Simferopol, Ukraine (April 23, 2001) – I’m in a sunny cafeteria, where a few young women are chattering in a Slavic tongue over cheery English pop music echoing from the kitchen. I’ve survived a grueling two-day journey from Seattle to Kiev, capital of Ukraine, and finally to Simferopol in the Crimea, an isthmus that spears south from Ukraine’s mainland into the Black Sea.
I am part of a four-person Washington State delegation brought in by the Crimean Association for Ekologiya i Mir (Ecology and Peace) and the Berkeley-based Center for Safe Energy for a conference aimed at making the Crimea a regional leader in clean energy.
Fran Macy and Enid Schreibman, the co-directors of Earth Island’s Center for Safe Energy (CSE), first proposed a collaboration between our respective Earth Island projects. CSE felt that Climate Solutions’ approach of organizing around a positive vision of economic and environmental opportunity through clean energy leadership could serve Ukrainian activists in their fight against the expansion of the nuclear and fossil fuel industries.
Fran’s first visit to this part of the world was in 1961, as a coordinator of the first US-USSR cultural exchange – a six-month touring transportation exhibit that provided thousands of Russians with their first chance to speak with Americans in Russian.
In 1989, profoundly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Fran began to organize US-USSR environmental exchanges with the nonprofit Center for Citizen Initiatives. In 1995, Fran and Enid founded the CSE to support environmental activists in Russia, Ukraine and other newly independent states.
Doubts crossed my mind en route: How do I justify flying halfway around the world for clean energy when our new quasi-elected President seems bent on handing over energy and environmental policymaking authority to his friends in the oil industry?
Ukraine is an important part of the global warming puzzle. Ukraine emits over a million tons of carbon a year. Ukraine is one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world. Measured by energy consumption per dollar of GDP, Ukraine’s appetite for energy is 11 times that of the US and 26 times that of Japan.
Yalta, Ukraine – Our Crimean colleagues – Victor, Lenora, Edik, and Andre – are friendly, dedicated, intelligent, energetic and genuinely delighted to have us here as an “international” conference brings extra prestige and credibility to their clean energy campaign.
Ekologiya i Mir was founded in 1988 to mobilize opposition to the construction of a nuclear power station near a popular Black Sea vacation spot. The abandoned reactor is now the site for an annual rock festival. Wind and solar power stations have been erected nearby. Today, Ekologiya i Mir boasts chapters in 14 cities and some 200 activist members who work on issues ranging from chemical pollution and biodiversity protection to water quality and clean energy.
The Crimean landscape is spectacular. The land rises from the breakers of the Black Sea up 5,000-foot mountains of ancient rock. The air is clean and the forests are full of unfamiliar birdsong.
Inspiring, too, are the dedicated and tireless activists working for Ekologiya i Mir. Crimea has abundant wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, but the energy sector in the Crimea is deeply in debt: It is unable to collect payment for much of the electricity it supplies because incomes are so low. Ninety percent of electricity is imported. The banks will not make loans for new power projects except at interest rates over 35 percent.
Yet here at the “Clean Energy for Crimea” conference in Yalta, activists have assembled top government officials, scientists, engineers and business leaders to discuss how to forge ahead with strategic reforms, solar power, wind and energy efficiency projects.
To promote renewable energy, Climate Solutions engages economic development, technology, investment and energy organizations while reaching out to landowners, utilities and other rural leaders. Ekologiya i Mir, with the help of the Center for Safe Energy, is doing the same in Yalta.
There’s an optimistic afterglow in the air as we celebrate the end of the conference with singing, dancing and countless toasts – and it’s not only from the expansive kindness of our new friends and their fine Crimean champagne, cognac and wine.
One day after the 15th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, this conference of hope adopted a detailed action plan to implement clean and safe energy in Crimea. The outcome was outstanding, thanks to the masterful facilitation of Conference Chair Victor Taravenko, the irrepressible organizing efforts of Eduard Shishonkov and his colleagues at Ekologiya i Mir.
Less than 10 years after Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union, the process of this conference was as important as the product. No matter that time was running short on the final day and participants were growing restless. As the chair reminded us, “We cannot approve recommendations without discussion: it would be too totalitarian.”
Everyone had a chance to speak and everyone had a hand in the final product. There were passionate disputes and there was conflict, but in the end, a spirit of collaboration prevailed. It was democracy like I’ve rarely seen it.
We were delighted to learn that the Center for Safe Energy had secured funding to send a Crimean delegation to Washington State to further the exchange ideas.
Of course, it is the Crimeans who now must implement the conference’s action plan. They face very significant economic, institutional, bureaucratic and business challenges. But in my short time here, I have observed several important strengths that should, given their determination, allow them to succeed: They have engineering and technical excellence, skilled workers and strong entrepreneurial spirit. They are developing direct experience with windpower, solar, geothermal and energy conservation and even the manufacturing of clean energy equipment. They have elected leaders who support clean energy and they have Ekologiya i Mir to raise public awareness and bring people together around a common goal of building a clean energy future.
As an activist, you sometimes wonder if all your hard work really makes any difference. Other times you know there is nothing more important you could be doing. To the activists that made this remarkable week happen – and who feel like such dear friends already – you’ve done very, very well. Za vashe zdarovye!
Rhys Roth is a founder and co-director of Climate Solutions [610 4th Avenue, Olympia, WA 98501, (360) 352-1763]. The email address for Ekologiya i Mir is firstname.lastname@example.org
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