THEOSOPHY, Vol. 82, No. 1, November, 1993
(Pages 15-19; Size: 12K)

THEOSOPHY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

XII -- ENERGY AND ITS CONSERVATION (Part 2)

[Part 12 of a 16-part series]

The conservation of energy is a law in physics; neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, which indicates the essential unity of all life. In current terms, conservation is a challenge for everyone to be frugal in using natural resources. The earth's abundant provisions in the past, and the mistaken notion that everything would always be plentiful, have led to immense waste. Thoughtful people are appalled by the rapid disappearance of many resources, but many others are indifferent to the fact that we are expending rather than sustaining our vital resources (words used by Wes Jackson).

The handy automobile, for example, takes us almost anywhere we fancy, with or without a purpose. We have abused this convenience to pollute the air, deplete energy resources, contribute to global warming, and maim or kill large numbers of animals and people. Motor vehicle accidents have caused more injuries and death than the deliberate killing that takes place in war. In the hands of irresponsible people, the automobile at times becomes a deadly weapon.

Utilizing Free Energy Sources

If we were to conserve energy and improve the efficiency of energy-intensive devices, without too great an environmental impact nearly all energy needs could be supplied from the sun, wind, and oceans -- more than adequate, "free" and sustainable sources. Energy use in affluent countries can be reduced materially with more efficient lighting, more economical transportation systems, and other energy-saving measures.

If we were to add up all the calories or BTU's of energy used daily, as individuals often do in regard to food, we might be surprised at how large the amount is. We can get an idea of resource waste by looking at the per capita amount of water used, food wasted, and garbage generated. Recent drought in California, along with required water conservation, has made us realize that we can get along on much less water. We can realize similar savings in overall energy use.

Good architectural design allows the sun to be employed effectively for lighting, minimizes its heating effects in the warm season, and maximizes it in winter. The sun can also supply power for some lighting and other energy needs, especially in remote areas without conventional resources. Photovoltaic cells, which convert solar energy to electricity, are used to charge large storage batteries similar to those in automobiles; the stored energy is then used as needed, directly or with "inverters" to supply the needs of alternating current appliances. Solar powered lightweight cars and airplanes, while presently high in cost and having insufficient power to be practical, are a portent of things to come.

The wind is a large potential source of power frequently available throughout the day. Windpower has long been used to turn windmills and wind turbines/propellers coupled to electric generators. It may also be used to supplement the charging of storage batteries by solar photovoltaic cells. The old windmills and similar waterpowered devices performed such tasks as grinding grains, cutting wood, and pumping water.

In some areas, modern technology converts wind energy to electricity, which is then added to electric power networks. California generates about 1 percent of its electric power this way on several large "wind farms," where hundreds of propellers or turbines may be seen cranking out electric power for utility companies; the efficiency and maintenance costs are now low enough for the process to be profitable ("Electric Wind, The Whirling Turbines Are Back in Power Picture," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1990; "Utilities Study Ways to Harness the Wind," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 5, 1991).

Care must be taken not to change the regional ecology by removing too much energy from the wind. It does not seem likely that current wind-capturing devices would have much effect on natural balances. An important consideration is that wildlife, birds in particular, be protected against injury by spinning propeller blades, a valid complaint of nature lovers ("County Rejects Scaled-Down Wind Farm Plan ... Opposition included environmentalists who feared that birds would be killed in the blades," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 17, 1989).

There are other ways to harness wind energy on a larger scale in conjunction with hydroelectric power generation. Such information is too detailed and technical to include here, but it can be supplied to interested readers on request.

Water Power

The flow of water in streams and rivers has long been used to supply mechanical power needs. In this century, the controlled release of water, impounded by man-made dams, drives hydraulic turbines that turn large electric generators. The ocean, now tapped in the same way, is a valuable and nearly unlimited energy source. The pull of the sun and moon causes currents and tides, whose rise and fall can generate hydroelectric power in the same manner as water from dams.

