Distributed Bananas: A Better Way to Go

In the debate over centralized vs. distributed energy systems, we can perhaps learn something about which one might be better for society from behavioral studies of our chimpanzee cousins.

In her book “The Egalitarians – Human and Chimpanzee: An Anthropological View of Social Organization,” Margaret Power challenges the view, based largely on observation of artificially fed chimpanzees, that the normal social behavior of chimpanzees is aggressive, dominance seeking, and fiercely territorial. All reports from natural field studies are that in the wild, chimpanzees live peacefully in non-aggressive, non-hierarchical groups.

The difference between the two is that artificially fed chimpanzees receive food only at specific times and of a limited quantity. Chimpanzees foraging in the forest receive food over greatly attenuated time periods and, when the forest ecosystem is in balance, there is no clear limit in quantity of available food. In a word, the food in the natural setting is distributed, while the food in the artificial setting is centralized.

This situation and the resulting social disorder directly mirror the situation in the human world with distributed versus centralized energy. We humans recognize limited quantities of energy all in one place in the ground (e.g., oil, coal), and powerful members of society seek to aggressively control the resources, seek dominance over the people and territory where the energy is located, and ultimately, fight wars over it.

Technology is opening up new possibilities for a more sustainable and equitable energy future, but technology by itself will not bring about changes for the better. What matters just as much is how society organizes itself to take advantage of the new technologies with institutions like Sonoma Clean Power that will enable us to get the maximum technical and social benefit out of the technology.

As technology and the right kinds of institutions enable the harvesting and sharing of free energy from the sky from just about anywhere on Earth (e.g., solar, wind), the dynamic of a peaceful and egalitarian energy destiny is upon us.

Now, have a banana. And – no fighting!

 Woody Hastings

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