Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On the Impact of "Urban Planning Research: NPR Report on Environmental Action in Old Cairo by UCLA's Culhane" by UCLA Professor Randall Crane

(UCLA professor Randy Crane, who for years has been teaching his Global Environment classes about the Zabaleen Recycling community, brought his students to Egypt in 2006, and gave his approval to his advisee, Thomas Henry Culhane, to work with Hanna Fathy's Zabaleen community as part of his Ph.D.

As a result of this institutional support,
when T.H. wrote and won a US AID small infrastructure grant as the "Ph-Do" part of his Ph.D., Hanna Fathy was hired to be "green-collar job coordinator" and "solar hot water system construction trainer" in the Solar CITIES project. Hanna is shown below with T.H. at a dinner at the Marriot hotel with the National Public Radio team, Liane Hansen, Davar Ardalan and Ned Wharton.

On the impact of "Urban Planning Research: NPR Report on Environmental Action in Old Cairo by UCLA's Culhane" by UCLA Professor Randall Crane: What it has done for us in Egypt

Today we got great news from our Solar CITIES green-collar jobs coordinator and solar energy trainer, Hanna Fathy:

"hi thomas
congratulations , the agha khan foundation agreed to continue the project and i will start working tomorrow; i just called amira and she said they say ok for all the systems and they have chosen new places. we almost finished another two systems -- one in the church and one in Maarof 's home. there are many boys want to work with me! oh there are also many people sending me emails and offering to help with money -- do you think that's a fact or no? i cant believe it! did you contact sharon and cicel (of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, who visited Hanna recently)? i want to know what their opinion is!
bye Hanna"

After a month of uncertainty, wondering if the project would move forward due to the snags I reported earlier, it seems all is well in the city of the sun.

Al Hamdu Li'Allah!

God be praised!

Evidently Hanna is excited and happy, as are the young people from Roh El Shabab who are in this fledgling environmental technology training program.

As Solar CITIES' co-founder, I would like to thank all those of you who followed our story on National Public Radio and have been following our posts on this blog and on T.H. Culhane's and Andy Posner's and James Dean Conklin's and Marcel Lenormand's Youtube Channels, and I would particularly like to thank those of you who so kindly wrote letters of support for our project to bring "a million solar roofs" to the slums and informal communities of Cairo.

Whatever combination of professional media exposure, grass-roots internet information sharing and on the ground community advocacy made this latest success occur, it is testimony to the way that we, as a global community of stakeholders can all work together to support step by step hands-on efforts to tackle climate change, poverty and environmental degradation.

I most especially have to thank my Urban Planning Thesis Advisor, Dr. Randall Crane, for getting this whole thing started. He has been a pioneer in using the power of the blogosphere as a medium for academic and public exchanges about how to tackle difficult planning problems, and without him our on the ground efforts would never trickle up, out and back down, bearing such gifts. (Yes Hanna, I think the offers of financial help for the project are a fact -- people around the world are very generous, and when they find projects they like and people they feel they can trust, they like to pitch in and they like to make meaningful investments in securing a better future for all of us. As Hernando De Soto points out in "The Mystery of Capital", what poor communities like yours need most is often simply to be connected to the rest of the world and all the good people in it. The blog "Urban Planning Research" helped that happen!)

How did it happen, you ask?

To paraphrase Urban Planning Research: The version of this story I like best is the same one my Professor and Thesis Advisor Randall Crane likes best: that a National Public Radio producer saw Dr. Crane's blog posts (Egypt's Zabaleen & Competing Visions of Privatization, Cairo Itinerary, & Medieval Inner-City Redevelopment) describing the UCLA class trip to "old Cairo" in 2006 that Sybille and I hosted, and that connections were made over the past few months that eventually led to the NPR reporter Liane Hansen visiting Solar CITIES' operation in the flesh, resulting in these two reports from two recent NPR "weekend editions," as part of their "Climate Connections: Solutions" series.

In Cairo Slum, the Poor Spark Environmental Change (27 April 2008)

Slow but Sure Environmental Progress in Cairo (4 May 2008)
(Davar Ardalan, Egyptian journalist Sara Abu-Bakr, Laine Hansen, Ned Wharton, Hanna and Moussa on the old Ayyubid Wall between Al Azhar Park and Darb Al Ahmar, looking at one of the Solar Hot Water systems Hanna and Moussa have just finished building)

Producers Davar Ardalan and Ned Wharton and reporter Liane Hansen (who has a following of many millions and has been doing great investigative journalism, telling it like it is for several decades) did such a good job of getting the story of what Dr. Crane's spirited graduate student and his wife are doing, living and working in the ghettoes of Cairo, that people are now connecting with us on a regular basis and suggesting ways we can make this nascent little program grow to its proper stature.

That's the true version of the story.

(The only other version of the story I know is the one where the UFOs we saw on the Alexandria Desert road that night during the UCLA trip to Cairo (from the window of the tour bus, with all Randy's grad students, when we were returning from witnessing the solar eclipse at the famous Library of Alexandria, ) later visited Washington DC and UCLA, abducted Liane Hansen and my professor and revealed that there is a cosmic battle going on between the Reptoids (who want to terraform the earth for their invasion using global warming) and the Grays (who want to help humanity by encouraging the work of UCLA graduate students who investigate energy and water issues in Africa that could help us prevent climate change under Randy's tutelage).

(I think I read that version on Whitley Streiber's journal blog, but I may have had parts of my memory erased and reprogrammed. I think there was also something about Charlie Sheen being involved (playing Professor Crane in the movie version?) but everything is still fuzzy... )

Whatever the truth is, we are grateful for the way things worked out. Who knows - given what happened last time, Dr. Crane's latest post could spawn even more such Amazing Stories (and Science Wonder Stories and Fantastic Adventures Quarterly!), and quickly put an end to climate change and to the use of fossil fuels and to poverty in the middle east... (well... er... at least we can use our program to help reduce domestic consumption so that Egypt can finally eliminate its economy crippling energy subsidies with out adversely impacting the urban poor, and can export its gas and electricity at full market price to bring much needed hard currency into the country!)

But seriously, Solar CITIES has Dr. Crane to thank for putting the whole NPR thing in motion, and for plugging the "Ph.-do" work of his peripatetic Ph.D. advisee, Solar CITIES co-founder T.H. Culhane on his blog.

(Hanna and his brother Ayman work in the Aga Khan woodshop with Solar CITIES colleague, Darb Al Ahmar carpenter trainer Mustafa Hussein on a method Mustafa invented using heavy C clamps to fit the aluminum absorber plates to the copper pipes for their hand-made solar hot water systems. With Mustafa's innovation, what used to take 5 to 10 minutes per sheet can now be done in 1 to 2 minutes per sheet. Mustafa hopes that donors will help them purchase their own table and C clamps so they don't have to work off-hours when the AKTC woodshop is empty).

And it is not just about the satisfaction of being recognized for the mostly unsung labor of love that goes into researching a meaningful Ph.D. that involves living among the urban poor of a developing country and pitching in to help improve their environment and education. It's about putting praxis into practice -- it's about proving the theories we study in our erstwhile ivory towers so that urban planning research moves out of the classroom and into the places its conclusions and policy recommendations are so desperately needed.

For that, we have much to thank Professor Crane and the faculty of UCLA's Urban Planning program for, for being faculty who didn't just teach us about UCLA emeritus professor John Friedman's 1987 book "Planning in the Public Domain: From Knowledge to Action", but encouraged students like us to take that most difficult step -- to boldly go where most students fear to tread -- from Real Knowledge to real Action in the real World!

No comments: