Reaching the Point of No Return

Reaching the Point of No ReturnA renewable energy manifesto

Summer arrived on Cape Cod with uncharacteristic punctuality this year. Just three days before the Solstice the sun’s warmth achieved an intensity unknown and almost unremembered since last year. Until then the season had withheld its favors with lingering severity. One of our hardships actually began as long ago as last fall when, prior to the onset of the cold, swarms of winter moths arrived. Their fluttering produced dread in all of us who witnessed their nightly forays.

Then came a winter of record-setting snowfall. It was followed by a spring that advanced hesitantly, almost sluggishly. According to one authority, its unfolding was three weeks slower than average. It also brought near constant rain. In May a nor’easter, almost unheard of at that time of year, raged through. This was said to be a major factor in triggering the massive red tide that engulfed much of the New England coast, closing shellfish beds for weeks and jeopardizing the livelihoods of the people whose economies depend upon them. When the trees came into leaf, predictably in the wake of the winter moths, the young shoots were promptly devoured by their larvae. In some areas mid-June brought trees almost as starkly bare as January. As the ongoing rain swelled ponds, the waiting mosquito population hatched and moved into attack position on a near twenty-four hour alert.

And yet…. And yet… With the kiss of the sun that first truly summery morning many of the stricken trees began to put forth a second round of leaves. Azaleas and rhododendrons blazed. Roses wild and domestic burst into bloom, perfuming the air with lingering sweetness. And for reasons unknown to us, the tangled green and largely untamed valley below our house attracted a greater than usual number of very colorful birds.

Joining our well established population of cardinals, robins, blue jays and stridently capped red-bellied woodpeckers who share the area with more soberly clad titmice, chickadees, cat birds and sparrows, two families of Baltimore orioles settled in to flash regularly through garden and orchard. Although we seem to be missing our resident and bossy Carolina wren, we frequently receive a small flock of goldfinches and a miniscule yellow warbler has become ridiculously tame and visits outside the windows almost daily. Less regular but equally welcome are the hummingbirds, occasionally ruby-throated, that hover over the flowers and once or twice perch on branch or wire.

Our senses were bombarded. Birdsong by day was followed at sunset by a tireless chorus of frogs rejoicing in the dampness and the bountiful supply of insects. In the vernal pond, which stayed full into August, a mother mallard, defying racoons, foxes, and coyotes, to our relief, brought at least eight of her ducklings through to gawky adolescence. As the season advanced and daisies and strawberries gave way to mid-summer ripeness, in spite of the cooler and wetter than normal season, on lovely days we basked once again in the glory of a Cape Cod summer.

Is it possible that the contradictions so apparent in our small corner of the world are merely mirroring those raging around the globe? Any comment on the war in Iraq at this point would be outdated by the time this issue goes to print, and there is no satisfaction whatsoever in having known it to be a misguided tragedy in the making from the outset. I have a comparable disagreement with the Bush administration – and others—about nuclear power, and here, with the aging Pilgrim plant just over the bridge off the Cape, I feel I have no choice but to weigh in to oppose the folly and the danger the nuclear path represents.

We attempted to put the subject to rest in Annals a year ago. It is once again in the public forum because a number of leading environmentalists see the danger of climate change as so imminent as to render nuclear power the only sufficiently widespread alternative to the burning of fossil fuels. The argument is being made in England as well. While in complete agreement on the looming catastrophe posed by climate change I still see turning to nuclear technologies as an unacceptably unaccountable risk.

My own nightmarish scenario goes like this. Suppose some people, intellectually brilliant but fanatically fundamentalist in their religious beliefs, were to train at the nuclear university in India. Suppose some of them were then to get jobs in the nuclear industry in countries holding beliefs and values contradictory to their own. Would it not be possible for such people to design and carry out means of sabotaging the facilities in which they work? Is it any more unimaginable than what happened on the eleventh of September four years ago? One morning in July on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition I actually did hear a young man from India speak glowingly about coming to the U.S. to study nuclear technologies.

Fortunately I am not alone in my concerns. The sub-heading for the lead editorial in the British publication New Scientist for May 14th asked, “Is going nuclear the only way to halt catastrophic global warming?” The editors went on to state the obvious, namely that sources must supply energy requirements on a broad scale with minimal environmental impact. They then added that the cost should be low and the method of generation safe and in reliable supply.

