By Dave Witherill
To be clear from the start, environmental writer and Middlebury College professor, Bill McKibben, was not at the Flagstaff Hut during the church’s recent Men’s Retreat. They are closely linked, however, as the Maine Huts and Trails system is using just the sort of technology that Bill’s organization “350.org” argues that the world is in need of everywhere.
For those who are unfamiliar with Bill McKibben, he is probably the most influential environmental writer of our time. He has written frequently for National Geographic magazine and authored numerous books. His scientific data is greatly influenced by the scientists at NASA. On January 20th he spoke at a University of New England sponsored event at Westbrook High School that I was able to attend. He came with an important message about our need as a world to reduce the CO2 in our atmosphere to a manageable number. NASA scientists have said that we need to reduce our CO2 to 350 parts per million to avoid catastrophic climate change to the world as we know it. The current CO2 ppm stands at 392. McKibben and a group of his Middlebury students helped form “350.org”. Type that into your web browser and you will be brought directly to their site. The number 350 is something that can be understood by people around the world no matter what language is spoken. McKibben and supporters hope to make it a rallying point. To achieve the reduction we must be loud, numerous, and persistent. McKibben noted that so far, money has influenced our leaders in the United States. Up to this point the polluters have not had to pay for the damage that is being done to the atmosphere.
An example of the right way to do things was shown to the Men’s Retreat group on February 3rd at the Flagstaff Hut. After dinner we were taken to the basement to observe the battery bank storage for the solar panels located just outside the hut. This allows the hut to use electric powered lights throughout the night from power captured during the day. The low flush toilets use about one third of a gallon of water and deposit to a large composter that is so successful, it has yet to have any waste removal after over 2 years. Heat is supplied by a wood furnace. A propane generator is there as a standby back-up. All three of the current huts are built with this sort of technology and in addition, the Poplar Falls Stream Hut has a turbine in the stream to supply power. Future huts will be built with the same or improved technology.
It was inspiring to see a beautiful place such as Flagstaff and know that it can be done correctly. To meet the goals of 350.org and our desires to stop dangerous climate change we need ideas and plans such as these on a world scale.