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By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analyst

There is no wonder that solar energy is the biggest available energy for earth’s needs; it has about 1280 times our electrical energy needs in (2005) (http://www.eia.doe.gov/iea/elec.html), more over it is abundant in more than 60 % of the world lands. The challenge for us is how to get it.

Over the past million years, plants used sunlight to obtain energy for their survival, photosynthesis process is considered a low efficiency process that needs water and soil to emerge.  Solar energy is typically used by humans to provide direct heating of fluids for human use; it is also used to generate electricity directly through photovoltaic cells.

Companies like GE, and Siemens are taking solar energy so seriously that they pumped funds of billions of dollars on solar energy projects.  Big companies have realized the importance of solar, now it is time to spread the idea among people.

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A new transmission project—the Atlantic Wind Connection— 

has the potential to transform offshore wind power along the Mid-Atlantic States in the United States. Google and Good Energies, a New York financial and investment firm, have agreed to heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission backbone along the Atlantic seaboard.

Basically, the project involves building a 350-mile undersea water cable system that will carry electricity generated from offshore wind farms to shore. A slightly more technical examination reveals that underwater electricity transmission is different than onshore transmission, notably because it uses direct-current in place of alternating current (what we use when we plug our phone chargers into the wall). Alternating current doesn’t do well in long enclosed cables so the project necessarily has to use direct-current, which makes things slightly more difficult. Direct-current runs point-to-point—or one way only—meaning that the 350-mile cable system is really a series of links between substations build on platforms that sit in the ocean. These substations will need to be hurricane proof and will need to be large enough to moor a boat for technicians arriving to make repairs.

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By Moustafa Hassab-Allah, Environment Issue Analysts on Fossil Fuels/Oil Dependency

The use of renewable energy is not an option for next generations; it is rather a commitment. One prominent energy source is wind, historically wind mills have been used in several aspects in early agriculture in rural areas. Now, it is turning to be a tool for power generation.

Wind turbines are used to serve small and medium electric loads for many deserted and isolated areas in northern Europe and Middle East Sahara like the wind Park located next to the city of Tetouan, Morocco, and Egypt is currently generating 400 MW of power from wind in its eastern desert. Wind turbines provide the advantage of smallest land footprint among other alternative resources; that is why it is vastly used in Texas, Indiana, and California, the 3 largest states in USA using wind power. Some concerns about the effect of the wind turbines on vegetation if installed on shore especially in agricultural areas aroused lately. Calls for offshore wind energy started to spread.

A major trend in the EU is bringing wind turbines offshore, Wind Energy abundance in European seas was confirmed by the European Environment Agency’s studies; that stated that offshore wind power has an economically competitive potential, and can provide between six and seven times greater than projected electricity demand for the EU till 2030.

The attraction of the offshore wind goes beyond this for consumers, they provide a ‘’ not in my backyard’’ advantage rather than other inland energy projects, they do not provide any foot print known of for people. Norway and Denmark are taking the lead to install wind turbines in the North Sea, up to 10 MW capacities per turbine were designed in Norway. In Denmark, 209 MW Horns Rev 2 offshore wind farm was inaugurated in September 2009; increasing the countries capacity through offshore wind energy. Also, in Sept 2010, a Swedish power company started operation of the 300 MW world’s biggest offshore wind park currently in operation in Britain.

Offshore Wind energy still faces challenge in R&D funding, design challenges and market competitiveness, but the good news is that offshore wind turbine market seen nearly doubling in 2010 and expected to account for 8 % of market in 2015 according to MAKE Consulting in Denmark.

6 a.m.  Akins, Damian, Dhiradj and I left the guest house, making our way through the morning traffic to get to the Channel 6 TV station.

Though only in their mid-20s, Damian is a Barbadian senator, and Dhiradj, a member of the Surinamese Youth Parliament.  They were being about the their participation in the formation of the Assembly of Caribbean Youth as well as their expectations for the first ever OAS Youth Forum that began today in Port of Spain.  While they both are already active members of their respective countries’ governments, Damian clearly stated that, in general, government bodies have yet to move beyond tokenism when it comes to the incorporation of young people.

His words couldn’t have run clearer.  Just three hours later, during a review of the draft Youth Statement to the Head’s of State and Government, a frustrated young Trinidadian man stood, calmly took the mic and asked the session’s facilitators what we were all thinking–are you taking us seriously?

We were being asked for input on a document that we had never seen before, but now found projected before us on the screen, awaiting our edits before being presented to the heads of state and government later this week.  While regional consultations took place in Mexico, Paraguay, and Panama over several months last year, involving 1,088 young people from Latin America and the Caribbean to come up with a set of top policy recommendations in the areas of human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability, a completely different set of youth was now being asked to confirm or deny the document… in 30 minutes.