According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of the extra energy demand over the next twenty-five years will come from developing countries, so sources must also be tradable on a global scale. Although admittedly in low in carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear technology’s legacy of high-level radioactive waste will last for tens of thousands of years. New Scientist states flatly, “Despite forty years of assurances from the nuclear industry that this is an ‘engineering problem’, no one has solved it.”

Another and telling argument against nuclear power—although according to New Scientist its costs have never been calculated to everyone’s satisfaction—is that it is proving to be very expensive. This is partly because government subsidies make accurate estimations difficult and partly because the costs for such things as waste disposal are uncertain. As New Scientist pointed out, “Nuclear power has certainly not won over free-market investors: no plants have built within deregulated electricity markets.

In late June the Rocky Mountain Institute posted the results of its most recent calculations on its web site. Pointing out that in a market economy, private investors are the ultimate arbiter of what energy technologies can compete and yield reliable profits, it suggests that in order to understand nuclear power’s prospects, one should follow the money. The RMI report maintained that private investors have flatly rejected nuclear power while enthusiastically buying its main supply-side competitors, namely decentralized co-generation and renewables. By the end of 2004, these supposedly inadequate alternatives had more installed capacity than nuclear, produced ninety-two per cent as much electricity, and were growing five point nine times faster and accelerating, while nuclear was fading.”

Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and international energy authority Amory Lovins states flatly, “The world’s nuclear plant vendors have never made money, and their few billion dollars dwindling annual revenue hardly qualifies them any more as a serious global business. In contrast, the renewable power industry earns twenty-three billion dollars annually by adding twelve gigawatts of capacity every year. 2004 brought on eight gigawatts of wind, three of geothermal/small hydro/biomass wastes, and one of photovoltaics.”

Photovoltaics and windpower markets, respectively doubling about every two and three years, are expected to make renewable power a thirty-five billion-dollar business within eight years. And distributed fossil-fuel co-generation of heat and power added a further fifteen gigawatts in 2004. Although co-generation releases carbon, it does so at thirty per cent less than the separate boilers and power plants it replaces.”

“Europe aims to get twenty-two per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2010. One-fifth of Denmark’s power now comes from wind. Both Germany and Spain are each adding as much capacity each year – two gigawatts—as the global nuclear industry is annually adding on average during 2000–10. The market increasingly resembles a 1995 Shell scenario, which forecast half of global energy and virtually all growth coming from renewables by mid-century—about what it would take, with conservative efficiency gains, to stabilize atmospheric carbon.”

According to Australian physician, anti-nuclear activist, and founder and president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, Helen Caldicott, there are also grave health risks that must be factored into the debate. Nuclear reactors consistently release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water each year. These unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon and argon, which are fat-soluble and if inhaled by persons living near a nuclear reactor, are absorbed through the lungs and migrate to the fatty tissues of the body, including the abdominal fat pad and upper thighs, near the reproductive organs. These radioactive elements, which emit high-energy gamma radiation, can mutate the genes in eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease.

Tritium, another biologically significant gas, is also routinely emitted from nuclear reactors and can be incorporated into the DNA molecule, where it is mutagenic. Plutonium is another of the deadly byproducts of nuclear power production. It is also the fuel for nuclear weapons. Only five kilograms are necessary to make a bomb. Each reactor produces more than two hundred kilograms per year. Therefore any country with a nuclear power plant can theoretically manufacture forty bombs. Plutonium can last for as many as five hundred thousand years, and live on to induce cancer and genetic diseases in future generations of humans, animals and plants.

A large per cent of the world’s uranium is enriched at Paducah, Kentucky. The electrical output of the two coal-fired plants required to do so there emit large quantities of carbon dioxide. The leaky pipes of this plant and another one at Portsmouth, Ohio, release ninety-three per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas, now banned internationally by the Montreal Protocol, emitted yearly. CFC gas is the main culprit responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. It is also a global warmer, ten to twenty thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide. Contrary to the nuclear industry’s propaganda, Dr. Caldicott maintains that nuclear power is therefore not green and it is certainly not clean.

