Much of Russel Gehrke's Renewable Energies for your Home is a useful compendium of information for people who want to build a solar dryer or make biodiesel without killing yourself. There is a neat design for a quick and easy solar heater made out of hollow core doors. A third of the book is a good list of suppliers and sources. It provides, as the subtitle says, "real world solutions for green conversions," much of which can be sourced for free on the internet.
But the real eye-opener, the part worth reading, is in the introduction and the first 46 pages, which is the story of Russel Gehrke.
Willie Nelson's biofuel powered Willys, built by Russel Gehrke
Even before the book starts, you know he is a character. TV producer Shaun Murphy describes him in the foreword as "both a genius and nuts." In the acknowledgements, Gehrke writes about his hyper, dyslexic childhood:
I couldn't read, let alone write...when I was 10 years old. [teacher] Ms Dutton saw what made me different from other more normal kids and taught me how to use my creativity and mechanically inclined mind to be better than those kids....I visualize shapes to do math, physics and even chemistry. This allows me to solve problems like no one else.
In the nineties he invented fuel saving technologies, and learned the hard way, as many have, that "enthusiasm isn't a good substitute for business sense and certainly isn't conducive to good science." But he continued to "dream big and dream often."
Russel then describes his path to green via biodiesel jeeps and ethanol powered motorcycles, and frames the issue of getting off fossil fuels in terms of energy independence. He is a motorhead, and it is an explanation that will appeal to other motorheads, independent types who believe that the best way to solve a problem is to do it yourself.
Russel frames the problems we face, from peak oil to climate change, with a no-nonsense can-do attitude that would appeal to anyone anywhere the spectrum of opinion in America. How does he sell climate change to this audience?
The true harm fossil fuels cause may not be understood for years. One thing is certain: We do affect the natural balance, noticeably or not. The biggest risk my be global climate change. No one knows for sure if humankind is to blame, but if it is true, the big question is: Can we fix it? The fact is that renewable energy does reduce carbon emissions, and the sooner we implement their widespread use, the better things will be for all of us. Not to mention the positive effects that renewable energy has on a nation's health.
That's the only time in the whole book that the issue preoccupying so many of us even comes up. Most TreeHuggers would choke on such a description, but I think that is why I like the book so much. It talks to a different audience, the half of America that thinks climate change is a hoax, but understands energy independence, not paying fuel taxes and doing things yourself.
In the end, the result is the same- we burn less fossil fuel, increase our resilience and independence, harness renewable resources of sun, wind and biofuels, minus all the politics. We TreeHuggers have much to learn from Russel Gehrke.