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!"

Friday, December 31, 2010

Bring the Blackstone Ranch/National Geographic Explorers Innovation Challenge to Your Community this Happy New Year!

Beginning in the Summer of 2009, the Blackstone Ranch Institute extended a Challenge to the community of National Geographic Emerging Explorers to go beyond our disciplines and parochial interests and find ways to pool our expertise and focus it toward solving the most pressing issues facing humanity and our non-human relatives on what Inventor/Engineer Buckminster Fuller and Nobel Laureate Economist Kenneth Boulding called "Spaceship Earth".

As we enter a new year and a new decade - the start of the two-thousand-teens -- I feel we should extend this challenge to every community across the international geography of our planet.

Here is a guiding document that cogently expresses the philosophy behind those behind the Challenge from the Blackstone Institute:

"The Blackstone institute was designed to be results oriented. It has successfully used the early stage cross-sector dialogs that must take place before meaningful social innovation as a way to leverage its financial and logistical support to leading organizations to create major social profit.

• To address the planetary challenges of our time
• To influence pioneers of environmental change
• To accelerate the adoption of best environmental practices

"Blackstone Ranch Institute (BRI) provides carefully targeted amounts of seed money to strategic dialogs that are necessary to catalyze important social innovation across a range of environmental fronts.

"We sponsor efforts that already have future funding identified, or have a coherent and plausible plan for sustaining the effort as it develops."

Following the lead of the Blackstone Ranch Innovation Challenge to all of us in the National Geographic Circle of Family and Friends I've been meditating over the possibility of how we might ever more effectively extend the same challenge for synergies to National Geographic's world-wide base of readers, viewers, listeners, fans and supporters. And since you are taking the time to read this, this probably includes you and members of your personal network and community.

On a prosaic level, we have all seen that the National Geographic brand inspires all sorts of followers ; certainly the National Geographic Marketing idea is all about sharing the enthusiasm people have for emulating the work of Nat Geo's Explorers and Scientists and Researchers and Grantees with consumers; with every purchase of an NG brand wetsuit, a camera bag, a safari hat, a photographers jacket, a pair of binoculars or even a suitcase (and if I am successful in my efforts one day an Insinkerator too! ... er... and a macerating toilet pump, solar panels, wind and stream generators and other "must-have" world saving home appliances ...), a person with enthusiasm for the National Geographic experience can participate in the adventure (My urban planning professor at UCLA, Dr. Susanna B. Hecht used to call this "commodifying your dissent"... or assent -- using your consumer behavior to drive market behavior toward desirable goals). But of course the emulation should go far far far beyond marketing and consumer choice.

We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves, we want to be part of "The Great Conversation", and many of us want to "boldly go where no one has gone before"; very often people not only live vicariously through the National Geographic Team of Explorers but actually let the joy and direction that comes from being inspired by National Geographic guide them in their career choices. (I should know, I'm one of those life-long Nat Geo aficionados who carved his life-style path by following the tracks laid down by generations of Nat Geo pioneers. What a joy it was to be suddenly inducted into the fold in 2009 as an Emerging Explorer!).

Insofar as the National Geographic brand has the potential to so dramatically affect not just consumer choice but prosumer behavior, it seems that we can now offer another model for life-energy investment: meeting the Blackstone Challenge.

To wit: where the Blackstone Ranch and National Geographic teamed up to challenge us to work across disciplines and continents, backgrounds and careers to find new synergies, it seems to me that now we in this multinational Great Society of the 21st century who have been inspired over the last 122 years (and continue to be inspired ) in what we do by the National Geographic Society Mission can team up to inspire the rest of our human family to find unity of purpose in and through our differences.

National Geographic School Publishing has already taken great strides in that direction by creating a series of science and geography videos, school books and curriculum materials featuring different Nat Geo scientists and explorers. Packaged together, as they are, students get a marvelous sense of how each of the NG team members contributes to the bigger picture through our individual focus. The intent of the NGSP series is to use diverse explorers and scientists as role models to inspire young people to think of how they can not only prepare for careers in problem solving arts and sciences, but how they can "think outside the box" in a cooperative interdisciplinary fashion. From the feedback I've already gotten from teachers and students it seems to be working!

Similarly, Google is now launching a science fair series and calling on different experts from within the National Geographic family to be the judges. We come together at the science fairs and interact with the kids and their teachers and families and provide live feedback and advice as to how the young generation can prepare meaningful solutions to the Earth's challenges.

Taking this concept yet another step further, I have proposed that various and constantly changing constellations of Nat Geo explorers, under the banner of "The Blackstone Ranch Innovation Challenge", begin visiting science fairs, NSTA colloquiua , festivals, schools, college campuses, museums, theatres, conference halls, meeting rooms, symposia, theme parks, talk shows, television programs etc. and show audiences how fun and stimulating it is to creatively work together in a multi-disciplinary way to solve problems.

This mobile E-team of interdisciplinary solution providers and creators of collective intelligence would engage the public in think-tank reflections on how to meet new challenges in creative ways. We would lead workshops in problem solving, and, by leading by example, show others that it is not so hard to turn differences into collective strengths.

Members of the public would be encouraged to present to "National Geographic's Blackstone Innovation Team" examples of their own cross-pollinated inter-disciplinary achievements, and recognition and prizes would be awarded to them.

This could also dovetail into the National Geographic Young Explorers Awards with a subset of Young Explorers Blackstone Innovation Challenge Awards. Teachers could also get involved and the National Science Teachers Association could be engaged to lend support to teachers from different disciplines working together to make a multi-disciplinary curriculum at their school that brings science to life and makes science instruction relevant to the global and human challenges we face.

In effect, the Blackstone Ranch Challenge would become the banner for all inter-disciplinary synergies oriented toward solving environmental/geographically interlinked problems.

Ultimately this would spiral beyond the formal National Geographic circles, through social circles and social networking, until each community might ask itself on a regular basis, 'are we responding to the challenge? Are we making of "E Pluribus Unum" ('from the many one', inscribed on the American dollar bill) the motto it needs to be -- "from our diversity, unity"? And are we using that fruits of that diversity in a coordinated and effective way to solve the pressing environmental and social problems of our times?

Assembling the "E-team" for a Peacetime Blackstone Challenge "Manhattan Project"

E.O. Wilson, who was one of my professors at Harvard, exhorted us to live "in praise of diversity".
The author of "Biophilia" and "Biodiversity" and "Sociobiology", he saw our worlds, both non-human and anthropogenic, as vast interconnected ecosystems whose sustainability depended on the complexity and robusticity that diversity provided.

We can credit many of the most stable and enduring evolutionary advances in Nature to "hybrid vigor", to co-evolution and to symbiosis. The Blackstone Challenge asks us to apply these principles consciously to our work life and our problem-solving activities.

The idea of assembling the best and the brightest human beings in different areas, of coalescing the top experts in various fields and asking them to use their collective intelligence to solve enormously complex challenges has produced huge benefits for society. The gains usually go to those who see the inter-relatedness of our biggest problems, and the real need for out-of-the-box thinking.

In real life both the space program and the Manhattan Project proved the value of assembling A-Teams of top notch but very different types of thinkers and practitioners.

In the film world, besides violent fictions like the A-Team itself, we see such a strategy played out in movies like "Armageddon" and "The Magnificent Seven", "Sneakers" and even "Who ya gonna call? ... Ghost Busters!"
And now that we are at a point in history when our most pressing environmental and social problems demand urgent and applied holistic thinking, who ya gonna call to make things right?

The E-Team.

The E-Team: Any group of diverse Explorers (a label that all of us human beings who use our curiosity are heir to) who individually dedicate themselves to opening new vistas and pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and who then consciously come together to create synergies whose cooperative whole is greater than the sum of their individual parts.

But how do we create more opportunities for the various members of various E-Team's who assemble for real-world problem solving to continue to get to know one another's strengths and fill each others lacunae?

One approach might be to offer the formalized National Geographic Explorers as a "solutions provider team" to various groups, industries, businesses, institutions and initiatives as trainers of trainers.

A descriptive data-base of the willing participants could be created on-line where various types of expertise and interests would be displayed, and it could function in one sense like a synergy match-making site (not unlike a dating site in some of its logic, except it would encourage combinations larger and more complex than simple dyads, and well beyond triads and tetrads and the orientation would not .be toward compatibility between the individuals in the team so much as compatibility with the desired goal.).

Let us take an example from the movies again --in the movie "Species", it was discovered that an alien intelligence had sent a message to the earth and the NSA had to rapidly put together a team of experts consisting of everything from scientists to telepaths to approach the challenge. We have to assume that everybody selected came from some roster that the group in charge of the project had of "specialists whose particular talents would go well together in the pursuit of connecting with alien intelligences."
What the film's model left out (to its detriment and that of almost all previous real-life "expert panels") was any invitation to the "general public" to play a participatory role in solving this huge planetary wide issue. As Timothy Mitchell takes great pains to show in his non-fiction book "Rule of Experts: Egypt, Technopolitics, Modernity", the division of societies into so-called expertise "haves" and "have-nots" can cripple meaningful development efforts. This same sentiment echoes throughout Yale Professor James Scott's 1998 classic, "Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed". We need "citizen science" and "collective intelligence" and "crowd-sourcing" and "open-sourcing" and "cloud computing" if we are to tackle the problems threatening our way of life and our natural world and the Blackstone Challenge asks us to look beyond our expertise, our professions and focused interests and our affiliations.

