grid and sometimes the grid is feeding us… “We have learned to feed each other.”
For now, the solar energy system helps to lower the power bills, allowing us to invest our resources for other important purposes. But someday in the future, we may be actively capturing kilowatts for export to China, India or Africa.
After all, solar electricity moves at the speed of light – which means it can actually encircle the planet seven and a half times in a second -- so distance is no problem as long as the right connections are in place!
Remember that earlier statistic? The earth receives -- in the form of solar energy -- enough energy IN ONE HOUR to power the entire planet FOR ONE YEAR. That is a factor of almost 10,000 to one or, put another way: Every hour, the earth receives 10,000 times more energy than we use.
That is the definition of abundance: more than enough. That is the definition of heaven: we have learned to feed each other.
As it says in the poem by Hafiz…
Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth:
You owe me.
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.