Corroborating Dr. Caldicott’s findings and my own misgivings, according to New Scientist, nuclear’s biggest disadvantage is still international security. The level of confidence in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in nuclear safeguards is low. North Korea is the latest country to show how easy it is to divert nuclear fuel to make weapons, while nuclear sites are likely to remain targets for terrorists. Such concerns limit where plants can be built. Already more than eighty thousand tons of highly radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to the hundred and three U.S. nuclear power plants, awaiting transportation to
a storage facility that, since Yucca Mountain was declared unsuitable, has yet to be found. And again, echoing my concern, as Dr. Caldicott points out, “This dangerous material will be an attractive target for terrorist sabotage.”

In fact, a study release by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the cooling pools at nuclear reactors, which store ten to thirty times more radioactive material than that contained in the reactor core could be subject to catastrophic attacks by terrorists. Such attacks could unleash an inferno and release massive quantities of deadly radiation significantly worse than the radiation released by Chernobyl. Since the nuclear meltdown there, more than two thousand children in Belarus have had their thyroids removed for thyroid cancer, a situation never before recorded in pediatric literature.

Countering the criticism that renewables cannot supply energy on the scale needed, New Scientist corroborates Amory Lovins findings, stating, “It is true that wind power alone will never do the job. But add in tidal power, micro-hydro and biomass, and the problem starts to disappear. Wind power and biomass are nearly as cheap as coal while other renewables, such as wave power and photovoltaic cells, are moving steadily towards competitiveness.”

The editors cite Germany as offering the best evidence for the potential of renewables. Intending to phase out nuclear power by 2025, it already generates more than eight per cent of its electricity from such renewable sources as wind and biomass. It is the world’s largest user of photovoltaic cells and is on target for renewables supplying half of all its energy needs by 2050. New Scientist’s conclusion is unequivocal. “Given our limited resources, we must put our money behind the best global solution. Rather than reinvent nuclear plants, we must move towards leaner, more localized, sustainable ways to generate energy. That means more research and development into energy efficiency and renewables and a determined campaign to deploy them.”

The editors of New Scientist admit to the adoption of renewable as not being without problems and list complaints like wind farms spoiling rural views. In this arena Cape Cod again reflects the larger world although, in our case, it is the aesthetic of the seascape that is being debated. Currently a large off shore wind farm is being planned for Nantucket Sound. Opposition from some quarters has been vociferous, declaiming the eyesore it will pose to the vista of the open sea. A recent visitor to Denmark countered with a report on a wind farm that stands just over six miles offshore in the Baltic. Its location deters neither boaters nor tourists. Apparently when an observer on land extends an arm with a raised thumb, the array is about half the size of a thumbnail on the horizon. Extrapolating from that experiment, it is estimated that Cape’s wind’s turbines might measure two-thirds of a thumbnail.

On June 29th, in Britain’s The Guardian, journalist Paul Brown gave an account of another development on the energy front. The news there concerned household microgenenerators for heat and electricity. He cited a study by the New Economic Foundation that compared the costs of nuclear energy and renewables and found renewable energy to be “quick to build and abundant and cheap to harvest. It is also flexible, safe, secure and climate friendly.”

The greatest advantage of microgenerators is that they produce electricity at the point of use, reducing the need for large-scale grid connections and short circuiting the ten per cent loss in transmission associated with big power plants. Widespread adoption of such technologies would foster new industries and could provide more jobs, with cheaper and faster results than nuclear energy. This report was published during a week in which the British government had decided to encourage microgeneration for residences, offices and for whole streets. It stated that one million new gas-fired boilers are installed every year in the UK. If half these boilers were microgenerators that combined heat and power they would produce the equivalent electricity of a new power station each year, removing the need for new large-scale power plants

Another advantage to micro-power is that, because it draws on solar, wind, hydropower and tides depending on location, it provides security of supply, The costs of renewable energy vary enormously, with onshore wind and landfill gas being the cheapest. Surplus electricity can be put into the local grid. Because the generators use little or no fuel, the report estimates that the probable net benefit of microgeneration to the UK would be about thirty-five million pounds annually.