The question for us in the face of geographically broad challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation and their social impacts, is "where is the roster of people able and willing not only to do their part, but to effectively work together with people in quite different disciplines?"

The Blackstone Ranch suggested initially that such people could be found within the roster of the National Geographic Society. And we know that the National Geographic Society has a membership that goes far far beyond any individual profession our country and that it grows every year and includes not just its formally recognized "experts" but everyone on the planet who shares the same goal of making our planet a better place.

My suggestion is that a roster of such people -- self-assembled E-teams who have decided to take on the challenge -- be made available to agencies and institutions as "Blackstone Innovation Teams" -- a pool of synergism-oriented talents who can be brought together in various constellations to create problem-specific think tanks and action agents.

In this way funds now apportioned by groups seeking to solve certain problems around the world could be used to bring together the appropriate E-teams to get the job done in a cost-effective and efficient way that would also generate a body of public outreach materials and publicity that could have significant multiplier effects. This might help ensure the longevity of the Blackstone Challenge Concept and take it beyond the initial years of inception seed funding.

"If we could first know where we've been and whither we are tending, we would better know what to do and how to go about it" -- Abraham Lincoln

As those of you who know me know, I was blessed to be one of the recipients of the first Blackstone Ranch Innovation Challenge Grant, along with aquatic ecologist Dr. Katey Walter Anthony. When we formally responded to the challenge we had already had many engaging conversations with many of you about the larger challenge -- how can we all come together to create the sparks and synergies and on the ground praxis that can link our diverse missions, work and interests meaningfully and impactfully and in ways where what emerges could make a real difference.

We already had the great fortune of having National Geographic Magazine and the National Geographic Media Outlets demonstrating to us how our individual and collective stories could be put together, packaged, juxtaposed and interpreted in a various coherent wholes. But as the living parts of those wholes could we find ways to increase our networking potential so that the emergent properties would truly be greater than the sum of the parts?

With that in mind, Katey and I described to Blackstone's John Richardson during the first symposium a vision that we had co-created and shared with several others in the days previous when we had all learned about the Blackstone Challenge: we would try to find ways to use the seed grant money and the inspiration to reach out to and somehow include as many other members of our new Geographically extended Family as possible, and hope that each successive year the collaborative spirit and effort would grow dendritically, rhizomally, like a complex ecosystem, until it became self-sustaining.

In the first year, from January 2010 to January 2011, while continuing our do-it-yourself renewable energy system training and construction in Cairo with the Darb Al Ahmar Muslim and Zabaleen Christian communities with our Egyptian Solar CITIES team, Mustafa Hussein, Hussein Farag and Hanna Fathy, we created a partnership with Cordova, Alaska high school science instructor Adam Low and his students and built a cold-weather biogas laboratory at the school and we started on-going collaborations with Emerging Explorer ethnobotanist Grace Gobbo at the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania, with Great Plains Conservation and Explorer Film-makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert and Emerging Explorer educator/activist Kakenya Ntaiya and Masai colleagues in Kenya, with the Jouberts and their Botswanian colleagues in the Okavango Delta, with Emerging Explorer Underwater Archeologist Beverly Goodman and our mutual friends Sharon Benheim and Yair Teller and Ilana Meallam at the Arava Institute of the Environment in Israel and Palestinian Arava alumnus Dana Rassas at the Jerusalem US Embassy, Imad Atrash at the Palestinian Wildlife Society and Dr. Mohammed Salem of Brothers Engineering Group and Amer Rabayah, president of Engineers without Borders Palestine in the West Bank. We also used the seed grant to bring Hanna Fathy from the Zabaleen trash recyclers community in Cairo to Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to share his waste-to-energy and recycling expertise. And finally we travelled with Chido Iwunna, a Nigerian-German colleague, and Dr. Charisma Acey, an African-American Urban Planning Professor at Ohio-State University (and colleague of mine from my own Ph.D. program at UCLA), to start a "Green Economy Center" with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at his Presidential Library in Abeokuta, to act as a pan-African hub for synergy in meeting the environmental challenges that subtend human security. Much of our work is aimed at building capacity in communities for self made waste-management, water pumping and renewable energy systems (particularly household wastes to methane and solar) to help combat deforestation for heating and cooking fuels and the attendant biodiversity/habitat loss.

This spring, after return trips to Israel, Palestine, and East Africa, we begin work with National Geographic Grantee Mountain Geographer Alton Byers and Emerging Explorer Mobile Technology Innovator Ken Banks in the Himalayas in Nepal, to put our heads together with local people and exotic alpine adventures to implement ways to protect the endangered alpine ecosystems. Certainly this is a very diverse bunch of people. What we share in common is a desire to articulate our contributions to make the world a better place.

My wife Sybille and I hope to personally collaborate with as many people whom we have met walking on this mutual road to sustainability as we can, and we have many other synergetic partnerships in the works, some from our meetings at the National Geographic Symposia, the Aspen Environmental Forum, the Ford Foundation, the Melody-Dialouge Among Civilizations and UNESCO and Green Phoenix Rising conferences, and some from serendipitous encounters in libraries, on trains and buses and airplanes (a great advantage of being dedicated to public transportation) and even on facebook. Because the Blackstone Challenge was forefront in our minds when we had these recent sustainability watering-hole encounters, we immediately discovered the otherwise un-obvious possibilities for partnership.

We hope that a ripple effect will occur once we all embrace the challenge where everybody we subsequently touch feels empowered to (using a microbiological metaphor) project pseudo-pods out of their own cell walls and actively conjugate ideas and create real-world impacting symbiotic relationships with others.

I have visions that the Internationally Geographically Extended Human Family, through this Blackstone challenge, will ultimately come to operate like a "neural network", so robust in its redundant, overlapping connections and so responsive and adaptive to the myriad artificial and natural selection pressures our changing world places on it, that it will take on the co-evolutionary characteristics of rain-forests, coral reefs, savannahs, soil-systems and other complex ecologies including the human brain itself.

I described to Blackstone Institute Executive Director John Richardson and National Geographic Manager of the Emerging Explorer Program Cheryl Zook the other night, watching the snow fall outside my window in Germany, how we could see the Blackstone Challenge as a seed crystal around which the devilish details of doing begin to coalesce, creating unimaginably diverse snowflakes that all add ultimately to the massive snowbank of information that humanity needs to solve its biggest problems.

Before a major challenge is offered to our species, our energies, while often marvelously focused on important enterprises, are often too diffuse with respect to one another to enable enduring linkages. But when, for example, the challenge to get to the moon "in this decade... and do the other things..." was offered by Kennedy in 1962 (the year I was born), we indeed were able to pool our talents toward "one giant leap for humankind".

The thing is, while we got to the moon multiple times, we didn't quite "do the other things."

I see the Blackstone Ranch/National Geographic Innovation Challenge as precisely the challenge to "do the other things" that Kennedy alluded to, so that our small steps individually within the mission of the NG Society (and society at large) can march together toward more giant leaps.

But how will it work?

As flesh and blood humans in the physical world we all know we need the means to continue our past work let alone embrace new and synergistic challenges. And we know that a yearly dose of 50,000 dollars in grant funding, as welcome and generous as it is, cannot sustain a massive effort to do right by the human race and our non-human co-voyagers on Spaceship Earth.

But I am clear that the Blackstone sponsorship was not intended to "throw money at the problem" so to speak. It was to truly challenge us to think outside the box and create a catalytic spark to ignite the reservoirs of fuel that lie within us (er... perhaps internal combustion is a wholly wrong metaphor for this! Let us say rather, "create a new catalyst mediated reaction pathway for the evolution of new negentropic systems"... or something like that! :) )

Besides leveraging the small grants that initiated this program into larger funding opportunities (which Katey and I were able to do by approaching Alaska's Denali Commission with other partners, for example), I would suggest we also look to creating a Blackstone equivalent to the "X-Prize". In this model National Geographic Society members and other potential synergy teams wouldn't only tender concrete proposals for possible funding, but would take on the challenge of collaborating "ex ante".

The "NG-Prize" (or whatever equivalent is found) would each year or two offer a substantial after-the-fact return on the investment of those Synergy Explorers who put their heads together and found a useful way to collaborate. In the spirit not only of the X-Prize but of the Nobel Prize, there would be great recognition and financial recuperation for those teams that surprised everyone by creating heretefore unobvious linkages between their fields that led to a useful conclusion.

