Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Peru's Sustainable Future

I am in Lima, Peru to participate in an exciting seminar this week.  As is the case in most countries around the world, Peru’s energy ministries are working to take control of their energy future.  With the geopolitical issues, volatile prices, supply constraints, security threats, and imminent threat of climate disruption, we need to make fossil fuels yesterday’s energy source.  And quickly.

How to do so is of course another question – particularly when there is a need for continued economic growth and increased standards of living.  (‘developed’ countries like the US don't need to keep growing the amount of physical through-puts in our economy to improve our quality of life, in fact I think the opposite is true, but there’s still room for such growth in Peru with 20% of the country without access to electricity and 36% living in poverty). 

The folks I’ve met with so far at the Ministerio de Energia y Minas have some great ideas.  They’ve got a vision of moving from an energy mix of 47% crude, 28% renewables (mostly hydro), 21% natural gas, and 4% coal to about one-third each of crude, renewables, and natural gas.  Unlike the US, where we have a lot of low-cost (though very expensive from a systems-view) coal, Peru is looking at greater supply constraints (though they do have some proven reserves of oil and natural gas).

They’ve got some significant solar and wind projects in the works, they are mapping out other possible sources like geothermal, and are really looking for ways to manage the demand side.  They’ve done a lot of public outreach and awareness building and developed many guidelines and informational resources for facilities people in various sectors.

Early last year, a couple of representatives reached out to us at Second Nature with an interest in engaging their higher education sector in this work, recognizing that without these institutions providing tomorrow’s leaders with a comprehensive sustainability perspective, the chances for significant change were very limited.  They attended the 3rd Annual Climate Leadership Summit of the ACUPCC last August in Chicago and heard from college & university presidents, the USGBC, Janine Benyus, Peter Senge, and Bill Clinton about the importance of demand-side reduction, energy efficiency, and new ways of thinking, educating and innovating.  There was also a lot of talk about how to finally bring the ACUPCC concept international.  We had a panel of representatives from the UK, Taiwan, and Malaysia who had already been working on that in various capacities, and a general feeling that it was vitally important to do so.

The Peruvian delegation continued to work on the idea and arranged this meeting for university representatives,  government officials, and others to explore the idea further, and learn about the benefits, opportunities, and strategies for carrying it out.  I’m presenting tomorrow on the current status of the ACUPCC and then again on some of the specific resources available to support the network – like the ACUPCC Reporting System, the Clean Air – Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator, the CAP wiki, and ACUPCC guidance documents on leading change, the academic components of climate action planning, carbon offsets, and financing sustainability projects. 

I just met with Director General of Electricity and various other leaders in the Ministry of Energy and Minining, all of whom seemed to be great people, genuinely excited about the prospect of creating a sustainable energy future for Peru, and who saw the importance of higher education’s role in doing so.  This represents a huge leadership opportunity for the country that will be instrumental in building a secure, efficient, prosperous Peru. 

Although, I gotta say the coolest part about the Ministry was the Alpacas “mowing” the lawn under the trees out front – great way to save fuel & fertilizer!!

Stay going.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"The Community of the Holy Spirit is a monastic community for women of the Episcopal Church, and a witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. The Sisters loving service extends to all of Creation and [they] recognize Earth and all life as a primary revelation of the Divine."

The driveway is not very long, but it does lead to a different world. It wraps around the convent, and becomes a small parking lot and a path to the Longhouse where the guests stay. Next to the convent there is a chapel, very clean and white, in the shape of an octagon. Outside the chapel door there are tables (when I visited in the early spring) of seedlings. There is a greenhouse, not very big at all, and then the vegetable garden spread out below. Four or five fruit trees, recently planted, stand like awkward adolescents at the bottom edge of the garden. There are chickens in a chicken coup, and ducks who live by the side porch under a big black umbrella, and one chicken who thinks he's a duck and stays under the umbrella too. The two cats are simply divine and perch on a rock over the whole domain, overseeing their minions like lions on the savannah. They do not see the dog, however, who is needy and sometimes a bit desperate, though he does get his love. The Sisters found him abandoned on the side of the road, and he still, two years later, heartbreakingly perks up when any white SUV passes his way.

There is a water catchment system from the roof of the front porch. The front porch itself is hectic with pots for this and gizmos for that and the jugs and tools required for the maple syrup that the Sisters collect from trees in the woods and around the road, and distill, and sell at the farmer's market.

We had a lovely lunch the day I arrived. Root vegetables brought up form the cellar where they had been stored all winter and roasted, and corn souffle, and the most wonderful berries in homemade yogurt. "I love the burdock most," said one lunch companion. "They way it sort of grows like a monster, with its little hairy fingers coming out at you..." she squished her face to imitate it. The convent house---its country-house kitchen, scrubbed floors, floor-to-ceiling shelves of books---is peaceful, quiet, and full of grace and humor. It feels, in the best possible way, that time has suspended; that the "simple life" that so many dream of is actually right before us. There is a strong sense of balance and harmony with nature; and a direct, personal dependency on and respect for the Earth.

I think we were talking about Mary Oliver's poem about listening to the corn grow when a Pepsi truck accelerated up the driveway and passed the dining room window. No one looked up or commented. Because you see, this place where time is suspended, where a small community
relies entirely on their own garden and animals for sustenance, where there is still time for contemplation and prayer (integral to every day) despite the hours of work everyone contributes to survive---all of this peace and harmony and frontier-like spirit is only one stop away on the Metro North from where John Cheever wrote of the agonies and joys of New York elite suburban living.

Across the driveway from the convent house is a school, apparently with a Pepsi machine, and every morning and afternoon, SUVs rush up and down the driveway. BMWs race along the country road by the house (I went out for walk and had to turn around). And nearby, the average listing price for a home is 3.5 million dollars.

It is the bold and daring and strong who go directly to the center of things and there, tend to their gardens and respect their own contemplation, Harmony and sustainability, right in the midst of these modern times we live in.