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, March 18, 2011

"Garbage Dreams" Trashed by thugs posing as Army: Egyptian security forces murder family member of Solar CITIES Zabaleen colleague and destroy the family workshop

Moussa Nazmy Zekry, Solar CITIES colleague with Adham Fawzy of "Garbage Dreams" fame, stands on his roof next to his self-built ARTI-style Biogas System which he feeds with dried mouldy bread waste and other organic garbage he gathers from the streets, keeping the Zabaleen tradition of turning an environmental hazard into a community benefit.

Friends and Supporters of the Solar CITIES Egypt Green Collar Job Training and Renewable Energy Initiative, please read the quoted email below.

We received this heartbreaking appeal for assistance yesterday from our Coptic Christian Solar CITIES colleague Moussa Zekry who has been building solar hot water systems and biogas systems on his own roof, at the Zabaleen recycling school and throughout the neighboring Muslim community of Darb Al Ahmarfor the past few years and has been innovating with us since the beginning in 2006.

If you've seen the documentary film "Garbage Dreams" you have already met Moussa's community and friends and family.

Moussa has been a bridge of peace and cooperation between the Christian and Muslim communities of Manshieyet Nasser and Old Cairo, and has always sought to use sustainable development education as the path toward full integration of groups, regardless of race, creed, religion or social class.

Now, just as the (r)evolution in Egypt starts to offer prospects of hope and economic sustainabilty for "Green Collar" job entrepreneurs like Moussa, a peaceful demonstration by his community of trash recycling heroes turned into a bloodbath when state security thugs and people posing as soldiers and pretending to represent the Muslim community started shooting in the predominantly Christian area of Manshieyet Nasser. This was a tactic used by Mubarak in the past to create the impression of a sectarian powder keg that needed a dictator to control, and seems to be continuing in the aftermath of his departure.

In this tragic bid to "divide and conquer", Moussa's family lost its chief bread winner and their workshop and, beyond their grief, are now destitute. If anybody can help Moussa and his family with assistance, employment, micro-credit, help to rebuild their workshop, or opportunities for further education, please contact us, or contact Moussa directly. His phone number is +20 0183493671.

His email is and he can be found on facebook as Moussa Nazmy Zekry.

Your support, either directly to Moussa , or through the Solar CITIES Cairo Iniitiative, will make a real difference in the struggle to bring democracy, hope, dignitiy and environmental sustainability to Egypt.

Moussa Nazmy Zekry March 16 at 10:54am Report

Dear Thomas, i am in troubel,

I need help, I need all the help I could have,

I lost my brother Samaan, the army shot him in the conflict this week.

People from my area made a peacefull demostration on march 9, it went very very wrong.

They were demonstrating because a muslim group atacked and completely destroyed a church the saturday before. People from my area are angry and scared , when they went demostrating they got atacked by  armed muslims. they tacked us with guns, knifes and swords, we were completely unprepared and had no weapon. It turned into a bloodbath. Army came, 10 tanks rolled into our area but instead of protecting us they atacked us also, they shot my brother Samaan in in his heart and his back.

Life is very difficult, my sister died last summer because the doctor in the hospital made a mistake, now I lost my brother.

Life is also difficult because I am the only one to take care of my whole family now, parents,my little sister,my older brother and his wife and his 4 children, my brother Samaans wife and his 2 children. My older brother cannot work because he has a heartproblem and my father lost his garage, his workplace in the fighting, they burned all of it to the ground.

I need all the help I can get, this is very very serious, do you know someone who can help me?????

Do you know someone whom i can tell my story to and who can help me in my very difficult times?Please pray for me,your Moussa PS Christian, my friend from Norway helped me to write this message.

Thomas Henry Culhane March 16 at 11:39am

Dear Moussa,
I am so very very sorry to hear about these horrible tragedies that have afflicted you and your family. Thank you for reaching out and sharing the burden of your pain with us. We hope we can help lighten it Sybille and I both cried reading your message. We must figure out a way to help you and we will. We are having financial troubles right now so we are limited in what we can do in that regard, but we have a large network of people and I think we can make an international appeal, particularly because there are many people now who want to help Egypt develop a green technology economy and you are one of the heroes of that movement. Your story will inspire action and involvement.
Let us think of how to go about getting you the help you need. The first thing perhaps is if you will allow me to post your message to me in my facebook network and in my email network and blog so that the green technology media can report about it. From there we can look at ways of getting you support so you can work. Do not lose hope -- you are a part of the Solar CITIES movement and there are growing opportunities. We will not only pray for you, but work toward getting you those opportunities. Please let me as soon as possible if I can post your words and story so we can move immediately on this! Much love, TH and Sybille

Moussa Nazmy Zekry March 17 at 7:38pm Report
Thank you and Sibylle, thank you for your words, of course you can post any of my messages, post it on u r facebook, anything that can help my case. I m really gratefull for any help i can get. Thank you my friend, thank you so much, your brother Moussa