It is a sort of "field of dreams -- build it and they will come" model and hence fraught with uncertainty, but these are uncertain times. And that is our advantage -- as I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" last month while working on biodigestors at the Joubert's eco-lodges in Botswana, I realized that we National Geographic inspired folks are precisely the type who are best placed to benefit from "positive black swans", those highly improbably but unimaginably impactful and disproportionately rewarding events that occur because of the complexities of the modern world. We are ideal residents of what Taleb calls "extremistan", the world beyond "mediocristan" where anything can happen, but those who have the imagination and stick-to-it-ivity can find true blessings in the heretefore unimaginable.

Great scientific breakthroughs have always come from the unobvious and from collisions between ideas that seemed to have no marriage potential. The Blackstone Challenge invites us to consider daily that have colleagues in the National Geographic Society Family and Friends with whom hybridity offers all sorts of (to use Goldschmidt's term, as explained to me by Stephen Jay Gould in class at Harvard) "Hopeful Monsters".

An "NG-Prize or the like might provide the right stimulus for active cross-pollination.

There are other ways we can respond to the Blackstone Challenge --for example creating dynamic teams of Blackstone Challenge presenters and educators and storytellers that go like a traveling circus around the world to schools, universities, hotels, businesses, festivals and events (the Fairmont Hotel already has an arrangement with NG for NG speakers, and NGSP has arrangements with schools, but we haven't yet formalized a revolving team of NG inspired collaborators who can add new dimension and excitement to every talk, sharing a multidisciplinary view of how problems can be solved. )

If we formalize ourselves, crystallizing around the Blackstone Challenge, we can create private public partnerships, use micro-credit models, and -- my keenist interest, born perhaps from reading too many comic books and pulp fiction novels like Doc Savage, the X-men, Justice League of Superheroes and the Avengers and the Fantastic Four etc. -- creating itinerant consulting/in-the-field action E-teams that can be rapidly deployed for problem solving in real crises or situations where interdisciplinary solutions offer the only hope. The E-teams could work with governments and relief organizations and private philanthropists, formally assembling its best qualified members to deal with things like Oil Spills, Earthquakes, Cholera epidemics, conflicts between farmers or industrialists or developers and conservationists, humans and wildlife, you name it.

I think we can all agree the potential reaches to the rim of the galaxy while the limits are merely due to our usual foes - gravity and inertia. But we got to the moon, using gravity and inertia to actually assist us in our new trajectory, and I'm sure we can do this too.

If you have read all of this, you are probably an Explorer and valuable contributor to the E-team too, and you probably share our abiding interest in finding dynamic new synergies between your individual toolkits and perspectives and those of your fellow human and non-human residents of "spaceship earth".

I would love to hear your thoughts, and look forward to meeting "The Challenge" with you.


T.H. Culhane
National Geographic Emerging Explorer 2009 and co-recipient of the first Blackstone Ranch Innovation Challenge Award.

The cartoons below are caricatures from the National Geographic Kids Page of the current and constantly growing National Geographic "E-team" of synergy and symbiosis seeking Explorers. You can learn more about us by clicking on our cartoon avatar here, and hopefully you too will get involved in our response to the Blackstone Challenge!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Terrorist Training Camps or Sustainable Development Training Academies? The choice is ours...

by Thomas Henry Culhane on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 10:47pm
Can we create a non-violent  "green mujahideen" instead?

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine newspaper WAZ had the following front page article today (English translation follows):

El Kaida wirbt verstarkt
Junge Deutsche und Migranten im Visier

Dietmar Seher

Karlsruhe.  Das Terrornetzwerk El Kaida wird fur junge Deutsche oder in Deutschland lebende Migranten immer attraktiver, "weil es uber Geldmittel verfugt".  Davon geht die Bundesanwaltschaft in Karlseruhe aus.  In den letzten Monaten hatten im Bundesgbebiet mehrere Terror-Organizationen, die El Kaida auch "Kampfer fur den Heiligen Krieg" zuleiten, ihre Anwerbungen verstarkt.  Im Visier der Ermittler stehen dabei besonders die "Deutschen Taliban Mudjahedin" und die "Islamische Bewegung Usbekistan". Derzeit laufen gegen zehn mutmasliche Islamisten Verfahren der obersten Anklagebehorde, weil sie sich in Lagern im afghanische-pakistanischen Grenzgebiet fur den Einsatz als Attentater schulen liesen.

(My Engilsh translation:)

"Al-Qaeda amps up its promotional (recruitment) activities
Young Germans and Immigrants are the target

Dietmar Seher

Karlsruhe. The terrorist network Al Qaeda is becoming more and more attractive for young Germans or for immigrants  living in Germany, "because it offers funding (i.e. a way to make a living). " says the Attorney General in Karlseruhe. In recent months, several Bundesgebiet terrorist organizations that are involved with al Qaeda  "fighting for the Holy War" , amplified their enlistments. Investigators here are especially concerned about  the "German Taliban mujahedin" and the "Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan".  There are currently  about ten suspected  Islamists being prosecuted because they enrolled in  training camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border area to be used as bombers."

While this news is disturbing ex facie, the  article disturbs me on a more personal level too, as a social entrepreneur trying to run a non-profit organization (Solar CITIES) that seeks solutions to the poverty trap and to environmental injustices in developing countries and who seeks to start a  training academy for young Germans and  immigrants living here in Germany.  I realize with not some small measure of anger that Al Qaida and its sister organizations are stealing our potential clients.  I also realize that while we struggle to create a convincing business plan and get funding for our "Green Collar Job Training Academy" that can give disenfranchised youth and migrants a dignified and profitable way to get involved in "The Great Conversation" that societies are  having about how to raise living and health standards and sustainability for their members, Al Qaida doesn't seem to have any problem getting money to attract its clients, its students, its members, its potential warriors to join its ideologically bankrupt cause.

It incenses me to be told yesterday when we presented our business plan "this is a great idea, but our chief concern is where the money is going to come from to support the education of jobless immigrants in sustainable development techologies" when at the same time  the terrorist networks, if the WAZ article is correct, seem to be in awash in money to snatch these same people up for their nefarious brand of "education".

We were told, "for your business model to succeed you will need enough high paying clients to operate at a profit so that you can subsidize the poor to learn how to build these low-cost solar and biogas and water pumping systems, but we doubt there is enough interest in or demand for learning about low-tech environmental solutions to attract paying clients here in Germany". Yeah, sure -- if we were trying to create an academy to train people how to build apps for Iphones or sophisticated RF tracking devices, new generation computers or even hi-tech weapons systems (or even simply "business English"), we would probably have no problem recruiting and attracting both paying students and jobless immigrants in search of a better life.  But would such a training academy really help the other 90%? And would it have any resonance with the people most likely to turn to the "free scholarships" now offered by Al Qaida?

On the following pages of today's newspaper another article discusses the "Spatfolgen eines Drohnenangriffs"(After-effects of a Drone Attack):saying "Wuppertaler Islamist starb bei einer amerikansichen Militaroperation in Pakistan. Bundesanwaltschaft pruft , ob gegen US-Truppen ermittelt wird" (An Islamist German from the Wuppertal region died in an American Military Operation in Pakistan. The Attorney General is investigating whether he was involved in operations against US Troops).

It is easy to dismiss young Germans or immigrants living in Germany who get sucked into the spiral of terror activities and end up going off to Pakistan to get "schooled in terror" as "crazies", but after almost a decade working with gang kids in Los Angeles, and a  stint working with Hollywood film-composer BT, I read instead "a misplaced desire on the part  of the disenfranchised to re-enfranchise, to join a cause and fight against the machine, to  try and use aggression and terror (the currency de jour of frustrated social action that we learn to mimic from Hollywood films)  to counter one's own reaction to perceived aggression and terror."

Most relevantly I had a very small part in BTs great score for the prophetic Rob Cohen action movie "Stealth" where technology (and the human military machinery behind it) gone amok makes Hollywood heroes of those who fight against the drones and rage against the machine --  as long as they are Americans.  Mine is the Near Eastern sounding voice of bewilderment and pain wailing in the background  of the haunting music that accompanies each drone attack's effects  on Uzbekistan villagers who get no glory as collateral damage and certainly don't get the girl in the end if/when they try to resist.  As in the movies "Star Wars" and "Avatar" and "Iron Man"  and "V is for Vendetta"  and a host of other stories we tell our children (like the textbook version of the American Revolution) there is always  a tension over who the real aggressor is and how aggrieved parties should act or react.

The bottom line for me: Almost everybody who is able wants to belong to some movement bigger than themselves, and when you add a financial incentive on top of the possible glory of membership, and top it off with a confused perception of "justice" reinforced by generations of "David vs. Goliath" narratives, it isn't hard to see why young Europeans, particularly those with emotional ties to places where suffering and degradation are occurring, would want to "go back to school" in foreign camps where tuition, room and board and living wages as well as a supportive ideological atmosphere are guaranteed, particularly when there is no alternative offered at home.