Ocean waves may also be used for this purpose. One method is by means of super-polymer plastics, which function similarly to the crystals used in old phonographs and microphones, which converted the energy of voice and music vibrations into electrical impulses. The process is described in the Los Angeles Times for Dec. 4, 1989, "Piezo: Tough Plastic With a Sensitive Side."

Another way to extract energy from the ocean is with a heat pump driven by the temperature difference between surface water and the colder deep waters. The problem with all these methods is to collect the energy from a wide ocean area and bring it to power plants on a land area where it may be utilized. Technology may eventually devise ways to overcome the difficulties.

Does Nature Conserve?

Theosophy helps us see our responsibility for harnessing and conserving nature's energy in nondestructive (sustainable) ways. Evolution works conservatively in nature; nothing is wasted in the long run. If we secure her resources irresponsibly and squander them, environmental imbalance will surely arise. Nature constantly recycles all materials after using them fully. In this natural process, a breakdown to "raw materials" allows the creative process to begin anew. "Nature consciously prefers that matter should be indestructible in organic rather than inorganic forms..." (Ocean of Theosophy, p. 134.) Elsewhere, perhaps to make us think, it is pointed out that nothing in Nature is "inorganic" or "dead" (S.D. II, 672). Everything is rooted in Consciousness -- Spirit.

The population of certain animals and plants sometimes increases rapidly -- why? The well-known lemmings reduce their populous numbers in a destructive migration into the sea. It is not yet clear whether lemmings react to reduced food supply or, as some believe, to overcrowding. The question remains, why does a conservative Nature sometimes overproduce? A simple answer would be that Nature produces the excess in anticipation that much of its production will not survive, thus preparing for varying conditions, e.g., changes in climate, food supply, and other mitigating circumstances occurring within interdependent species. Are there analogous conditions among people?

We learn from Theosophy that imbalances in the human kingdom originate in inner realms, when consciousness becomes centered in feeling, memory, and thought dominated by desire. Consequently, human beings generate and often experience the imbalances of disease, famine, violence, and various forms of destructiveness. Do seeming imbalances that occur in nature (e.g., overproduction and devastation) in some degree reflect imbalances within human subjective realms?

Our destiny, although "written in the stars," surely will reflect the changes, the demands, understanding and freewill of human beings. The causes of global imbalances in the distribution of human population, food supply, and natural resources really originate within humanity and must be adjusted at the point of origin. That, we think, is the "ecological" message of Theosophy on the population issue, as well as on energy.

Many resources, and our health as well, can be conserved by eating more vegetable products, which require minimal energy to grow. Fish and fowl use fewer resources than large animals but still more than required by vegetables. In addition, ethical issues arise from methods used to raise and kill large numbers of domestic animals for food.

The earth could support a larger population if people were aware of the full range of interdependency and human responsibility, and acted upon the moral implications of what H.P.B. called the links in the golden chain of Universal Brotherhood: "universal Unity and Causation; Human Solidarity; the Law of Karma; Reincarnation." (Key to Theosophy, p. 233.)


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Processes are invariably cyclic, rising and falling, taking and giving back, living and dying. But the linear vision places its emphasis entirely on the rising phase of the cycle -- on production, possession, life. It provides for no returns. Waste, for instance, is a concept that could have been derived only from the linear vision. We take and do not give back, and this causes waste. It is a hideous concept, and it is making the world hideous. It is consumption, a wasting disease. And this disease of our material economy becomes also the disease of our spiritual economy, and we have made a shoddy merchandise of our souls. It is only in the processes of the natural world, and in analogous and related processes of human culture, that the new may grow usefully old, and the old be made new. 


--WENDELL BERRY

Next article:
THEOSOPHY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
XIII -- AGRICULTURE OF THE FUTURE (Part 1)
[Part 13 of a 16-part series]

Back to the
"THEOSOPHY AND THE ENVIRONMENT"
series complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".



Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.