May 032017

Today was first designated as Sun Day by United States President Jimmy Carter in 1978. It was meant as a way of promoting the use of solar power as a source of energy,following a joint resolution by Congress, H.J.Res. 715. It was modeled on the highly successful Earth Day of April 22, 1970. It was the idea of Denis Hayes, who also coordinated Earth Day in 1970. On the first Sun Day President Carter flew to Denver to visit a solar power research institute, while other people gathered at Cadillac Mountain in Maine where the sun’s ray allegedly first touch the United States (although not at the time of the year). A crowd gathered at UN Plaza in New York City listened to speeches by people such as movie star Robert Redford, who reminded them that the sun “can’t be embargoed by any foreign nation”. At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, environmental activist Barry Commoner spoke to a group of 500 people, suggesting, a little hyperbolically, that solar power was an issue as pivotal as slavery and that power was the “… one solution to the economic problems of the United States.” Let’s take a small step back and say that solar power is not the cure all for all the world’s ills, but more can be done to support advancement of solar energy worldwide.

Carter’s initiative has taken a few steps forward and a few steps backward globally. When Reagan took office he swiftly undid many of Carter’s executive orders concerning conservation and green energy. Those who are old enough to remember Reagan’s first 100 days will recall that on his first day in office he ordered all the thermostats in the White House turned up where Carter had ordered them set at no higher than 70˚F.  As far as he was concerned there was no need to conserve finite energy sources. Also, Carter had famously planted a garden on the roof of the White House and had installed solar panels that provided hot water throughout the building. Reagan had the garden and the solar panels dismantled. I’m presuming he saw them both as hippie nonsense, and that “real men” burned fossil fuels for heat and got their vegetables from the supermarket.

Sun Day did not turn out to be as big a success as Earth Day, but it still deserves a tip of the hat. Carter in place a great many federal plans that have since been undone, and in the US now there is not much of a drive forward on the solar front. Clinton and Obama did almost nothing, and you can’t expect anything from Trump. Carter provided subsidies and federal funds for research into solar technology as well as tax breaks for installing certified solar systems. Carter wanted the US to be on track to be 20% reliable on renewable energy sources by 2000. That plan got derailed by successive governments. Carter knew the road was rocky.  He had met resistance from Congress from the outset. In 1979 when the White House solar panels were installed he said, “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” They are not even a museum piece; they are in storage somewhere in Maine: a forgotten part of US history.

There is so much that can be done with solar energy, but too many countries are turning their backs on it. In some ways the political struggles in places such as the US and Australia are understandable from a certain point of view. England pulled the plug on coal mining and tens of thousands lost their jobs as a result.  In addition, whole towns withered culturally. One of my favorite movies, Brassed Off, excellently documents what happens when a mining town loses its pits. Australia and the US lack the political will to promote renewable energy for two reasons.  First, closing mines is bad publicity, and, second, powerfully rich people with political clout are heavily invested in fossil fuels. There is certainly one problem here I am sympathetic to, namely, the plight of people who lose their jobs. The capitalists who benefit financially from fossil fuels are on their own. I am neither a politician nor an economist, so any solution I offer to the first problem will be simplistic. But all evidence I’ve read suggests that promotion of renewable energy sources creates jobs. The purpose of government, in my opinion, ought to be to make sure that those jobs are created in regions where they have been lost by the reduction in fossil fuel production.

Solar power has enormous potential which is still being developed. It would take me too long to break down all the statistics and provide meaningful analysis. There are plenty of sources for you. I’ll just cite two surprising results. First, China and Germany are world leaders in solar production of electricity. China has, of course, been a major polluter in the past, and many cities are still choked with air pollution. But the country is setting its sights high. Electric motor bikes are the norm in all major cities, and the country has the capacity to produce 22.5% of its electricity from solar panels. Germany is the second best with 20.6%. Compare this with Australia coming in at 2.6%. What exactly is the problem? Does Germany have more sun than Australia? My second surprising (maybe) result is that all the oil rich countries of the Middle East are 100% dependent on fossil fuels. There has to be a big element of laziness involved here. They have oil coming out the ears, so clearly feel no financial pressure to switch to renewables. Apparently they feel no moral pressure either. Who cares about pollution?

To my mind, one of the most wasteful home appliances that you find throughout the US is the clothes dryer. When I lived in New York I was rebuked by neighbors for using a washing line to dry my clothes.  Apparently it was unsightly, lowering the tone of the neighborhood. Since leaving there I have never used a dryer. I never saw one in China, and have not seen one in Italy. My apartments have come equipped with the means to hang my clothes to dry. Hanging your clothes in the sun to dry is as natural as breathing.

Solar-powered, and electric-powered cars are not quite ready yet to take on petrol cars but they are gaining ground. Hybrids of electric and petrol engines have a growing market now. The nut still to be cracked with solar and electric cars concerns battery capacity. In daylight, solar cars have unlimited mileage, but at night they must rely on batteries to store a charge, and batteries cannot, yet, provide a great range between recharges.

Using passive solar heat also has great potential. Here is one design for a house that heats itself in the winter months through solar energy. It combines the greenhouse effect of glass, with walls that store heat during the day and then release it at night.

This in turn brings me to the greenhouse, which I think of as one of the greatest inventions of all time for the gardener. I had plans to build one as an extension on my house but it never came to fruition. One of my best friends in England has two greenhouses on a small plot in Oxford City where he propagates all manner of rare and exotic cacti. This is England we’re talking about, not the Gobi or the Kalahari.  A greenhouse transforms your gardening possibilities immensely. Most especially I wanted one to be able to start plants from seed indoors that needed a warm and frost-free growing season that was longer than I had outdoors. I made use of available sunny window ledges but a greenhouse would have expanded my possibilities immeasurably.   But I am sure I would quickly have got into exotics as well.

I gave some recipe ideas here for the pads and fruit of the prickly pear  Let’s turn instead to sunflower seeds. These days baseball players in the US, if they are not chewing tobacco, love to crack sunflower seeds in their mouths, swallow the kernels, and spit out the husks. I’m happier just buying the kernels, which you can get at health food stores. This recipe calls for them roasted. I do this by spreading them in a single layer on a roasting pan and roasting them in a hot oven (400˚F) for no more than 10 minutes, checking constantly to be sure they don’t burn, and shaking the pan now and again to make sure they roast uniformly. You can also do this on top of the stove in a dry skillet over high heat.

Linguine with Roquefort and Sunflower Seeds


10 oz linguini
2 green onions, sliced
3 oz Roquefort
1 tbsp butter
1  cups sour cream
salt and pepper
⅓ cup roasted sunflower kernel
chopped parsley


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green onion and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, until soft. Add the sour cream and crumble in the Roquefort. Add the sunflower kernels and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, and stir the sauce until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens.

Cook the linguini in boiling water until it is al dente. Drain well and toss into the sauce. Mix the sauce and pasta thoroughly, turn on to a serving plate and garnish with parsley.

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