Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Energy Independence via Swadeshi

Gandhiji's Swadeshi movement broke the economic back of British Rule in India. The essence of the movement was that everyone invest a little time everyday to make whatever cloth they needed, and hence close the market for British textiles in India. The closure of the giant Indian market led to the shutting down of mills in England, but more importantly the poor Indians felt a little more self-sufficient, self-reliant and a little richer too.

In an excellent post, Gmoke points out that, "this type of practical labor has to be the core of any sustainable ecological action".

Look at it this way. Gandhi used swadeshi, as what we shall call Sustainable Ecological Action, to make cloth, which in some ways was the life blood of the economy then. In the different world that is today, what cloth no longer has that position. So what does? In a lot of ways it has to be energy. Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, and renewables like solar, hydel, tidal and wind - all of these have only one thing in common - they give energy. And without energy their importance reduces to almost nothingness. So if Gandhiji were to start a Swadeshi today, he would choose to create energy instead of cloth.

Here is what Gmoke suggests:

In this "deregulated environment" with oil used as a weapon and national security identical to energy security, direct ecological and economic action toward renewables and away from the nuclear, gas, coal, and oil that we presently use can be a primary political as well as economic act. A treadle/pedal/crank powered generator with a flywheel can be the solar swadeshi, an ecological and economical electrical charkha.

One humanpower is about one sixth horsepower. A healthy person can put out 100 watts of power for hours on end and 300 watts in a sprint. Let's not be batteries in the Matrix but generators in a net metered ecological Network.

The ultimate goal I envision is to meet all electrical non-space-heating and refrigeration needs within the space of one south-facing window (4-10 square feet of photovoltaics) and a half hour to an hour a day's human power. The realistic goal today is most of the electrical load with the exception of refrigeration and space-heating: lighting, TV, audio, computer, phones...

This isn't Edward G. Robinson in "Soylent Green" pedalling a broken down three speed to light one sickly incandescent bulb. This is more like Lance Armstrong powering his energy efficient Spanish villa with a morning workout on his state of the art Tour de France simulator stationary bike and power generator.