The report called on the government to withdraw subsidies to nuclear power which “feather-bed” its prospects. It speculated that “It is possible that nuclear power has only survived for as long as it has because its true costs have been hidden from us, and because its radioactive emissions are invisible.” It further claimed that an unacknowledged benefit of microgeneration is that it puts people back in touch with where energy comes from, and the need to live in balance with the ecosystems on which we all depend.”

Now, on to that river in Egypt…

A paradoxical advantage to the nuclear debate is its irrevocable connection to the repercussions of climate change. It is thereby forcing discussion in this arena rather than the obstinate denial or leaden silence that has characterized the Bush administration’s response. The British government’s chief scientist, Sir David King, has declared global warming to be a more serious danger than terrorism. Although French president, Jacques Chirac, chose to declare President Bush’s grudging admission at the close of July’s G8 Summit that there actually is such a phenomenon as climate change a breakthrough, it has not it brought this country any closer to acting to forestall it. As The New York Times tactfully phrased it, “ But he (the president) did agree to language in the final communiqué that, while hedged, acknowledges that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, a position that his administrations has at times avoided endorsing.

The Nation for July 18th was not so restrained. Environmental author, Mark Hertsgaard, wrote of “humanity drifting toward unparalleled catastrophe. “Climate change is on track to kill millions in the twenty-first century,” he claimed. “The victims will die not in the sudden bang of radioactive explosions but in the gradual whimper of environmental collapse, as soaring temperatures and rising seas submerge cities, parch farm lands, crash ecosystems and spread hunger, disease, and chaos worldwide.”

Such predictions, widely shared by most reputable scientists, render the Bush administration’s position beyond absurd. It is immoral. But the problem goes deeper than their willful ignorance. Environmental journalist George Monbiot has written: “The denial of climate change, while out of tune with the science, is consistent with, even necessary for, the outlook of almost all the world’s economists. Modern economics, whether informed by Marx or Keynes or Hayek, is premised on the notion that the planet has an infinite capacity to supply us with wealth and absorb ourpollution. The cure to all ills is endless growth. Yet endless growth, in a finite world, is impossible. Pull this rug from under the economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.”

But the truth cannot forever go unmasked. This spring in the New Yorker in a three part series entitled The Climate of Man Elizabeth Kolbert reported comprehensively on current scientific thinking “ The climate shifts that affected past cultures predate industrialization by hundreds …or thousands of years,” she wrote. “They reflect the climate system’s innate variability and were caused by forces that, at this point, can only be guessed at. By contrast, the climate shifts predicted for the coming century are attributable to forces that are now well known. Exactly how big these shifts will be a matter of both intense scientific interest and the greatest possible historical significance. In this context, the discovery that large and sophisticated cultures have already been undone by climate change presents what only can be called an uncomfortable precedent.”

Elizabeth Kolbert concluded: “It may seem impossible that a technologically advanced society could choose in essence to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” Yet even she admits to the possibility of “finally fashioning a global response.” It is equally possible that Elizabeth Kolbert’s series may one day come to be regarded in the same light of Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring. It too was first published as a series in the New Yorker. It went on to energize a generation of environmentalists.

At last some discussion of climate change has reached the mainstream. The cat is out of the bag and is unlikely to be put back in. In addition to Elizabeth Kolbert’s series, another widely read and extremely important contribution to public understanding of the gravity of the environmental threat has been Pulitzer prize winner, Jared Diamond’s latest book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed_. The popularity of the author and the fact that it has been on the New York Times best seller list for many weeks cannot not help but lead to greater understanding of the perils that lie ahead.

Toward the end of the book he states, “Thus, because we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today. The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways to their own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies. While all of these grim phenomena have been endemic to humanity throughout our history, their frequency increases with environmental degradation, population pressure, and the resulting poverty and political instability.”

Jared Diamond’s account of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, an event most of us can remember, provides a telling example. Apparently the twenty or so years preceding had been remarkably peaceful and stable. This had resulted in a rapid expansion in population. By 1993 there were over two thousand people per square mile. This had led to farms having to be divided into smaller and smaller acreages as the land passed from one generation to another. The land was also overworked. Land disputes arose. Poverty began to spread. This was exacerbated by drought – a change in climate—and hunger became endemic. Landless young men enlisted in warring militias. Although the rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis was largely the heritage of colonialism, as people became desperate they struck out. Of all that I had read about Rwanda, none had accounted for the environmental changes. Jared Diamond concludes, “Severe problems of over population, environmental impact and climate change cannot persist indefinitely: sooner or later they are likely to resolve themselves, whether in the manner of Rwanda or in some other manner not of our devising, if we don’t succeed in solving them by our own actions.”

