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More Sun Spots Paperback – September 20, 2012
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Checking out the "local authors" section at BookWorks in Albuquerque's North Valley recently, I came across a new arrival - More Sun Spots, self-published in the fall of 2012 by Steve Baer. What solar energy aficionado could pass that up? I've already read it twice. My once-brand-new copy is now highlighted and bookmarked and dog-eared. Steve was one of the founding members of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association way back in '72. His well-earned reputation for "not suffering fools gladly" envelops him like an incandescent corona. What NMSEA member would dare to publicly review his book? OMG!
Steve Baer is best known for inventing the geometrical forms known as "zomes"; for his creative & innovative work in passive solar energy applications; and for his iconic company, Zomeworks. Zomes are 3 dimensional "space frames" intricately linked to sophisticated concepts in math, science, art, and architecture. Steve is the God-Father of the zome. He designed the first zome structure; he and his wife Holly built the first zome home; and they've lived in that zome for 40 years. Ancient news you say? Well, the Belgian "Delft Architectural Studies in Housing" (DASH) group just published an impressive book called "The ECO House" which features the Baer zome home as one of the most interesting ECO houses IN THE WORLD.
Steve is fervently & passionately dedicated to pure PASSIVE solar designs. Combine all that with a personal ideology devoted to fundamental principles, elegant simplicity, abhorrence of waste, and emphasis on empirical knowledge. Now toss in fierce independence, anti-authoritarianism, strict self-sufficiency, uncompromising bluntness, and a healthy dose of distrust & suspicion of government and all other large (and small) institutions. Is an image starting to form? Toss it out - it's incomplete.
Those who know Steve well will feel right at home exploring these essays (you'll even hear his voice, encoded, somehow, between the covers). Those who don't know Steve - well, fasten your seat belts, you're in for an exhilarating ride.
Looking for a mathematical "paper" on zomes? - it's there. Fascinating descriptions of the unique properties of H2O?; the how & why of Zomeworks' famous passive solar trackers and heliostats which use no motors?; how "Cool Cells" work?; details about Zomeworks' latest "Double Play" passive solar heating & cooling system (including thermal storage)? All there. How about some poetry and even flashes of inspired prose? Check. Conspiracy theories and classic Steve Baer rants about government subsidies, the National Labs, utilities, corporations and non-profits? Of course. No one escapes his critique, including his own personal hero, passive solar pioneer Harold Hay; and, most telling of all, another well known passive solar pioneer named Steve Baer.
Reading Steve's essays, I'm often reminded of other gurus & masters in disparate & unrelated fields. Quality guru W. Edwards Deming shared the same devotion to fundamental truths, the same distrust of academic credentials, and the same disdain for political correctness. "The route to transformation is what I call Profound Knowledge", Deming would intone over and over in the manner of an Old Testament Prophet. "This book is for people who are living under the tyranny of the prevailing style of American management." When Deming, then in his early 90's, spoke at UNM's Popejoy Hall at the invitation of the Anderson School of Management, he was asked by a recent MBA graduate what he should do, at this point in his management career, to support Deming's mission. "Well", Deming growled, "I'm afraid it's too late". "You have an MBA - - it's already too late for you". "Next question!"
Does Steve Baer sometimes sound like an Old Testament Prophet? You bet. Is he devoted to hands-on & minds-on work that teases out fundamental insights? Absolutely. Is he suspicious of fancy credentials, outspoken to a fault, and outraged by much of what most people call "progress"? Yes, yes & emphatically yes!
One of his essays is devoted to chainsaws. For decades Steve has used the chainsaw as a glaring example of the failure of "progress". Who can argue? I'm 100% with Steve on this one. Every time I see "Texas Chainsaw in 3D", I complain to the theater manager - "This is outrageous! Axes and swords would be much more sustainable, not to mention quieter!" Nobody listens - probably because they're all deaf.
Uncompromising devotion to fundamental principles has its price. In another essay Steve relates that when his old pickup finally fell apart, he searched diligently to find a brand new pickup WITHOUT an air-conditioner, WITHOUT electric windows & door locks, and one that could be push-started when the battery went dead. Impossible! Other folks' concepts of "progress" are being forced upon him without his consent - and that really boosts his blood pressure. Design simplicity simply cannot be found in a modern vehicle - today's cars & trucks are incredibly complicated. The fact that they are also far far more dependable, reliable, comfortable and safe, not to mention less polluting, than ever, is completely beside the point.
The clothesline. Ah yes, a shining example of elegant design simplicity for many solar energy purists who see the electric clothes dryer not just as grossly wasteful, but as a poster child for "technological betrayal" and even personal irresponsibility. Steve's logic is flawless. Don't try to argue with him. Just put him in a room with 100 working moms, 100 apartment dwellers, and 100 families who have to spend a couple of hours every week at the Laundromat. Then call in the swat team to keep them from stuffing him into a king-size electric clothes dryer and pushing "Permanent Press".
South facing windows, skylights, natural light instead of fluorescent, free heat and even "coolth", proven passive solar designs - what is wrong with you people? Wake up! Truly impressive innovations all - and worthy of our full appreciation & gratitude. But even Steve admits that while these designs usually work great here in the desert southwest, they still have room for improvement. In some other parts of the US, and where most people live in the rest of the world, passive solar heating isn't practical or even needed, and passive cooling simply won't fly. These days many of the things that are having the most impact on transforming lives for people in the third world (which could include parts of NM) are electricity-centric: 1) access to light at night 2) access to modern means of communication - yes, I mean cell phones & internet access and 3) refrigerators & air conditioning.
New Mexicans have played an enormous role in pioneering & refining passive solar technology and architecture, and Steve Baer has been in the front ranks. That's a genuine gift to the world. But I can't help recalling the response of some mid-school students right here in New Mexico when I showed them a photo of a beautiful Santa Fe passive solar home designed by one of our most prominent architects that featured huge south facing windows balanced by gorgeously integrated thermal mass. "But everyone can see you inside", they said immediately. "And they could shoot too". A few years ago, one of NM's adobe gurus was touting adobe not for its thermal mass, but for its ballistic impenetrability. There is more than one design reality. There is more than one design priority.
New Mexico would be a far less enchanting (not to mention energy efficient) place without our solar powered gurus, purists, fundamentalists, and iconoclasts. They channel that special energy that holds entropy (and perhaps even global warming) at bay. So buy the damn book! You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to Steve Baer. Hear the man out. If some essays delight (as they will), then be delighted. If some essays intrigue & confound (as they will), then ponder. If the Baer Truth contained in some essays is just too much to swallow (and it will be), then - as Steve would say - "the hell with you".
and embarrassingly digging through shale for oil.
Steve Baer inspires confidence in the fact that there is
a sustainable and sensible energy management policy and practice.
He also makes us aware of the powerful people and institutions
who profit from the status quo and are obstacles to compassionate
and reasonable solutions.
The book is rich with data and explanations for aspiring saviors of the environment,
or someone who just wants to learn how to live a life less dependent on "the grid."
It is by no means a dry technical journal. It is an adventure story, it is heated opinion,
It is truth which, once you see it, it is impossible to not see it. And you might decide
to do something about it.
Steve Baer is a genius who has led the fight for sane energy solutions for decades.
If you don't know him, you should. "More Sun Spots" is a good place to start.