Moussa Zekry, Solar CITIES hero from the Zabaleen, whose family workshop was recently burned down and brother murdered by the Army in what should have stayed a peaceful demonstration for civil liberties, is shown on the right during happier days when NPR came to visit (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)
For those of you who can help, or for those people you may know or who contact you who are interested in helping Moussa Nazmy Zekry, his family and Zabaleen community or the Solar CITIES project he runs with Hanna Fathy Rostom, below is a link to the transcript from the piece that NPR did a couple of years ago that mentions him (his name is transliterated in it as "Musa Nusmee Zachrabahi(ph)"
Hopefully Aid agencies and philanthropists and potential employers can see this as part of a portfolio of recommendation as he builds his CV, so that he doesn't remain one of the voiceless un-named victims of the army and assailant brutality. One of the hopes we have when people from marginalized communities get involved in International efforts is that they will no longer "disappear" when conditions get bad. As we know, the disenfranchised and impoverished suffer disproportionately because they are off the radar of the wealthier people on this planet and have very limited opportunities to exercise their rights or get their voices heard. And as we've seen, their attempts to organize peaceful protests are brutally put down with murder and violence, as happened to Musa's brothter and his family livelihood.
In one of the city's poorest areas, residents who recycle trash by hand and a handful of environmental activists are slowly improving their community. Their efforts serve as an unlikely model for environmental change in an age of global warming.
Coptic Christian Solar CITIES colleague Moussa Nazmy Zekry builds a solar hot water system on the roof of a textile business in the Muslim community of Dab Al Ahmar near the Abu Hureyba mosque above the ancient public baths, where he also built a system. Through Solar CITIES Moussa has worked hard over the years to bring Muslims and Christians together through shared goodwill environmental projects like this.
Moussa (front right) and the guys (including his Solar CITIES colleagues and neighbors Adham Fawzy and Nabil, featured in the prize winning documentary film "Garbage Dreams" that Al Gore helped bring to audiences in the US) pose in front of a finished solar hot water system at Am Hussein's house in the neighboring historic Islamic community of Darb Al Ahmar. Moussa worked as part of the team renovating old Cairo with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Moussa Nazmy Zekry arranges the delivery of animal dung into the neighborhood for the inoculation of a Biogas system he built for the Roh El Shabab (Spirit of Youth) NGO office to demonstrate the effectiveness of the ARTI India Home Scale biogas system in Urban Cairo.

Watson Fellow Kelly Maby works on a biodigestor on Moussa's roof under Moussa's tutelage. Moussa not only trains members of his own community, but trains interns and volunteers from other countries. He also helps Hanna and Sabah Fathy run the Solar CITIES Urban Eco-Tour of old Cairo. With the revolution, the unrest and the recent killings in their community, the prospects to earn even part of his living doing this have dried up.

We need the world to know that the area is safe again, and bring more tourists and sustainable development trainees for Moussa to train, and we need AID and Development agencies to hire Moussa to share his expertise outside of his own community so he can earn a decent living.
Moussa also needs a sponsor to bring him to other countries to increase his own training opportunities in environmental technology. Please help!
Moussa spends his time helping other people turn "shitty situations" into value added experiences; as he demonstrates here. He is a gentle, humorous hands-on guy who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty doing good works (like putting animal manure into a neighbors biogas system that he taught them how to build). Let's help get Moussa and his family out of "the shit they are in" due to the miserable medical conditions in Cairo and the brutal security forces and thugs that murdered his family members and burned their plastics recycling workshop to the ground!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Solar CITIES "Sustainable Development Simulator"

What is the Sustainable Development Simulator (TM)?

Most 3D games could be described as "fight or flight" simulators. They operate at the limbic level, galvanizing our reptilian brains into action. It is fun, yes, but... primitive. And certainly not all that useful at a time when the world is becoming more and more like the dystopian scenarios depicted in such games.
But what if we could use the traditional "Flight Simulator" technology base, which is successfully used to train pilots and astronauts, operators of dangerous heavy machinery and even operators of nuclear power plants and brain and heart surgeons, and mux it up with "the traditional arts of hands-on vocational instruction meets environmental technologies for third world development"?

Enter the Solar CITIES "Sustainable Development Simulator".

This application of computer modelling and game physics engines, now in development, will allow practitioners and stakeholders, development experts, urban planners, architects, plumbers, carpenters, garbage pickers, masons and bricklayers, mothers and children - in short just about anybody - to safely play around with hammers and screwdrivers and drills and saws, copper , steel and polypropylene pipes and pipe cutters, welding machines and welding rods, HDPE water tanks, sheets of glass, rivets and nuts and bolts, kitchen sinks and Insinkerator food waste grinders, sump pumps and macerating toilet pumps, slow sand filters and even the sand and water that flows within them -- to mock up everything they need to know and do in the real world so they can solve their greatest challenges in sustainable, low cost, water, waste, food and energy provsion.