The thought was laughable, but the fact was, we were staring that situation in the face, and it wasn’t funny, it was straight up insulting.  Why hadn’t they provided us with the document ahead of time?  After commending OAS officials for recognizing the untapped value of youth and for giving us the unprecedented opportunity to participate in the Summit of the Americas process, the whole thing seemed like more of a staged photo opp than a genuine taking into account of youth perspectives.

And staged it was.  While the recommendations themselves are good–education that reflects the current global marketplace, improved skills-based programs for youth in under-served areas, increased mobilization of financial support for youth entrepreneurship, government incentives to encourage alternative energy development, an integrated environmental sustainability curriculum in schools, legislation on mandatory recycling and waste management programs, and the creation of certification programs to more easily identify environmentally sustainable products–the wording and rationale had been extremely watered down.

Turns out, members of the delegation committee had already sumbmitted several drafts to OAS representatives.  Each time being told that the language they had chosen was too strong or too demanding.  After so many tweaks and fluffs, you can’t help but start to doubt the statement’s authenticity.

And at the end of the day, many young people I spoke to felt as if they’d spent more time being talked at than actually asked for their opinions.

What I learned from today is how incredibly important it is for us as politically-minded young people not to settle for this level of engagement, but to push back consistently and articulately about the level of dialogue and change we expect to see implemented by the systems that represent us.

Speaking of which, the People’s Summit starts tomorrow! and it’s time for me to get some sleep.

Feeling the cool breeze down my neck, I pulled the hood from my sweater over my head.  I forgot how cold a winter night could be in Florida.  My watch confirmed the midnight hour; it would be another nine until I achieved my objective.  At the height of morning commute, I received two tickets enclosed by a golden sheet of paper.  Feeling as if I was selected to see Mr. Wonka, I rushed home to share my news; I was going to see the President of the United States. 

President Obama planed a town hall meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida – a county with the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.  In an intimate setting, the President connected with his countrymen. Speaking on the stimulus package, he answered our questions concerning; unemployment, foreclosures, the credit crunch, and much more.  When asked questions on the environment, Obama had much to say.   “We need to lessen our dependence of foreign oil,” said Obama. “ To do that, we are going to double our alternative energy.”  In the stimulus package it calls for the $2.5 billion in funding for the development of alternative energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal. It also provides for more than $17 billion in tax credits for renewable energy production and weatherizing homes. Obama envisions states like Florida, developing enough alternative energy to not only power the state, but also export the excess energy to surrounding states. Using the newly built smart grid system, which is included in the stimulus, Obama said the energy would be sold and then transported through an electric grid that connects the nation. Not only will it lessen our dependence on oil, but it will also create thousands of jobs from manual laborers to skilled technicians for the development of such an infrastructure. Beyond the means to power ourselves, he also discussed how we should transport ourselves. Read the rest of this entry »

I really like this recent article by Carl Pope (he’s the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, a leading environmental organization) about how environmental change in the United States is happening from the ground up.  Here’s the money quote:

“But while Washington clearly doesn’t get global warming, the entire landscape of the politics of energy is changing dramatically, as things often do in the United States, from the ground up. Cities and states are, in effect, creating their own energy policies, and in some cases their own foreign policies, to deal with a paired set of recognitions:

  • that global warming is real, serious and imminent
  • that US energy policy, overall, is destructive to the nation’s industrial base, economic competitiveness, global security, and environmental health. Worse, US energy policy is so outmoded that it cannot possibly survive the 21st century; if we don’t change it soon, we will be playing catch-up with the rest of the world for the next fifty years.”

Knowing the success that AID’s members have had in building local environmental coalitions arround a set of goals called the Urban Environmental Accords, this rings true to me.  Pope rightly observes that change is coming about because more and more Americans are seeing the disturbing ramifications of our energy policy in their local communities, be it in terms of fuel prices, our foreign policy in the Middle East, trade deficits or the environment itself.  Although the environment is emerging as an important issue in the national November 7th elections, a lot of the real change is happening city by city, state by state.  How’s that for a global-to-local connection?!

A dispatch from Erin McNamara, an AID student leader at SUNY Binghamton:

“We didn’t just land on the moon in …, we set a goal to do it within 9 years, and we did it in eight. It may have cost millions, but we did it. It may not have been popular at the time, but we did it” and the same goes for combating global warming, said Mr. Charles Rosenthberger of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. And he’s right; global warming is not going to stop itself.

On June 17, students from across the country as well as some local New Haven residents spent their Saturday afternoon learning from expert panelists and hosting small group discussions of their own to figure out what they can do to help stop global warming. The conference was held by a New Haven based nonprofit organization called Americans for Informed Democracy (AID). AID is a nonpartisan organization that aims to increase education and awareness on pressing global issues. “Oil dependence and Climate Change” is one of their focus issues for this summer and upcoming fall.

