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[GreenYes] Trends - Small Scale
    I always keep my eye open for seminal long amplitude trends that build imperceptibly but implacably beneath the surface.  In this case, deep within an article on mad cow disease in the Wall Street Journal (which, by itself is so reminiscent of the Upton Sinclair's attempt to raise public attention to working conditions in the slaughter houses at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that only succeeded in making upper class society recoil at the unsanitariness of the sausages they ate), there appears the following comment about the furor in Germany:

    "Proposals to reform agricultural policy are controversial within Europe, too, and German farmers have attacked them [proposals by the government to aid only organic farms in response to slaughtered cows suspected of BSE] as starry-eyed and irrelevant to the 80% of farms that will remain in the nonorganic sector and cannot benefit from environmental subsidies. Wolfgang Vogal...vice president of the state's farmers union, bristles at what he sees as THE GERMAN CHANCELLOR'S RECENT, MIDLIFE CONVERSION TO THE THEORY THAT SMALLER IS BETTER." (emphasis added) ("Mad Cow and the Flow of Farm Dollars," 1/24/01, at p. A14)

    Then last month Homan Jenkins, one of the most arch conservative -- although eminently enjoyable to read -- Wall Street Journal editorial writers wrote in an opinion piece about the California energy crunch that the absence of large new power plants is not a problem because  of the additions "in dribs and drabs of 25 MW each, reflecting the strong economics of small-scale, high-tech generating plants." He later emphasized "the downscaling of efficient plant size."

    Obviously "small is beautiful" is hardly something new. What is new -- and of fundamental import if born out -- is the fact that this theme finally seems to have percolated among decision makers, including the most reactionary of the lot.

   As a concrete example of why this is important, I remember vividly meeting with the republican governor of Wisconsin during the second Arab Oil Embargo to push a proposal for energy conservation initiatives, only to be rebuffed without really being heard because he was looking for two or three BIG projects to stamp with his imprimatur at a ribbon cutting, not tens of thousands of dispersed and modest bolt tightening in houses across the state. 

    This world view reconsideration among decision makers, if that is what is happening, is a sea change of opportunity for many environmental initiatives, among them those represented by the recycling vision of the world if we only perceive that the door, once closed to us, may not now be open.


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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