 I think I understand what motivates people here in Germany to join what I consider the "dark side" (especially when they think they are actually in the right;  the use of impersonal Stealth drone aircraft certainly gives both Pakistani and Afghani villagers as well their quite rightful sympathizers in Europe, the impression that perhaps the  real threat lies in the lands where people are trained in camps (called universities and businesses)  to build increasingly destructive and impersonal weapons and not in the remote desert and mountain camps around them whose organizers claim to be the only antidote to their suffering).

What I don't understand precisely is how to create the counter-narrative and its supportive institutions and make it appealing to funders.

Transformative Action and the potential to inspire a non-violent, spiritually awakened "Green Mujahideen"

The idea of flipping Al Qaida's strategy on its head and creating an "anti-villain institution" more compelling than their fantasy reinforced "anti-hero" narrative seems plausible because it involves much more than  mere inversion yet can also be viewed simplistically:

Set up training training camps in developed countries and regions that take the marginalized youth and jobless immigrants Al Qaida is now targeting and turn them into a wholly different kind of "mujahideen" if you like (since mujahideen doesn't literally mean "warrior" but "one who struggles in the way of God" and a "jihad" is not a holy war, but an internal struggle to conquer ones inner frailties and live a more spiritually sound life.).  The "green mujahideen" would be also sent to other countries after their training , but sent to do good rather than mischief and sow seeds of bounty rather than terror.  The same Margaret Meadic faith that a small number of dedicated people can change the world would be the guiding principle, but in absolute contrast to the terrorist networks the joyous network of green collar ambassadors would truly be returning home in their stints abroad to spread the benefits of what they learned "in camp", raising living standards and improving environments.

If it sounds like the Peace Corps (started in the Kennedy Administration in the 1960s), well, it should.  The Peace Corps had great and similar ideas and did great and similar things. Where it was incomplete (as Ivan Illich is fond of pointing out, and made famous in his essay, 'To Hell with Good Intentions") is that its target group for recruitment was college educated white kids; in that sense it reinforced colonial and imperialist stereotypes for the most part . One notable exception was my Iraqi-American cousin, Yasmine Rassam, now a human rights lawyer, who spent her two years of Peace Corps duty in Mauritania where being of Arab heritage helped her win the confidence of the people.

The example of my cousin Yasmine subtends our idea for the Green Collar Immigrants Job Training camp. By building capacity for our immigrants and then allowing  them to do their work and share what they learn in countries of their historical origin (or with similar cultural characteristics)  we definitively end the claim to "meddling" that so many development organizations from the North and the West encounter (and perpetuate). By training those who have little or no formal education and are socially marginalized or are in poor paying, unsatisfying jobs or who are jobless we create a group of people who can more effectively  bond with those in developing countries whose challenges they will better understand (this has certainly been the result of my experiences living in poverty, living and working  in slums,  living as an immigrant, and trying to survive under foreign and uncertain conditions).

If our idea sounds a bit like Bunker Roy's "Barefoot College" in Tilonia, Rajastan, it should, because we also drew inspiration from our visit there and our conversations with him. But where Bunker's laudable vision focuses primarily on illiterate women between 35 and 55 years of age from rural villages who come to his institution for six months to be trained in sustainable development technologies and are then sent home with micro-loans to start green business, ours fills another gap in the development landscape by focusing on primarily urban immigrants in European cities who can serve as environmental technology ambassadors for development to the immigrant sending regions, building credibility and strong international relations between countries and strengthening both areas.

My gut feeling is that we can out-class Al Qaida and co.  My gut feeling is that people prefer to be super-heroes rather than super-villains, even when the back-story paints a sympathetic vision of the villain, explaining  where he/she "went bad"  (he was abused as a child, his family was raped tortured and killed, she was reduced to a mere number or a slave etc by unfeeling forces).  I believe that if there were places where the disenfranchised and marginalized could go to get trained in a different art of resistance, a place where they could come together as full participants in The Great Conversation and where their voices could be heard and improvisational and innovation talents developed for game changing social and technological systems, they would flock there.  But all of this only IF there was also a financial incentive as large or larger than what the terrorist groups are currently offering German youth and immigrants.

So there is another antidote, a real antidote in my opinion, and I believe it holds much more appeal than going to some remote mountain camp and learning how to build explosive devices and carry and gun and mimic poorly understood out-of-context verses in a different language from the same holy books we have in our libraries back home.

The antidote is a Sustainable Development Training Academy where those who feel powerless and pushed aside can now take center stage as innoventors and solution providers, learning the verse and vocabulary of development in a wide range of tongues, learning how to build not dirty bombs but water pumps, and how to handle not weapons and guns but biogas and wind-generators.  It is a place where people can "rage against the machine" by taking machines apart and rebuilding them in a more human image for more humane purposes, and place where the real fight is against poverty and ignorance and intolerance.

It seems obvious to me. We can easily compete with Al Qaeda for our youth and our immigrant brothers and sisters.

The real question is still, "where will the funding come from?" and that leads of course to the auxiliary question "where does Al Qaeda and Co. get their funding?"  Doubtless they will end up being similar entities. So perhaps our job is really asking those with capital "where would you really rather invest - in the dubious perpetual warfare of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Boulding's "Cowboy Economy"  that keeps production of industrial goods constantly increasing but at great human and environmental cost, or in building capacity of all human beings for participation in what he called the "Spaceman Economy" with its infinite potential for expansion through movement toward the vast unknown?

The former requires merely training people to destroy life and property, the second requires training people to nurture and protect life and create new property, and involves understanding the depths of ecological economics and not just simplistic reductions of life's complexities and the creation of more opportunities to buy low/sell high.  Our youth and jobless immigrants are now dying to see where the incentives and opportunities lie.

The choice of what we can  offer them is ours.
The world is in our hands
All of our children deserve to grow up in a world where we all work together toward health, dignity and prosperity for all.
Thonda Semako Emmanuel This is a wake up call to action by various Government. The whole thing about terrorism has foundation on crude oil and until we shift focus from fosil fuel the struggle continue. Can any tell me another source of founding from for Al qaeda network? The young population today determine the future of any society tomorrow so let us with all that we have surpport the green movement.

December 18 at 5:20pm
Hind R Culhane Well written and to th point ,as always .
We just have to keep marching on.Perhaps this should be sent to some of these donners, like the head of Virgin Atlantic and Bonno.
Keep up the good work.
December 20 at 7:04pm 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Text of Solar CITIES presentation at the launch of National Geographic Araby at the Mena House in Cairo, September 28, 2010

دكتور توماس هنري رسام كلهين :

مساء الخير. أنا دكتور توماس هنري رسام كلهين .

وأود أيضا أن اقدم لكم فريق المدن الشمسية ، زوجتي الدكتورة سيبيل كلهين ، مصطفى حسين من الدرب الأحمر ،حنا فتحي من مجتمع الزبالين منشية ناصر ، عمر ناجي من الدقي ، والدكتور صلاح عرفة من الجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة
Good Evening. I am Dr. Thomas Henry Rassam Culhane.

I would also like to introduce to you our Solar CITIES team, my wife Dr. Sybille Culhane, Mustafa Hussein from Darb Al Ahmar, Hanna Fathy from Manshiyet Nasser’s Zabaleen community, Omar Nagy from Dokki, and Dr. Salah Arafa from AUC.

في عام 1982 بوصفها المرحلة الجامعية قضيت سنة كطالب من جامعة هارفارد كجزأ من برننامج التبادل الطلابي في الخارج الذين يدرسون في الجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة واكتشفت مقالة راعة بالمكتبة عن اعادة تدوير نفايات الزبالين من منشية ناصر التي تحول ما يصل الى 85 ٪ من النفايات في المدينة إلى مواد مربحة و هم الأكثر نجاحا في إعادة التدوير علي مستوي العالم

In 1982 as an undergraduate I spent my junior year abroad from Harvard University studying at AUC and discovered a National Geographic Magazine in the library that had a beautiful article on the ingenuity of the Zabaleen trash recyclers of Manshiet Nasser who are among the most successful recyclers in the world, turning as much as 85% of the city’s waste into profitable materials.

وكانت مقالة مجلة ناشيونال جيوغرافيك تنص ، علي ان المشكلة في، النفايات العضوية كان من الصعب جدا اعادة تدويرها عندما تمتزج مع البلاستيك والزجاج والمعادن ، التي تشكل الجزء الأكبر من حجم النفايات الحديثة. وكما هو معتاد تحدثت ناشيونال جيوغرافيك عن نفس المشكلة ، عن مشاكل الطاقة العالمية ، ومشاكل المياه وربطها بالتدهور البيئي
The problem, the article stated, was that organic wastes were very hard to recycle when they are mixed with the plastic and glass and metal that form the bulk of the modern waste stream. And as is usual for National Geographic, the same issue talked about our global energy problems and water problems and linked them to environmental degradation.

