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Shine on, solar decathletes
As an alumnus who has personally invested a lot of money in my own renewable energy systems, I am happy to see that SCU is continuing the excellent effort to build a sustainable house in the International Solar Decathlon.
One of the things that should be published when showing the house is how much land area is required to provide the necessary energy and water to support both humans and maintain our flora and fauna. For example, where I live, one needs about five acres to get enough water; a wild horse needs about 10 acres to get enough food.
The estimate should carefully note that 100 percent of the land area cannot be devoted for human use; a more reasonable factor is 0.1 percent to 1 percent, so that the rest of nature can flourish. That means if one acre is required to produce enough energy for one human, including all necessary support structures (even if not local), then at least 100 acres should be set aside per person.
One then can estimate what a sustainable human population would be, both as an average and based on the local conditions. I have done enough general estimation to verify that the Earth is severely over-populated, but an academic effort would certainly support the investment in the Team California project.
Politics and religion
In the Fall 2009 issue of Santa Clara Magazine, I enjoyed the “Politics and religion” article. This collision course gives everyone a lot to think about.
We can all agree that the preservation of life is the number one instinct of humans. A real problem exists for clergy and politicians, as well as our fellow believers, to connect all the moral issues. Abortion is the hot topic and deals with the appreciation of the value of life. To be consistent, the appreciation of the value of life must be all-inclusive. It must be considered in all issues: health care for all, economic recovery, poverty, immigration, the environment, war, racism, and others.
To pick one or the other of these moral issues and make it exclusive, as many do, especially in our two-party system, indicates moral relativism, and this leads to skepticism of all issues involved. This skepticism stifles politicians and the clergy, as well as fellow believers. Thus, discussion ends, and dialogue is nonexistent.
Elizabeth Svoboda’s article “Saving bounty” (Summer 2009) gives sensible advice about improving safety for industrial food systems, but comes up short when it comes to consumer choices. As Anne Federwisch reports in “A boxable feast” (Mission Matters) in the issue, SCU students Allie Dunn, Beth Tellman, Francesca McKenzie, and others have opted out of the industrial food system by subscribing to a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. CSA farms already are totally accountable to their customers, plus simple and transparent in their operations. To CSA members, the call in Svoboda’s article for “all farms to track all food” with RFID chips supports a cruel stratagem by Big Fast Food to enmesh Small Slow Food in their industrial safety problems, and the advice to “stay safe, cook everything” is by turns outrageous, laughable, and unnecessary.
Hunger and the market
I was very disappointed with the article “Can we solve hunger in our lifetime?” in the Summer 2009 issue. Drew Starbird clearly states the problem: It is not a problem of production but a problem of poverty. To solve the problem of hunger, we must address the much more complicated problem of poverty. The six suggestions in the article do not address the problem. The producers are supplying the food, but the buyers have inadequate purchasing power.
Why is it that the hungry do not have adequate buying power? In a free market, there is an equation between the wage and the work done.
When I was young (yes, a long time ago) my parents and parents of my friends would say, “Study. You don’t want to be a ditch digger, do you?” Ditch diggers were paid for hard physical work that requires a human’s animal ability but not intellectual ability. In our present economy, machines dig ditches, and they do it faster and cheaper. Now, if you don’t study, even digging ditches is not an option because a machine has the job.
Technology takes away jobs—monotonous jobs— but it challenges us to do what a machine cannot do. The challenge is to be smarter than a machine.
The Kennedy Administration [in the early 1960s] canceled the Bracero Program by which Mexican workers, mostly agricultural, entered the American market on a temporary basis. Food experts fretted, “What will happen to the tomato growers with that cut in the labor force? What will happen to the price of tomatoes?” I remember my colleague Mario Belotti rather critically saying that California agriculture would have to employ the technology it should be capable of creating. It did! Machines began picking tomatoes. One machine took the place of more than 20 braceros. This year, California will produce more than 13 million tons of tomatoes, about twice what was produced under the Bracero Program.
Producers of other crops for which they could not find labor-saving technology had to allow their crop to go overseas to a country with cheaper labor—that is, less productive labor.
The problem of hunger in America is not with the production of food. It is that technology challenges the wage earner to stay ahead of the level of technology. Either the educational system has failed to prepare the hungry to compete at our level of technology or the hungry themselves have not used the educational system to prepare themselves to compete in this labor market.
The gulf of wonder
Your Grand Canyon article reminded me of a rather unique experience flying down the canyon in a Marine Corps F-4B in 1971. At 400 knots, below the rim, it gives one an interesting perspective. Yes, we filed for the flight.
It was a beautiful flight. To this day I wonder about a guy on the observation deck at the east end of the canyon: as two F4Bs came shooting up from the valley floor with the Grand Canyon in the background, whether he got a great picture or had a heart attack.
Ah, to be young and have access to an aircraft that goes Mach 2!
I enjoy every issue of the magazine, but this last one (Fall 2009) was great. It’s nice to be updated on people I know from our graduating class and associated classes. I liked “Honor your mother,” and reading about Hannah Montana was fun, but I especially liked the “Gulf of wonder”— what a beautiful thing.
I was pleased to see the cover story on the Colorado River, particularly as I read the subtitle, “It’s about adventure and environmental justice,” as I teach an environmental justice course at SCU and conduct research in that subject area. Environmental justice focuses on issues such as human equity and differential access in relation to environmental benefits and burdens and democratic participation around natural resource management and decision-making processes across race, class, gender, and other social forces. Thus, I was hoping to learn more about how Patrick McVeigh ’78 addresses these kinds of issues. That many people will potentially have access to the IMAX film on the river and learn a great deal from it is important. An environmental justice approach might further consider things such as the actual process of creating the film, issues of representation, and social and economic considerations. All this is to suggest that perhaps you would consider a follow-up that explains McVeigh’s work regarding issues of equity in relation to the environmental concern at the center of the film.
Though I am a Stanford alumna, my connection to SCU, via the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), has made me a Bronco convert. Your magazine is stellar!
Although over the years I had often attended Mass at the Mission Church, my conversion to Broncoland was spurred by my introduction to the University more than three years ago by way of OLLI. The more I learned from both Fr. Locatelli and Fr. Engh of the inspiring Jesuit mission, added to the energizing diversity of undergraduate students and OLLI instructors, the more I recognized that I had found both a spiritual and an emotional home. Santa Clara Magazine, with its regularly inspiring articles and reassurance that the next generation is steeped in community service, reinforces the feeling of inclusiveness. Add to that the joy of sharing in the zest and wise perspectives of the “older Osher students” in the rewarding OLLI classes on campus. Utterly irresistible!