A Free-Market Energy Blog

“The Electric Windmill” (hippy energy, circa 1979)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 20, 2021

Ed. note: This two-part excerpt from the late Tom Bethell’s “inadvertent autobiography,” The Electric Windmill (Regnery Gateway: 1988, pp. 105–06), is a humorous look-back at the Carter-era. Part II is tomorrow.

“This was the Small-is-Beautiful crowd. Slanting solar collectors were dotted about. I kept a wary eye open for Amory Lovins or Barry Commoner….”

Curious about the overnight appearance of wigwams and other quaint structures, I parked my car near the Mall. A whirling windmill was also to be seen on the grassy sward, not too far from the Lincoln Memorial. Were the Indians in town, putting on one of their periodic Media Events?

Worth a look at least. On closer inspection it seemed to be a fair of some kind. Semi-naked youths were strolling about and lounging in the grass. Not the Indians, but the hippies….

I had stumbled upon the Appropriate Community Technology Fair, called ACT ’79, a “celebration of old-fashioned American ingenuity.” Reading further, I learned that the fair, a “self-reliant, environmentally clean, and democratically governed instant community, will simulate the sights, sounds, and other sensation of a real community.”

This was the Small-is-Beautiful crowd. Slanting solar collectors were dotted about. I kept a wary eye open for Amory Lovins or Barry Commoner, and was ready to dash for cover if either should appear on the scene. The spirit of E. F. Schumacher hovered uneasily over the sward.

I followed a footpath between tents, inside which seminars were in progress. I stood in the back of one and listened for a few minutes. All of the instructors at the other end of the tent worked for one or another government agency.

They were sitting in a row behind a table and talking happily away about viable options, one or two of them intermittently taking meditative little puffs on their pipes.

Coordinators, moderators, biodegradable resources, renewable coalitions, recycled neighborhoods, community-run revitalization projects. Puff, puff, puff. It beat staying indoors all day, imprisoned in the Federal Triangle.

I blundered into the WomanSpace tent. Importance of coalition-building, resource recovery noted; poverty and the Third World Woman; post-patriarchal responses to the world predicament considered.

I strolled out into the sunshine, which was energizing a solar collector, which provided power for a record player. Lovely. Hippies and layabouts lolled on grass listening to rock music, at last independent of the ripoff oil companies. But if perchance you stand in front of the solar collector, the music runs d-o-w-n h–i–l–l, and then grunts to a halt, and they look up at you and moan, “C’mon man, Give us a break.”

Did these people ever do a day’s work in their lives? Ten years ago daddy’s credit card paid for everything. Now they imagine the sun is going to put in the effort on their behalf. They preach self-reliance, but they practice little.

I made my way past herb growers, people sitting like children in magic circles, tepee dwellers, woman’s community bakery, bio-gas model project, “Why Flush” water quality. Heard the word “retrofit” used a dozen times. Eventually reached the Administrative Tent. Asked for “the boss” and several people immediately looked up and turned to stare at the relic of the old order.

No bosses here, I was told. In the wrong place, man. This was democratic. No bosses in Lovinsland. But someone called Bob Zdenck appeared eventually and told me how the fair was put together.

[Part II tomorrow will reveal the energy source of the Wind machine.]

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