The book ends on a hopeful note, although it does read a bit like a note of forced cheer. Jared Diamond pronounces himself a “cautious optimist” and maintains that he and his wife decided to have children seventeen years ago because he could indeed see grounds for hope. He cites the increasing growth of the environmental movement as a major factor. He defines our present situation as being in “an exponentially accelerating horse race of unknown outcome.” But because we did create most of the problems we are facing, he still thinks they are not insoluble.

Although it seems all the more unlikely in the wake of the G8 summit, Jared Diamond feels that it is necessary to summon the political will to tackle them. To do so we will have to develop long-term thinking. He does not see that trend in the present administration obviously, but in a number of successful corporations. He advocates that we collectively must gather, in his words, “the courage to make painful decisions about values.” In this area, he points to post World War II Great Britain where people were “coming to terms with the outdatedness of cherished long-held values based on Britain’s former role as the world’s dominant political, economic, and naval power. He further cites European countries for “subordinating to the European Union their national sovereignties for which they used to fight so dearly.”

In the issue of The Nation cited above Mark Herksgaard pointed to the error of equating the Bush administration with the country as a whole and cites “the many major American institutions taking meaningful action on climate change.” He reported that the US Conference of Mayors voted unanimously to meet or exceed Kyoto limits on greenhouse gas emissions and that New York and seven other states are establishing a carbon-trading system to further curb emissions. Many universities and other large institutions are also establishing similar agreements for carbon trading and carbon sequestering.

California, ranking as the world’s fifth largest economy, comes in for special mention in Mark Herksgaard’s article. It has taken the lead in requiring cars to emit thirty per cent less greenhouse gas. Six other states have followed. Joined by eight other states, California is also suing electric utilities in a case that, in his opinion, could become the greenhouse equivalent of tobacco industry litigation. He further reports a number of institutions holding three trillion dollars in investment assets have demanded that Americans borrowing from them first demonstrate how they are reducing greenhouse emissions. Mark Herksgaard pronounces such actions a real movement by a global powerhouse. He concludes by urging other countries to bypass the administration and make common cause with such American states and institutions because “together they could drive global climate policy.”

There is more good news along the same lines from elsewhere. Again it comes from New Scientist this time from the issue for the week of June 4th. Further indicating the occurrence of urban-based initiatives, that week city mayors from five continents met in San Francisco where they drew up a set of twenty-one environmental goals. Their urban environmental accords cover energy, waste reduction, and urban design and have an accompanying score card to monitor progress. The article goes on to report that the American mayors’ agreement to meet the Kyoto guidelines started with a flash of insight on the part of Greg Nickels of Seattle who, realistic about the Bush administration, asked, “Why can’t we just do it at the local level?” More than a hundred and forty American cities have signed on.

North of the border, the Canadian province of Quebec has become known as the most environmentally aware area in North America. To its west, Toronto has gained the reputation of the greenest city. Formerly smog-bound in summer, it is now using cold water from deep in Lake Ontario to cool buildings. This uses ninety per cent less electricity than standard air conditioners. The city has also established an Atmosphere Fund to support local investment in energy efficiency and renewables. Toronto officials are now advising London mayor, Ken Livingston, who wants every large new building there to be equipped with solar panels.

Worldwide the distinction of greenest city still belongs to Curitiba in Brazil. Under the leadership of former mayor, Jaime Lerner, in addition to its well known and innovative public transportation system, it has established a pedestrian city center, planted millions of trees, and dug ponds in parks to absorb storm run-off and prevent floods. It has also developed an efficient recycling system, one with a human face. When the poor people of the city bring in a bag of trash they are rewarded with groceries and bus passes

Informed concern for the environment came from an unexpected quarter recently when French president, Jacques Chirac availed himself of the “Comment and Analysis” page in New Scientist. Alarmed about dwindling biodiversity, he has proposed setting up a global network of the world’s leading scientists who would establish an interdisciplinary basis upon which to mobilize international cooperation under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In sharp contrast to presidents Bush senior and junior, who point blank refused to question the U.S. economy or lifestyles, President Chirac made a radical commitment.