لأن كل شهر تصدر مجلة ناشيونال جيوغرافيك التي تقدم مجموعة واسعة من المواضيع، استخدمت المجلة منذ الطفولة باعتبارها أساس تعليمي ، دربني على التفكير بصورة شمولية ورؤية الصلات القائمة بين حياتنا البرية ، وتاريخ البشرية ، ومكاننا في الاقتصاد العالمي والنظم الإيكولوجية.
Because every issue of National Geographic provided such a wide range of topics I have used the magazine since childhood as the foundation of my education; it trained me to think holistically and to see the linkages between our wildlife, the history of humanity, and our place in the global economy and ecosystem.
ناشيونال جيوغرافيك ، منذ فترة طويلة قبل ولادتي ، كانت دائما رائدة في التعليم البيئي.
لذلك عندما عدت إلى القاهرة بعد 20 عاما لإنهاء دكتوراه في دراسات التخطيط العمراني من خلال منحة دراسية للصحة البيئية ، شجعني ذلك علي متابعة ما تعلمته من ناشيونال جيوغرافيك عن طريق العمل في منشأة ناصر لمعرفة ما إذا كان بامكاني المساعدة في حل بعض مشاكل التنمية الحضرية المذكورة في المجلة

National Geographic, since long before I was born, has always been a leader in environmental education So when I returned to Cairo 20 years later to finish my Ph.D. studies in Urban Planning on an environmental health scholarship I felt inspired to follow up on what I learned from National Geographic by working in Manshiyet Nasser to see if I couldn’t help solve some of the urban development problems mentioned in the articles.

انا و زوجتي أخذنا شقة في الدرب الاحمر ، المجتمع المجاور لمنشية ناصر و في كثير من الأحيان ،قطعت المياه والكهرباء.

To do so, my wife and I took an apartment in the neighboring community of Darb Al Ahmar.where water and electricity were frequently cut.

العمل مع معلمي الأستاذ الدكتور صلاح عرفة ، الخبير في مجال الطاقة الشمسية بالجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة ، ومع مصطفى حسين الذي كان مدربا للترميم بمشروع الآغا خان وهو ابن نجار في الدرب الأحمر و حنا فتحي من المجتمع الزبالين ، فاكتشفنا سويا كيفية بناء نظم تسخين المياه بالطاقة الشمسية من المواد المحلية والمعاد تدويرها بتكلفة منخفضة ، بحيث يستطيع الناس تحسين الصحة والنظافة في المنطقة
Working with my mentor professor, Dr. Salah Arafa , AUC’s solar energy expert, and with Mustafa Hussein, the son of a carpenter in Darb Al Ahmar who was a trainer for the Aga Khan renovation project, and Hanna Fathy who was a recycler in the Zabaleen community, we figured out first how to build our own low cost solar hot water systems and biogas systems from local and recycled materials, so that people could improve health and hygiene in their area.

مصطفي حسين:

لقد كنا دائما منتبهين إلى التكنولوجيات كما هو مبين في المجلة ، مثل لوحة شمسية قابلة للطي وهذا شاحن الهاتف الخليوي ، و زجاجة المياه هذه ال"منقذة للحياة" من خلال تنقية المياه الملوثة و تحويلها إلى مياه شرب ، ونأتي بعد ذلك بهذه التكنولوجيات إلى الأماكن التي نعمل بها
Mustafa Hussein:
We’ve always paid attention to technologies shown in the magazine, like this foldable solar panel and cell phone charger, and this Life Saver water purification bottle that turns contaminated water into drinking water, and the "Insinkerator" Food Waste Disposer that eliminates the problem of organic garbage contaminating our communities, and we then bring these technologies to the places we work.
عمار ناجي:

و عندما اكتشفنا من ناشيونال جيوغرافيك ما كان يجري في الهند من أجل حل مشاكل التنمية ، سافرنا إلى مدينة صغيرة بالقرب من مومباي وتعلمنا كيفية بناء وحدة الغاز الحيوي للاسر الحضرية التي تحول القمامة المنزلية في المطبخ الي غاز للطهي والكهرباء.عندما استخدمناه مع طاحونة بقايا طعام المطبخ هذه ، تعلمنا أن النفايات العضوية لكل عائلة يمكن ان تنتج ما يصل الى ساعتين من غاز الطهي والأسمدة النظيفة كل يوم ، مما يجعل منازلنا تساهم في إيجاد حلول لمدننا بدلا من المشاكل.

Omar Nagy:

But when we discovered from National Geographic what was being done in India to solve development problems, we traveled to a small city near Mumbai and learned how to build urban household biogas digestors that turn household kitchen garbage into cooking gas and electricity. Coupled with a kitchen food waste grinder like this Insinkerator Evolution model that Thomas is holding, we learned that each family’s organic wastes can actually produce up to 2 hours of clean cooking gas and fertilizer every day, making our homes contributors to solutions for our cities rather than problems.

مصطفي حسين :

استخدمنا كدليل من ناشيونال جيوغرافيك فكرة من قصة كانت بالصفحة الرآيسية " الحفاظ علي الطاقة -- يبدأ في المنزل" ، وتحقيق انه يمكن لكل واحد منا الاستفادة من موارد وفيرة -- مثل أشعة الشمس والقمامة -- لحل مشاكل الطاقة والمياه ومشاكل النفايات في مجتمعاتنا ومنازلنا ، ويمكن أن نتحمل بعض من اعباء التنمية المستدامة من الوكالات الدولية و الحكومية ، وتجميع الناس في المجتمع المدني للمساعدة في خلق مستقبل مشرق لتحسين مصر وأفريقيا والشرق الأوسط
We used as our guide an idea from National Geographic’s cover story “Energy – It starts at Home”, realizing that if each of us could make use of abundant but wasted resources – like sunlight and garbage – to solve energy, water and waste problems in our own communities and homes, we could take some of the burden of sustainable development off of government and international agencies and bring people together in civil society to assist in creating a clean bright future for Egypt, Africa and the Middle East.

هنا نشاهد صورة فريق عمل المدن الشمسية لبناء السخانات الشمسية لحمام عمومي تاريخي في أبو حريبة في مجتمعي الدرب الاحمر.

Here you see a picture of our team building solar hot water heaters for the ancient public bath at Abu Hureyba in my community.

مؤخرا ، ناشيونال جيوغرافيك كرمت عملنا عن طريق اعطانا منحة "مستكشف الناشئة". هذه المنحة لنشر التكنولوجيات البسيطة
" اعملها بايدك" لأجزاء أخرى من العالم. اخترنا مواقعنا عن طريق الاتصال بالناس والمنظمات التي علمنا عنها من خلال المجلة. سافرنا إلى فلسطين ونيجيريا لبناء نظم هناك ، ثم حصلنا على منحة لاحضار حنا فتحي ، إلى كينيا وبوروندي ، وتنزانيا ورواندا و هو زميل مشروع المدن الشمسية من حي الزبالين
Recently, National Geographic honored our work by giving us an Emerging Explorer’s grant to spread these simple do-it-yourself technologies to other parts of the world. We picked our locations by contacting people and organizations we learned about through the magazine. We traveled to Palestine and Nigeria to build systems there, and then received a grant to bring Hanna Fathy, our Solar CITIES associate from Hayya Zabaleen to Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.

حنا فتحي:

في البلدان الأفريقية الأخرى شاركنا الابتكارات التكنولوجية المصرية مع الأفارقة الآخرين وبنينا وحدة الغاز الحيوي مع مخرجي الافلام من ناشيونال جيوغرافيك ، ديريك وبيفرلي جوبير وقبيلة الماساي ، و في نفس الوقت مع جريس جوبو في معهد جين غودال بحيث أن ما ابتكرناه في القاهرة لتحويل النفايات الى طاقة نظيفة.
ليس فقط لتحسين الصحة وأنماط حياة الأسر في جميع أنحاء القارة ولكن ايضا يمكن تطبيقها لوقف إزالة الغابات وحماية الشمبانزي والغوريلا والأسود والفيلة وغيرها من الحيوانات البرية التي نراها في ناشيونال جيوغرافيك ، ونريد أن نرى استمرار وجودها في أفريقيا إلى الأبد. وهذه هي الطريقة التي ساعدتنا بها ناشيونال جيوغرافيك لادخال تغييرات إيجابية حقيقية في بيوتنا و بلداننا
Hanna Fathy:
In the other African countries we shared Egyptian technological innovations with other Africans and we built biodigestors with the National Geographic film-makers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert and the Masai tribe , and with Grace Gobbo at the Jane Goodall Institute so that what we innovate in Cairo to turn wastes into clean energy can not only improve the health and lifestyles of families around the continent but can be applied to stop deforestation and protect the chimpanzees, gorillas, lions, elephants and other wildlife that we see in National Geographic, and want to see continuing to exist in Africa into perpetuity. It is in this way that National Geographic has blessed us to make real positive changes in our homes and countries.

دكتور صلاح عارفة:

وبما أن المجلة ستكون متاحة باللغة العربية سنتمكن من ايصال العمل الرائع الذي نقم به الي كل القرآ باللغة العربية ، ونحن علي ثقة من قدرة الجيل الجديد علي ريادة المنتقة.

