The Long Arc of Progress
Now is not the time to resist change.
Let me begin by sharing that the December temperatures in Colorado were the coldest in decades. That fact, however, is not where the seemingly random pieces of this puzzle started to appear. Actually, I had already been thinking about how much I miss the wood-burning stove that was the source of so much comfort and pleasure at my former residence.
For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the imagery of a communal fire: the light, the warmth, the implied security. Best illustrated in the 1981 film Quest For Fire (based on the 1911 Belgian novel by J.-H. Rosny)–which depicts the arduous adventures of three pre-historic humans who are seeking to re-capture their tribal fire source that has been accidentally extinguished–the safety, and indeed the power, associated with those in possession of manageable combustion cannot be overstated.
Eventually, the trio returned with a live flame but even more importantly they learned how to ignite fuel from scratch, an advancement that greatly improved their odds of long-term survival at a time when it was far from certain.
As I was contemplating all this, by seemingly random coincidence, I stumbled across a photograph of a fire feature comprised of a large slab of stone that had been stood on end in a bed of gravel. It was eerily shaped like an oversized human hand and at its base, the makings of a wood fire had been laid. I mentally returned to the image several times and marveled at the metaphor it presents.
Then I came across the story of a woman from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, who had just been awarded one of the 2022 Earthshot Prizes for her creation of a new type of cooking stove. It is reported that just shy of a billion people in sub-Sahara Africa alone (the number is predicted to grow to more than 1.6 billion by 2050) must do their cooking on open fires or dangerous, inefficient stoves that burn wood or charcoal resulting in widespread respiratory problems and disastrous air quality.
The Muruku Clean Stove sells for $10 (less than the stoves currently in use) and reduces toxic smoke emissions by 50 to 90 percent. The stoves burn biomass fuels that are half the price of the fuels currently in use.
A short time later, the U.S. National Ignition Facility announced to the world that the first successful nuclear fusion experiment in history had taken place. Long the holy grail of those seeking to produce a non-polluting, inexhaustible source of energy by replicating the power that fuels our Sun, the achievement is widely regarded as the next big thing in energy solutions, although it is estimated that it will be several decades in development.
In the meantime, those of us in the housing industry are stubbornly taking opposing sides on renewable energy, clean transportation, and the electrification of homes, which is gaining momentum rapidly as we attempt to address the substantial contributions to climate damage that result from carbon emissions produced by mechanical systems and appliances that run on fossil fuels.
While we jealously protect our “right to choose” and serve the special interests that depend on our ingrained tribal instincts to resist change, powerful and entrenched players scramble to preserve their markets, progress be damned.