Soaking up solar rays with every inch of its massive wingspan, the Solar Impulse 2 sets off on a journey to inspire the potential for a new future. Starting on the first powered solar flight around the world, two pilots exchange spots in the pilot's seat at scheduled layovers in the anticipated journey that is to be spread out over five months.
Back on earth, grounded in denial, politicians and bureaucrats use religion and the power of words to fight against the increasingly obvious reality of climate change due to human impacts. Florida joins the list of states that have used legislation and formal policy measures to avoid discussing directly the reality of increasing average temperatures and rising seawaters along coastal regions.
According to Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, could change what He is doing in the climate is, to me, outrageous." The conservative Christian literalist viewpoint is not open to science that appears to offer a challenge to the all-powerful deity at its center. As the author of The Great Hoax: How The Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, Sen. Inhofe considers himself an expert on the subject.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is among the states that are codifying denial. A 2012 bill made it illegal to base coastal planning decisions on the latest predictions of the amount of sea level increase, effectively rejecting the facts in favor of avoiding discussion of the issue. The US Geological Survey, however, notes that areas of North Carolina and other "hotspots" on the coast of Massachusetts are seeing sea level rises that are three to four times the worldwide average.
America has swallowed the dream of endless growth whole. Manifest Destiny first conquered the land from coast to coast and then reached out to sea for more territory. Still, it goes on, promising lower prices and easy credit for whatever everyone needs.
From generation to generation in America, and in frenetic competition within each generation, is the fantasy of unending growth. Every individual dreams of material improvement: in homes with greater square footage and more electronic amenities; in cars and trucks with more horsepower, more roominess and greater highway speed; in more bacon wrapped around cheesier pizza; and on and on, in dreams of more and more.
Costs of Change
Change is not always easy, and seldom immediate. As people debate and deny the reality of global climate change, the process goes on in rising coastal waters, higher average temperatures, melting Arctic ice sheets and glaciers, and other dire indicators of emergency conditions. The transition from a carbon-based economy that burns coal and crude oil for power, to a clean, sustainable future where we get energy from the sun and wind will cost money and will require new attitudes.
Solar Change on Wings
Launching into the skies over Dubai, the Solar Impulse 2 gets its power from solar flight panels built into wings that are wider than those on a Boeing 747. Massive jumbo jets weigh over 400,000 tons when empty, and can carry hundreds of people across the oceans or continents. The statistics of the solar powered long distance flier are quite different:
- Weight: 2,300 kilograms (5,070 pounds)
- Wingspan: 72 meters (376 feet)
- Top speed: 25 knots (about 28 mph)
- Motors: four electric motors turn propellers to power the plane
- Power source: 17,248 super efficient solar cells covering the wings
The SI2 carries just one person at a time. The two pilots intend to alternate shifts at the controls, piloting the plane for stretches of 24 hours.
Setting the Stage for Changes
Every advance in solar power, every new achievement by a plane or car that can do the work that society needs done without fossil fuels, leads the way toward the future. Seeing that all people of all countries are all children of the same Earth, it is advantageous to work together, worldwide, to fuel the needs of our future with sustainable growth.