Watermelon Slim (playing slide in Oklahoma) by self
Last year, I was impressed with a story I saw on CNN, an advertisement for well pumps powered by children's school-playground merry-go-rounds. What a simple, multi-purpose boon to mankind.
These simple devices represent a solution not only for the procurement of potable water, the are the way to put unemployed able-bodied individuals to productive work. Eight hours a day (for real jocks), or at least 6 hours a day-- at minimum wage, this is the very essence of unskilled labor-- of pedaling, or spinning around on large playground merry-go-rounds, can procure a heckuva lot of water for people who would otherwise be drinking liquid that might be anything up to and including raw untreated sewage.
Such devices would be unnecessary to provide water for the White House, but would be a damn good addition to any dry-climate extension of human activity, e.g. a village in west sub-Saharan Africa. Or New Mexico.
After the capital investment of dug wells and the stationary bicycles or merry-go-rounds, the enterprise would at some point obviate the necessity of paying the pedalers and spinners welfare payments, which are more societally expensive, none can deny, than paying otherwise unproductive people modest wages for the completely unskilled labor they are doing. Conservative anti-welfare-cheat enthusiasts should be pushing this idea to the max.
And of course, such devices can also be used to generate electricity. I do not have the figures before me to demonstrate how many pedalers it would take to make a typical 800MW nuclear plant superfluous and unnecessary, but put enough people to work generating electricity by pedal power or merry-go-round power (put a heavy flywheel under the merrygoround, or on the pedaling device, and you have further enhanced the productivity of each person-hour of spinning around), and that's what you will have done: replaced non-renewable energy procurement with an almost infinite amount of RENEWABLE energy, energy that does not depend on whether the wind is blowing or the sun shining.
You go home, eat and get a good night's sleep after your day on the merry-go-round, and you have renewed your energy! This is so simple that even a caveman could understand it, and moreover be a working part of the solution.
Let's take this a little farther, even. Rather than using PEOPLE for the spinners of the merry-go-round, make much larger lazy susans (that's what they would look like) and use horses, or cattle, or teams of oxen, to generate the movement necessary to generate the electricity or pump the water. You don't have to pay them, all you have to do is feed them and treat them humanely.
I will leave to the reader the argument over whether it would be more desirable, and/or cost-effective, to put human beings to work, or get real work out of the millions and millions of big, strong animals that are at this moment doing nothing but standing around in fields and pastures eating grass and waiting to be sold for slaughter in every state of the Union.
You see, if America's leaders had more vision than an old leather boot, they could see the efficacy and the societal benefit of industrial reorganization like this. But no, they're stuck in the old routine of making war on people so they can have those people's non-renewable resources. ("Hey, what's our oil doing underneath YOUR sand??")
However, maybe there's a truly enlightened capitalist entrepreneur out there with a few million to spend on drilling deep water wells (though as one commenter at OpEd News said, the problem with windmills is that we have lowered the water table in so many places. The Ogallala Aquifer, in New Mexico and Oklahoma, would be one such region) and emplacing the merry-go-round pumps necessary to draw drinking water by people power in hamlets and villages in the US where rural water service is difficult.
And maybe if this utterly exportable low technology were part of the Marshall Plan of renewable-energy infrastructural development we must immediately implement in order not to plunge over the cliff represented by the nexus of overpopulation, environmental degradation and expenditure of usable old-paradigm resources, we could send teams of installers into places in Africa and Asia where rural water service will never go and give the people the ability to draw their own water and generate their own electricity.
Leadership and vision for the energy future, rather than the military bootprint to hold onto the energy past, is what we need to be using in the world.