Now that the magazine will be available in Arabic and the wonderful work being done here will be told by Arabic speakers ourselves, we know that the new generation will quickly become the leaders of an ever brighter, healthier and happier region.

وفي الختام نود أن نقدم هدية من ايمرسون للالكترونيات شريك ناشيونال جيوغرافيك ، لحنا و صباح فتحي -- والهدية هي عبارة عن جهاز لطحن نفايات الطعم insinkerator لمطبخهم في منشأة ناصر لاستخدامه فيتحويل نفاياتهم العضوية الي غاز حيوي و ذلك بهدف استمرار مسيرة ابقآ القاهرة نظيفة وجميلة دآما

In closing we would like to present a gift on behalf of National Geographic and Emerson Electronics to Hanna and Sabah Fathy – an Insinkerator food disposal unit for their kitchen in Manshiyet Nasser that they can use to quickly and efficiently turn their organic wastes into food for their home biogas digestors and continue the revolution to help Cairo remain clean and beautiful into perpetuity.
دكتور توماس هنري رسام كلهين :
شكرا لك لناشيونال جيوغرافيك ، وشركة أبو ظبي وسائل الإعلام وإلى الشعب المصري ، لدعوتنا للمشاركة عملنا والرؤى معكم!

Dr. T.H. Culhane:

Thank you to National Geographic, the Abu Dhabi Media Company and to the Egyptian people, for inviting us to share our work and visions with you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Repurposing grain silos as biogas digesters: Advantages and Disadvantages

In our quest to find ways to enable local people to use local materials, recycle available resources and re-purpose found items into functional renewable energy systems we are now curious to explore the advantages and disadvantages of turning grain silos into biogas digesters.

While we were touring His Excellency former President Obasanjo's farms in Abeokuta and Ogun State in Nigeria, and discussing with him and his people how we might work together to transform the Obasanjo farm wastes (particularly chicken manure and chicken slaughter waste) into value added products (among them fuel and fertilizer), we took these pictures of the steel grain silos scattered about his broiler farm in between the hedgerows of teak (Tectona grandis) trees, papaya trees and cassava.

Interestingly, if you look at the top of the grain silo, above the conical bottom, it bears a nice similarity to the aspect of some typical commercial biogas facilities, such as these from the Alten Group (a German-Ukranian company) in Azerbajian.

Of course we know from our experiences touring commercial digesters here in NRW in Germany (such as those built by PlanET biogas) that a convex or cylindrical or dome shaped top is the right geometry for build up and release of the biogas itself, so if the grain silo can be made gas tight it will work perfectly well from that regard.

The question is about the conical bottom with the apex pointing downward. What advantages or disadvantages would that pose to the formation of proper bacterial sludge granules? The design for a grain silo is obviously for gravity funneling of the grain out. In the case of a biogas digester we are not interested in releasing anything from the bottom (except during the rare cleaning times). The question is really what effect the cone will have on the bacteria.

Interestingly, however, when we visited Blue Marble Energy in Seattle to see their biogas operation, we learned that they are now using stainless steel for all their digestors and that they have the same shape as Obasanjo's grain silos. The key (though I have yet to confirm this) may be in the use of a technique called the "Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket"

More and more it appears that a modified upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor, called an "induced blanket reactor (IBR)" may be the way to go for our Botswana project with the Jouberts (who want to build out of stainless steel) and with Obsanjo in Nigeria as well as elsewhere .
These quotes from a 2010 article in BioCycle magazine (the information source on composting and recycling wastes) called Anaerobic Digestion For Smaller Dairies :: BioCycle, Advancing Composting, Organics Recycling Renewable Energy make a case for IBR and UASB:

"The IBR naturally forms a thickened area of sludge in the lower
portion of the tank that contains high concentrations of bacteria.
Bacteria in this sludge blanket digest the manure (or other feedstock -- TH ), forming biogas.
Biogas attaches to the solids, causing the material to float up through the sludge blanket in the tank.

Near the top of the tank is a submerged septum or partition that
provides a means of separating the gas from the solids. An opening in
the center of the cone shaped septum allows the biogas to rise and exit
out the top of the vessel. The solids tend to sink back down the tank
after the gas is knocked off. Effluent also passes through the opening
in the septum and exits the tank via a pipe located above the septum.

The system does not employ any mechanical or hydraulic mixing. If the tank is mixed, the bacteria gets flushed out with the effluent, Watts explains. Not mixing the tank results in more bacteria per cubic foot."

This "Up-flow Sludge Blanket Filtration" system bears investigation. I don't fully understand it yet, but it seems to make sense, allowing aerobic and anaerobic processes to occur in the same unit at lower cost and with lower space requirements. The Covido system also makes use of Upflow Sludge Blanket Filtration (Ecofluid USBF process), and describes an innovative way of designing with conical shapes to allow both aerobic and anaerobic processes to occur (similar to Dr. Martin Denecke's patented 3A three-phase system for winning biogas from all substrates, including ligno-cellulose, but occurring in one small chamber).

My hunch, though I'm not an engineer (my masters and doctorate degrees are in Urban Planning) is that the geometry of the downward pointing cone may provide some benefits. I'm imagining, for one thing, that the fact that an inverted cone has most of its surface area on top and very little on the bottom will provide a temperature advantage for the bacteria -- the coldest water will sink to the apex. The top of the cone, where most of the exposed sludge granules will be relative to the food input, will be in a warmer zone.

Furthermore, the apex should be highly anoxic and somewhat protected from changes in water chemistry above, perhaps acting as a reservoir for bacteria during times of stress. By piping the feedstock slurry with a pipe buried half-way into the apex, whenever feeding occurs it could "thrust" the granules up so that they mix with the food, but then settle again by gravity into the apex.

Another advantage of the grain silo apex is that it offers a much smaller surface area to the outside in the coldest areas (the bottom) but can simultaneously be heated from that very apex without having to use a lot of heating coils. In fact there are a lot of ways such a digester could be heated:

1) heating coils wrapped around the apex of the cone and the cone itself
2) Painting the cone and the entire silo black and placing with best solar exposure
3) Focusing a concentrated solar thermal dish on the apex of the cone (see Gadhia Solar's large parabolic solar cookers, used all over India, for an idea of what I'm talking about)
4) Building a fire right under the apex of the cone

In all cases the concentrated heat would accrue on the smaller surface area of the cone and, since heat travels upward by convection, more efficiently heat the entire vessel.

The most exciting possibility that using a grain silo as a biodigester permits is the use of the Jean Pain method of Compost Heat:

One could pack compost (leaves, grass, wood-chips, rice straw etc.) around the cone from the apex to the part where the cylinder begins, and use compost heat a la the "Jean Pain Method" to heat up the biogas digestor. Because of the conical shape it would be much easier to stack and then to replace that compost when its calorific value is spent.

The grain silo's metal construction would still allow the cylindrical and top conical portions to be painted black and used to help heat the chamber via solar radiation.

From a first glance, then, retrofitting a grain silo to serve as a biogas digester may turn out to be a wise idea. We have yet to determine the costs (used steel grain silos in France seem to cost about 600 Euro according to ; we need to work out the possible plumbing and sealing and access difficulties, but it will be worth while finding out.

If anybody reading this has experience or suggestions, please do let us know!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Building the "Nigeria of our Dreams"

In 2007 at the first international Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) conference, held in Toronto, Canada, the Nigerian Minister for Information and Communications, Mr. Frank Nweke Jr. called on all Nigerians to join hands and work together to "build a Nigeria of their dreams". The conference was themed around "Awakening The Tiger in the Heart of Africa - The Role of the Diaspora in Socio-Economic Development of Nigeria", and it attracted Nigerian professionals from all over the world. According to news reports,

"The conference enjoyed the support of Nigerian, United States and Canadian Governments, Ministries, parastatals and Agencies, Universities, private and public corporations in Nigeria, USA, Canada and elsewhere, as well as private individuals."

While we were staying with His Excellency former President Obasanjo (who served his country from 1999 through 2007) during the last week of August, building renewable energy capacity and biodigestors in Abeokuta (including one connected to an Insinkerator in the President's own kitchen) we discussed with the esteemed Nigerian leader the Solar CITIES concept for awakening another tiger of human potential to help the motherland: involving German government agencies, businesses and citizens to help us support, train and mobilize the vast pool of German-Nigerian workers who are currently underemployed or inefficiently deployed in their new country of residence.

Obasanjo, who in his post-political era supports himself through his visionary poultry, ostrich, emu, forest snail, tilapia and catfish farms, as well as afforestation projects with commercial plantations of teak, oil palm and many other valuable but underutilized African plant and animal species (including the delicious grass cutter rodent,Thryonomys, "the other white meat") informed us after we toured his agro-business holdings that he had pioneered the concept of NIDO and its sister organization, the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS, dedicated to harnessing "the services of Nigerian experts, both retirees and active agents at home and abroad, for the development of the nation") during the early years of his tenure as President, dedicating himself to turning what had been a "brain drain" into a "brain gain". He said, "In fact that is how I got my former minister of finance, a Nigerian who had been living in the U.S.".

