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Changemakers

Being both an advocate of renewable energy and sustainable development and an electronics engineer by profession, I often find myself in debates with people who remain skeptical about the alternative technologies of photovoltaics and electric cars. There are so many aspects to this skepticism and they range from economic to political reasons.

I guess I have been talking about solar panels long enough to know how much harder it was to promote the technology eight years ago when it was a lot more expensive.  But still, even now that prices have decreased, setting up a photovoltaic system still requires a large capital investment.  The answer lie in the hands of financing institutions.  Mortgage, car loans, and credit cards that are sometimes used for mere needless shopping can be made available to many.  It’s about time that we use these kinds of financing systems in off-grid energy generation.

Comparing it to fossil fuels, doesn’t putting up coal fired power plants require a large investment capital too? Why are we not using this money to put up solar farms instead?

In my experience with RE-Charge, I have been given the chance to immerse myself to far corners of the country where energy access is very limited.  Sulu-an island for instance has never been connected to the grid.  They instead use a barangay LGU-funded diesel generator that runs for up to three hours every night and is not even operated during nights when moon light seems enough.  The same is true with Polopina Island where households pay 15 pesos per day for two light bulbs connected to a privately-owned diesel generator, and on top of which they add a certain amount for television and other appliances. It is definitely easier to promote solar technology to communities who have never been connected to the grid compared to those who have already enjoyed the comfort of fossil fuel-powered grids.

Components used to create renewable energy set-up still need power from fossil fuels to materialize.  That is true only because we are currently dependent on fossil fuels to create every piece of comfort we enjoy nowadays.  But this is no longer a struggle of good and bad, it is a choice of whether which one is the lesser evil.  Even geothermal or solar is not good enough if putting it up means clearing out our forests.

Sustainable development is no longer a technological question but an economic one.  Our scientific researches are so advanced and so quickly evolving that there will always be fixes to current technological limitations.  However, prioritizing where to put our financial resource is one critical step.

I enjoyed one essay from Tim Burke entitle The Road Not Taken.  I’d like to share a few lines:

What the tale of the twists and turns reflecting on the collapse of the oil price reveals is that a transformation of our route to the future is inevitable. We can try to maintain the carbon intense ‘business as usual’ path on offer from the fossil fuel companies and the global temperature will rise to levels which will destroy the very economic growth they fuel. Or, we can try to build the carbon neutral road whose course is already visible. On one route risks to both the economy and the climate grow rapidly. The other risks neither.

The real difference is that on the first path we let events shape the route and on the second we must shape it ourselves with a lot of hard political decisions. The promise of the first option is a very disorderly transformation to an uncertain future. The second offers a more orderly transformation to a more predictable future. The first choice is within the current bounds of the politically possible. The second requires that we expand those bounds.

There is a well-known poem by Robert Frost which ends:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by And that has made all the difference”

We should follow his advice.

Burke tells us in his essay that the change we need to create a positive impact for the climate requires a lot of transformation that involves social, economic and political will.  If you have witnessed the strong lashes of extreme weather in the form of Yolanda or Ruby, or at least have lived with the survivors long enough for you to hear about stories of thousands of bloated bodies on the streets, and months of struggle for those who have survived but with little water, food, and shelter, there’s no way you cannot be convinced that we need change.

Deciding to become a change maker also means being able to stand firm with your principles despite a resistance from the crowd. People will always use arguments from college textbooks and throw them at you like everything you’ve worked hard for seem useless.

Then comes to mind one of my favorite essays from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance which I first read in high school.  One paragraph that shouts out loud to all change makers says:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

 

Read the full essays here:

The Road Not Taken by Tim Burke

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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