For tens of thousands of years before it was a celebration of Christmas, this time of the year was celebrated as the time of hope. Because it was the time when the light began to return. Until less than perhaps a thousand years ago, it was not universally clear why the coming of the sun waxed and waned, and it was never certain that this life-giving sun just might not come back.
Most people in the world today no longer literally worship the sun as a great moody god who must be adored, bribed, and propitiated. But we are living in a time of possibly unprecedented uncertainty. There is powerful evidence that we are seriously damaging, possibly even destroying, the environment on which our very lives depend. We have as much reason for concern as did our ancient ancestors. Worries about the global destructiveness of war and terrorism, potentially lethal diseases, starvation and drought are not paranoid fantasies but realistic possibilities.
And although we no longer think the sun worshippers and their virgin sacrifices are what convinced the sun to return each year, we do know that what we humans do will profoundly affect both our short-term and long-term futures.
Will we do what needs to be done to maintain our creative relationship with the universe? Can we do it?
Yesterday by coincidence I stumbled on an article about Albert Einstein. I didn’t realize that he’d received the Nobel Prize for his discovery that the atmosphere is chock full of energy generated by the sun. (I’d always assumed it was for his theories of relativity.) At first scientists thought Einstein was wrong. They didn’t think there was close to an infinite amount of energy floating around us. And then when they became convinced, nobody knew how to tap this energy at anything like an affordable cost. Oil, gas, coal, wood were all much much cheaper.
But now that nut is being cracked. Researchers and companies are discovering how to tap this energy at costs that dwarf the cost of fossil fuels. It’s already possible to get enough energy to charge a mobile phone for free. But here are a few of the other possibilities, some of which are already being implemented:
- a transparent decal-type of addition to windows that turns them effectively into transparent solar panels
- house paint that generates electricity
- batteries that store enough electricity to make houses individually independent of the need to be connected to the grid — eliminating the need for electricity companies
- roads that generate electricity as cars pass over them, so that cars never need to fill up at a gas station
- solar panels that produce electricity 24-hours a day
These are not pipe dreams. Some oil companies are so threatened that they are lobbying the US Congress to outlaw it. Even in this day of big money lobbies, they are unlikely to succeed. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Amazon, some oil and electricity companies themselves, even governments in India, China, the US Defense Department in the United States are pouring billions of dollars into this revolutionary — and clean — source of energy.
And so this Christmas – this solstice – this Celebration of Light – does seem to me to be a very special, even unique, Celebration of Hope.