“Protecting biodiversity,” he wrote, “like combating climate change, calls for radical changes in attitudes and lifestyles, France is resolutely committed to this objective with the inclusion of an environment charter in its constitution this year. This charter establishes biodiversity as a right and a collective heritage. It embraces the precautionary principle, which is vital when dealing with the deterioration of the living environment. To respond to the urgency of the situation, we have to step up the pace of action…. With our growing awareness that we are part of the biosphere and dependent on it as a whole, our civilization has come to appreciate its fragility. Now is the time to embark on the path of responsible ecology, and to include in our quest for economic and human progress an awareness of our duties to nature and our responsibilities to future generations.”

One can only add, “Vive la France!” President Chirac’s call for a change in lifestyles reflects what can only have been a radical shift in world view on his part. This is absolutely fundamental to undertaking the actions essential to counter the dangers of climate change. He has obviously become a convert to what British philosopher Mary Midgley refers to as Gaian thinking. She means by that phrase, “a vision of nature as a tremendous whole that has given rise to our being, and of the Earth in particular as a magnificent system that supports life and is the immediate source of everything in it that we value.”

It is unlikely that even those of us long committed to a Gaian world view go about our daily lives with it in constant awareness but, once glimpsed, it is always there. I remember once such powerful moment many years ago. It took place when Ocean Arks had a project at the Town of Harwich “disposal area” where we had installed a row of clear-sided tanks as an Eco-Machine for purifying some extremely polluted water. It occurred to me then that humanity’s ultimate line of defense lay not in the billions of dollars spent every year on military hardware but in the sun-powered, microbe-based ecosystems that are part of and contiguous with Earth’s living systems – of which we are not apart, but a part. It seems all the more true today in light of Sir David King’s assessment that climate change constitutes a threat greater than terrorism.

I had a flash comparable to that in Harwich much more recently in northwest India. There, in the shadow of the Himalayas, Indian physicist and environmental activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, has established a small farm and education center that is a sister organization to Schumacher College in England. Vidya Pidjapeth, which is featured on pages fourteen and fifteen of this issue, offers courses in organic agriculture and environmental issues to farmers from all over India. International students come to workshops on the interconnections between spirituality and the living world. Vidya is also an experimental farm where researchers test various crops, with an emphasis on grains, for hardiness, resilience, and productivity.

Vidya Pidjapeth has yet another and equally important function. It is a seed bank. On the lower floor of an unprepossessing yellow house, in two small room lined with shelves are arranged assorted containers, neatly placed and carefully labeled. In the containers are seeds. They are native seeds, collected by farmers, as they have been for centuries. Dr. Shiva saw the need for such a facility when multi-national corporations like Monsanto and Cargill began to arrive in India with their hybrid, and more recently genetically modified seeds, and insisted that farmers now buy their seeds from them. And not only the seeds, the corporations demanded that they also invest in the chemicals required to fertilize the crops and stave off insects and weeds. It was then that Vandana Shiva, splendid warrior that she is, expanded the range of her activities from challenging the corporations on the international front and educating people at home and abroad on the injustice of their ways. She decided to protect and preserve traditional native Indian seed stock. Hence the seed bank. The director of Vija, Denyus Nevi, does not charge the farmers for their seeds.

The outer room of the seed room that leads to the two storage areas is a modest museum and folk art gallery. Murals on the walls portray people working the land with traditional tools. The same tools are displayed on the wall and on the floor along the edges of the room. It is a timeless and somehow peaceful place. And vastly reassuring. Like the solar tanks at Harwich, the age-old bond between the human realm and the living world is acknowledged and celebrated. It seems to convey that the seeds that have fed us will continue to do so as long as we care for them and honor their place in the scheme of things. The world is not only interconnected electronically. It is ineluctably interconnected through life and its countless and interdependent life processes.

As George Woodwell, founder and director emeritus of the Woods Hole Research Institute and pioneer in alerting the world to the crisis of climate change, maintains, “We have no option but optimism.”