The consensus of Saturday’s expert panel on clean energy and oil dependence was that action needs to be taken at a grass roots level and then work its way up to the top. Each panelist discussed what they are working on at the local community and state level. For instance, Bob Wall, New England Regional Director of “Smart Power” said that Connecticut is the second state to pass a strategy for clean energy. The impetus for this movement began four years ago when concerned citizens and policy makers met to discuss the impacts of urban living on the environment and on public health. They discovered that New Haven was one of the worst areas to live in the country in terms of environmental cleanliness, and because of this, asthma rates were increasing and so was the amount of mercury in acid rain, which can have harmful affects on women and can cause developmental issues in children. So, the group set a target of increasing clean energy use in CT to 20% by 2010 to help combat these health and environmental problems. Other Connecticut campaigns include the “Cool It Competition” for local middle and high school students to monitor the amount of green house gases they produce in a year, and to come up with a solution to reduce their emissions.

The panel also discussed the negative effects of US oil dependence. Professor Bradford Gentry of the Yale School of Forestry said that the US imports over 60% of its oil, half of which comes from unstable countries. The top three sources of US oil are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. In essence, because of US oil dependence, we are at the mercy of these countries, which we all can observe first hand with gas prices over $3/ gallon. However, there is a lot that can be done to combat this oil dependence. If the US were to invest in clean energy solutions such as windpower, solar energy, and bio-ethanol we would be helping the environment and breaking free of our dependence of these unstable countries. Professor Gentry noted that “there is no silver bullet solution to these problems at any one level- local, national or global”, but rather a solution in hard work, time and commitment by community members and policy makers at every level.

Individuals can start the energy revolution in their own homes by turning off the lights when leaving the room, walking or biking instead of driving, and of course, recycling. Individuals can also use their purchasing power to increase clean energy by choosing eco-friendly cars (such as hybrids), buying recycled products and shopping at stores and buying brands that are committed to green energy. Lastly, citizens can use their political power to help reach the 20% by 2010 goal in Connecticut by voting, writing letters and opinion pieces, and calling to tell their representatives that clean energy is something that they support. Oil is no longer the way to go- it increases our dependence on other countries; it is becoming more and more expensive for the average consumer; and it is causing global warming levels to rise higher than they’ve ever been before in the history of the world. This is not a world that we want to leave for our children and grandchildren, especially when we know there is a better solution!

For more information on how you can get involved in the clean energy revolution, you can go to http://www.AIDemocracy.org or call (203) 773-1202.

Two recent public opinion polls are showing that people around the world are reaching a tipping point when it comes to climate change.

The first public opinion study was conducted by a non-profit research organization called Public Agenda. They surveyed a representative sample of Americans and found that since 2005, we have come to think of energy as a security issue. Not only that, most of us want our government to address oil dependence but feel that it isn’t doing enough. Daniel Yankelovich, the Chair of Public Agenda, summarized the findings in the current issue of Foreign Affairs:

“Nearly nine out of ten Americans asked were worried about [oil dependence] — putting oil dependence at the top of our 18-issue “worry scale.” Virtually all Americans surveyed (90 percent) said they see the United States’ lack of energy independence as jeopardizing the country’s security, 88 percent said they believe that problems abroad could endanger the United States’ supply of oil and so raise prices for U.S. consumers, and 85 percent said they believe that the U.S. government would be capable of doing something about the problem if it tried. This last belief may be the reason that only 20 percent of those surveyed gave the government an A or a B on this issue; three-quarters assigned the government’s performance a C, a D, or an F.”

Meanwhile, a second public opinion survey, conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, has found a worldwide consensus that climate change is a serious problem. The poll surveyed 30 countries from all the major regions in the world (e.g. the U.S., Chile, Brazil, Russia, France, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China). The key findings:

“Across all countries, on average 90 percent say that “climate change or global warming, due to the greenhouse effect” is a serious problem. Only three countries have less than eight in ten endorsing this view (the US 76%, South Africa 72%, and Kenya 65%)…. Perhaps most significant, in 23 countries a majority says that global warming is a “very serious” problem. On average, 65 percent say that it is a very serious problem.”

As the experts from both polls are saying, it looks like we’re reaching an environment tipping point — not just in the United States but across the world. On Earth Day, individuals across the country paid heed to handy lists of changes we can each make (cheap, smart changes!) to our daily lives to promote a greener world. I found Vanity Fair’s 50 Ways to Help Save the Planet particularly useful.

While writing this post, I like to imagine many of the hundreds of other people that live in my apartment making small changes as they start their days — turning off the water while brushing their teeth, turning on their new fluorescent lightbulbs — and the collective impact that we’re making on the planet. We can only hope that American political leaders from both parties will also start their days with the environment on their minds. They must step up and seize the incredible opportunity of an emerging global consensus on the changing environment both for our future well-being and our security.

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