According to the article, Nigeria: Turning the ‘Brain Drain’ into ‘Brain Gain’, Looking to the Diaspora for help in national development. by Obi. O. Akwani

"In July 2005, the first of an annual Science and Technology Conference between Nigerians in the Diaspora and those at home designed to map out the modalities of the ‘brain gain’ project, took place in Abuja. President Obasanjo described the conference as a “first step toward a national objective [of harnessing the talents of Nigerians in the Diaspora] as the engine of change and accelerated development in Nigeria.” During that conference, Obasanjo declared July 25 to be Diaspora Day in Nigeria. It is a day for all Nigerians to remember and appreciate the contributions of their expatriate nationals in the country’s development. The first Diaspora Day anniversary was celebrated on July 25, 2006 in conjunction with the three-day Science and Technology Conference for that year. The 200 registered Nigerian expatriates who attended the 2006 conference was more than double the 76 Nigerians from the Diaspora that attended the first conference in 2005. The emphasis on science and technology is a recognition of the need for Nigeria to begin now to “revolutionize its science and technology infrastructure [as the key] to the future.” "

But where NIDO has focused on bringing Nigeria's educational high achievers and/or their ideas back home (in the U.S. alone there are estimated to be about 20,000 Nigerian expatriot doctors), the vast majority of the nearly 17 million Nigerians living abroad (including the Nigerian majority of the estimated 300,000 Africans living in Germany) are not able to fully participate in returning gains to either their host country or their country of origin. This is particularly due to a lack of high-value skill building opportunities for the underemployed in the countries where many Nigerians live as immigrants, and a lack of articulation between emerging sectors of the new global economy and the available labor pool.

For example, Germany is a worldwide leader in renewable energy technologies and the green economy. But on the NIDO-Germany e.V. website the German-Nigerian community addresses the problem of bringing reliable alternative energy to Nigeria, where it is so desperately needed, stating in the article "Problems with implementing alternative energy projects in Nigeria" that the major reason for the disconnect is a lack of trained workers who can assist with implementation.

Given that there is a dearth of "green collar workers" throughout the world it is not surprising that there is a lack of people with renewable energy or sustainable development experience in any subset of a population. But the shortage is particularly acute among immigrants, usually because they have little or no access to the few privileged centers of education and businesses that are forging new paths toward sustainability.

And yet these are the very people who need this training most, because most of the immigrants to Europe and the United States come from southern regions that are simultaneously blessed with the greatest potential for using solar, wind, groundsource, geothermal and biomass energy supplies and yet cursed with the greatest environmental challenges.

Curiously there are very few, if any, mechanisms for tapping the human potential of the immigrant populations of the world to address environmental problems, often the very problems (resource scarcity, service disruptions, air, water and food poisoning and pollution, economic difficulties) that exacerbated the conflicts that lead to the diasporas in the first place. And yet immigrants from countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and Asia understand the need for environmental technologies and solutions like no other.

When the German Job Center trains unemployed immigrants to use the internet to search for work, they coach them in the use of "" the Bundesagentur fur Arbeit, but in my research I discovered that they either don't introduce them to or even actively discourage them from looking into the field of "Entwicklungsherfer/in", claiming that to be a development worker one needs to have completed the standard University Ausbildung, which is not available to immigrants.

Yet a look at the real qualifications listed on the website reveals a profile that is much more suited to, say, an immigrant from Africa than a German national born and raised in Europe. Here is what the website reveals:


Die Arbeitssituation von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen ist sehr unterschiedlich. Die eigentliche Arbeit führen sie im Rahmen allgemeiner Vorgaben weitgehend selbstständig durch, wobei sie einen großen Gestaltungsspielraum haben. Neben fundiertem Fachwissen sollten Entwicklungshelfer/innen über Sprachkenntnisse z.B. in Englisch, Französisch, Spanisch oder Portugiesisch verfügen. Toleranz und Offenheit gegenüber anderen Kulturen, Einfühlungsvermögen und die Bereitschaft, sich auf andere Kulturen, Sitten und Gebräuche einzulassen, sind für diesen Beruf ein absolutes Muss. Notwendig sind auch körperliche wie seelische Belastbarkeit sowie ein hohes Maß an Flexibilität.
Die Arbeitsgegenstände und -mittel von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen hängen von den konkreten Berufen ab, welche sie im Entwicklungsland ausüben. Jedoch ist die technische Ausrüstung meist nicht mit dem im Heimatland üblichen Standard zu vergleichen.
Entwicklungshelfer/innen arbeiten bei ihren eigentlichen Tätigkeiten allein oder im Team. Während ihres Einsatzes im Entwicklungsland haben sie zahlreiche Kontakte zu den Mitarbeitern und Mitarbeiterinnen der jeweiligen einheimischen Träger sowie zur dortigen Bevölkerung. Die Arbeitszeiten von Entwicklungshelfern und -helferinnen entsprechen in den meisten Gastländern denen in Europa. Je nach Arbeitsplatz ist jedoch die Bereitschaft zur flexiblen Anwendung der Vorschriften vonnöten.

Aufgaben und Tätigkeiten

Entwicklungshelfer/innen kommen aus unterschiedlichen Ausgangsberufen, beispielsweise aus der Land- oder Forstwirtschaft, aus dem Gesundheitswesen oder aus technisch-handwerklichen Berufen. Die Projekte, in denen Entwicklungshelfer/innen tätig sind, sind so unterschiedlich wie die Probleme der Entwicklungsländer selbst. So schulen sie etwa einheimische Handwerker im Bau von Solaröfen oder hinsichtlich einer effizienten Abwasserreinigung. Sie beraten beim Aufbau von Kleinbetrieben, vermitteln Kenntnisse zur Gewinnung und Verarbeitung lokaler Materialen oder schulen Verwaltungskräfte. Auch in der Stadt- und Raumplanung oder in der Frauenförderung können sie tätig sein. Bei ihren Projekten übernehmen Entwicklungshelfer/innen auch Verwaltungsarbeiten. Die Mittelabrechnung, das Schreiben von Berichten und Maßnahmeanträgen gehört ebenfalls zu ihren Aufgaben.

Arbeitsbedingungen im Einzelnen

  • Arbeit mit technischen Geräten, Maschinen und Anlagen (abhängig vom ausgeübten Beruf; technische Ausrüstung jedoch meist nicht mit dem in der Bundesrepublik üblichen Stand zu vergleichen)

  • Handarbeit (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit auf Baustellen (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit im Freien (je nach Tätigkeit und Einsatzgebiet)

  • Arbeit in Büroräumen (z.B. selbst Verwaltungsarbeiten übernehmen)

  • Arbeit in Unterrichts-/Schulungsräumen (z.B. Verwaltungskräfte schulen)

  • Arbeit in Werkstätten, Werk-/Produktionshallen (je nach Einsatzart)

  • Arbeit bei Kälte, Hitze, Nässe, Feuchtigkeit, Zugluft (In den meisten tropischen Ländern herrscht z.B. ein für Deutsche ungewohntes Klima.)

  • Gruppen-, Teamarbeit (z.B. im Team mit einheimischen Handwerkern zusammenarbeiten)

  • Kundenkontakt (und enger Kontakt mit der einheimischen Bevölkerung, z.B. einheimische Handwerker im Bau von Solaröfen schulen)

  • häufige Abwesenheit vom Wohnort (Tätigkeit im Ausland)

  • unregelmäßige Arbeitszeiten (abhängig vom Einsatz vor Ort)

(Here is the English translation:

Working Conditions
The work situation of aid workers and assistants is quite varied. The actual work they do in the framework of general guidelines is largely autonomous, and provide a lot of room for creativity. In addition, aid workers should have a sound knowledge of foreign languages and be able to function well in English, French, Spanish or Portuguese. Tolerance and openness towards other cultures, empathy and a willingness to engage with other cultures, customs and traditions are, for this occupation, an absolute must. It is also necessary to have physical and mental strength and a high degree of flexibility.

The work specifications and the skills needed by development workers and helpers depend on the specific tasks which are being undertaken in the developing country. However, the technical equipment one will be using should not be compared with the usual standards in the home country.

Development workers work on their activities alone or in teams. During their deployment in developing countries, they must engage in very close contact with the staff and employees of each local institution and with the local people of the country. The work of aid workers and helpers may also be to meet immigrants from the developing countries in their host countries, such as Europe. Depending on the willingness to work flexible application of rules is needed.

Tasks and activities

Development workers come from different starting professions, such as from agriculture or forestry, the health services or from technical and craft occupations. The projects in which development workers are active in are as different as the problems of the developing countries themselves. For example, they might train some local artisans in the construction of solar ovens or i. They might advise in setting up small businesses, provide knowledge to extract and process local materials, or assist local school administrators. They can also be active in the urban and country planning or in women's issues. In their projects, Development workers take an active role in administrative support.. They help raise funds, and the writing of reports and requests for action can also be part of their duties.

Working conditions in detail

* Working with technical equipment, machinery and equipment (depending on the type of professional, technical equipment, however, can not be compared with the most common found in the Federal Republic of Germany)

* Supplies (depending on activity and application)

* Work on construction sites (depending on activity and application)

*Work outdoors (depending on activity and application)

* Work in offices (eg take even administrative work)

* Work in Education-/Schoolrooms (eg administrative staff training)

* Work in workshops, Work-/Productionhalls(depending on the application)

* Work in the cold, heat, moisture, humidity, drafts (in most tropical countries, these are very unusual climates for Germans.)

* Groups, team work (eg team work with local craftsmen)

* Close contact with customers (train close to the local population, such as local craftsmen in the construction of solar ovens)
* frequent absences from home (working abroad)

* irregular hours (depending on site use)
All of us who work in so-called "third world" regions have had the experience of having to come to the aid of some well-intentioned but ill-equipped American or European "aid worker" suffering from an averse reaction to the local climate, food, or working conditions, and we have all watched in dismay as the higher salaried development specialists trundle about in their air-conditioned SUV's, make the briefest of site visits and then retire to their comfortable climate controlled offices with their backup generators, constant supplies of water, and even servant staffs.

We wonder about the ineffective use of most development funds, the lack of sustained commitment by many in our field, and the prodigious losses in time and energy dealing with miscommunication as the local languages are painstakingly mastered and cultural nuances slowly (often far too slowly) appreciated.

And we marvel and the sheer waste of resources in times of great human calamity, resources that could be better spent if development aid project heads and businesses trying to bring "green technologies" recruited not those individuals with the greatest formal education (who invariably spent most of their time getting used to -- and addicted to? -- privileged circumstances) but those individuals who have long direct and lived empathic experience with the challenges faced by their brothers and sisters in developing countries (If you think I'm being uncharacteristically harsh, check out Ivan Illich's speech "To Hell with Good Intentions").

The responses I got when I queried instructors and administrators in Germany's "Weststadt Academy" and "Haus Der Teknik" (where jobless immigrants are sent to learn the German language and culture and prepare for work skills development) were, "These people would not be suited for Development work. For one thing they lack the proper education and interest, and for another they came here to get away (one said "escape") from their countries of origin and don't want to go back."

But when I asked my unemployed and immigrant friends from the Middle East and Africa about their feelings, and showed them the pages from Berufnet most of them said, "This would be perfect for me -- I speak not only German and English but several local languages or dialects, I know my home culture, I'm comfortable working in my former homeland, and I'm enthusiastic about helping my relatives and my people. All I lack is the training in how to work with energy, water, food and waste improvement technologies."

Several said, "we would be better representatives of Germany, German companies and German science and technology, because we are part of both worlds and can build bridges of understanding. This would improve German business relations with our homelands."

In the particular case of Nigeria, there are clear benefits to training members of the German-Nigerian "working class", whether currently employed or not, in Germany's Green Tech and Clean Tech expertise. According to the Auswartiges Amt (Gerrmany's Foreign Office),

Nigeria is Germany’s second most important trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2009, Germany exported to Nigeria goods worth more than EUR 1 billion, a decline of just under 15 per cent compared with the previous year. The value of Nigerian goods imported by Germany shrank by 34 per cent, to nearly EUR 1.2 billion, after increasing by 96 per cent in 2008. The decline in exports is mainly due to Nigeria’s reduced imports of final products and finished goods, while the slump in imports is largely the result of the lower price of petroleum.
The main German exports to Nigeria are machinery, vehicles, chemical products and electrical goods.
In 2008, Germany ranked fourth as a supplier of goods to Nigeria and was the fourteenth-largest importer of Nigerian products. In Germany’s foreign trade, Nigeria ranks 61st for exports and 53rd for imports (2009).
German direct investment in Nigeria has been declining since 2001, amounting to EUR 96 million at the end of 2007 (2001: EUR 298 million).
Some 50 German companies operate in Nigeria, some with production plants, some with offices. The agreement on reciprocal investment protection and promotion, which was signed in 2000, entered into force in September 2007.
Nigeria is one of Germany’s partner countries in development cooperation. The new priority here (in Technical Cooperation) is the employment-oriented promotion of micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses in the federal states of Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau.

Since development cooperation began, Germany has pledged funds worth more than EUR 360 million to Nigeria, two-thirds of which was earmarked for Financial Cooperation and one-third for Technical Cooperation.

In cognizance of these facts, Solar CITIES is now working with our Nigerian-German colleague and friend, Paul "Chido" Iwunna, a man who, like me, is married to a German national and has a beautiful daughter who is a living embodiment of the bi-cultural benefits of globalization. Chido, like many of us, thus has powerful reasons to support the economies and people of both his country of origin and his country of residence. To support his family, Chido has worked in a factory in Bochum for the past 13 years. The job involves production and assembly of wheelchairs and hospital beds, and while the products are very important, he doesn't feel he is making the best use of his talents and time on the assembly line. Chido approached Solar CITIES after a presentation we made at a Development Aid Project Fundraiser for the NGO "Chance For Growth" founded by his wife's college friend, Sven Volkmuth MD.

Since "Chance for Growth" works primarily on development projects in the Philippines, Chido asked if we couldn't do something for his home country of Nigeria, particularly since there are so many Nigerian immigrants in the NRW area of Germany. Out of this conversation came our idea of training Chido in the creation of home-scale biogas reactors, treadle pumps and solar hot water, solar electric and small wind and micro-hydro systems and visiting Nigeria to reify our connection with His Excellency Obasanjo.

German-Nigerian Solar CITIES representative Paul Chido Iwunna, married to a German, is now, after 13 years working in a medical equipment factory in Bochum, on a mission to return to his country of origin to share ideas and technologies and foster bilateral cooperation between the two parts of the world that form the heritage of his 8 year old binational daughter .

Paul Chido Iwunna (right) shares ideas with American Dr. Charisma Acey, Professor of Urban Planning at Ohio State University, who is married to a Nigerian, and Bunmi Idowu, manager of Obasanjo Farms, Ibogun. Bunmi was showing how Obasanjo has used the required quarantine space between chicken houses to grow teak trees, part of Obasanjo's plan to reforest Nigeria while reducing the incidence of disease transmission. "We've never had a worry about avian flu here" he told us.

Paul poses with Obasanjo's relatives in the humble village where the former President grew up.

After seeing the kerosene stoves that the villagers use to cook and heat water, and noting the thick black soot on the walls, Paul explains the benefits of biogas and our experience with it in Germany, and promises to bring simple and cost-effective versions of this technology to the materially poor areas of Nigeria.

Paul poses with Mrs. Obasanjo and Dr. Acey in the Obasanjo garden where Nigeria's first lady shows the edible and medicinal landscaping she has planted there.

After we shared our technical expertise with members from different communities in Nigeria and Chido demonstrated his commitment as a Solar CITIES Greentech development worker, we asked President Obasanjo if he thought we could launch an initiative similar to (or under the auspices of) NIDO and NNVS that can find ways to train Nigerian Germans in Environmental Technologies, (particularly those in need of gainful employment or who are seeking more meaningful career choices), and bring them to Nigeria to train others. His Excellency said that "providing accomodation and food would not be a problem on our end." On the other end we are proposing that the same unemployment money and training money currently paid out to underemployed Nigerians through the Job Center be used to subsidize Green Collar Job Training and then, for successful graduates of the training program, the airfare for two one month long implementation trips to Nigeria, spread out over a year. Families of the trainees would continue to receive their unemployment benefits, but rather than working at the famous but hardly edifying "1 Euro job" available to the unemployed so that they don't waste time idle while looking for better employment (usually some kind of manual labor), the trainees would be active on the ground in Nigerian slums and villages, making improvements and acting as liaisons between Germany and Nigeria.

Paul and the Solar CITIES team, T.H. and Charisma, present His Excellency and Mrs. Obasanjo with an Insinkerator Food-waste-Biofuel-feedstock converter, describing how it can be used to eliminate Nigeria's organic solid waste problem and empower families to participate in clean energy solutions and greenhouse gas reductions to stop climate change, following Germany's example of turning garbage into gas. And you thought it was just a food waste disposal?

Upon their completion of the implementation course in bilateral green technology, these Nigerian-Germans could continue working with the professional Nigerian-German Community would receive credentials and could better enter the job-pool, applying for meaningful jobs as Development Aid Specialists and representing German companies involved in bettering the Nigerian economy and environment.

Paul poses with Dr. T.H. Culhane, Dr. Charisma Acey, Balogun Olowasegun and Emmanuel Thonda of Naijatomo Holistic Waste Management Company and the students of Obasanjo's Bells School after training them in domestic biogas technology.

In this way we could waken the tigers not only in the heart of Africa but in the heart of Europe, and build not just the Nigeria of our Dreams, but the sustainable globalized world civilization of our Dreams that grants equal opportunity and liberty, and environmental justice, for all.