The Solar CITIES Sustainable Development Simulator will allow the user to not just learn how to build their own appropriate technology for development, but will allow players to quickly mock up their very own house and community, georeferenced in the world and subject to the real environmental parameters they face on a daily and seasonal level so they can place and test out their home and community scale development devices in accelerated real-time. Stakeholders playing the game can change the time of day and time of year to see how sun and wind and weather are likely to affect their area and the infrastructure they may want to build in the real world. They can use the "Havoc Physics" simulation capability of the game engine to climb up on their neighbor's roofs and throw stones at their own solar panels to see if the placement is safe, or if they have provided sufficient protection for the units. They can build another story on their neighbors roof to see if the other families plans to expand their building vertically will affect their own solar access. They can fill the biogas system with food and "leave for the week" and see how much gas is likely to accumulate and whether it would pose a problem. They can build a windmill generator out of rewound old washing machine motors and blades made of cut sewer pipes, the way our Palestinian Colleagues at Brothers Engineering do, and then test them on their virtual roofs to see if they are worth investing in out in the outside world.

In short, the Solar CITIES Sustainable Development Simulator is evolving to be a data-driven flight simulator for the dreams of the developing world to take flight. In concept it is intended to be a way for everybody to get meaningful vocational training in a safe and easy way -- through a game -- that can bring women and children as well as non-professionals closer and closer, with every completed level, to being real-life capable of the kind of craftsmanship necessary for self-sufficiency. For seasoned professionals who work with tools all the time, the simulator will enable them to apply their skills directly to appropriate technology construction. And for gamers the platform will encourage a whole new kind of alternate reality game -- players who have mastered the skills in the game can go out into the real world and start helping others, for real!

The game will, of course, be fun. That is the sin qua non of mammalian learning. We learn through play. And players of this kind of "development flight simulator" will be able to engage their "fight or flight" simulation skills too (for the whole brain is not just the neocortex and paleocortex, but the limbic system too -- all must be honored in a good game) -- players will be able to use prefabbed levels or create their own scenarios, pitting themselves against all sorts of realistic obstacles and AI and NPC interventions. For example, in our Solar CITIES ARG "Getting Into Hot Water", in the Cairo, Egypt level, members of the Zabaleen Garbage Recycling Community in the game confront the same problems they are facing in real life with state security forces inciting violence and destroying buildings and infrastructure as the battle for who controls the city's valuable waste stream goes on (The Mubarak regime was trying to bring multi-national garbage companies in to mine the wealth and shut the small entrepreunerial Zabaleen groups out of the equation. Sectarian violence, pitting Christians against Muslims, has been used by the regime to oppress the decentralized informal trash recyclers; these nuances will be built into that module of the game, for example).

The Solar CITIES Sustainable Development Simulator can be seen as a sort of post-modern hybrid of EA Games' "SimCity Socieites" and "The Sims 3" blended with elements of Bethesda Softworks' Oblivion and Fallout 3 and Valve's "Portal and Half-Life 2" so it will have a familiar feel to it. And it responds to the clarion call of Jane McGonigal and Will Wright for socially and environmentally responsible and instructive games. It will be open-source and available to the modding community, and is being created in Blender and Unity 3D. We envision it being ported to hand-held devices as a facebook app and other device-based applications, so that players can engage with the real world as they play -- working in slums and villages and updating the data base with real information about local infrastructure and environmental challenges as they play. In this way the game will also be an interactive tool for researchers and activists to get information from the field to institutions and individuals who can best intervene to help with needed poverty reduction plans.

But most of all, the Sustainable Development Simulator will make it possible for collective intelligence to operate through crowd sourced solution sets. The more that players and modders and practioners and citizens converge on ideas that work in-game, the more they can be tested in the outside world until real tangible transformative action has been achieved.

It is a hands-on game in a virtual world that will affect the real world for real...

What we need now is your hands and hearts and minds.
To develop this ARG we need lots of people to pitch in -- programmers, coders, designers, modellors, animators, musicians, graphic artists, plumbers, builders, artchitects, students, housewives, the homeless ... yeah, everybody.
Get involved -- let's start simulating sustainable development today...
and make it reality tomorrow!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Great Conversation: Solar CITIES prepared speech for Abu Dhabi Media Company

( This speech was prepared for the launch of the National Geographic Arabic Edition at a marketing and branding conference in Abu Dhabi in October 2010.)

There is something called "The Great Conversation".

My father John Culhane, who was a journalist and feature writer for Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, Geo, Argosy and The Walt Disney Company (among others), told me and my classmates that we could be a part of that conversation at a keynote address for the Rotary Club that he gave when I was in high school.
My father's address to me and my peers then was echoed by Simon Pearce's address to us today here at the Abu-Dhabi Media company when he said, "Your actions, discovered by the world, tell the story".  And what we are celebrating now is that with the launch of the National Geographic Arabic edition, we have finally found our own voice to tell what we discover in our own unique way.

In a certain literal sense there is only one story that we are all part of, and so we should all be participants in its narration. We call the one-story, quite literally, "the Uni-Verse".  It is a never ending story, ever unfolding. When we learn to see our Earth, so well described by National Geographic, as a living thing, as a giant organism within that Universe, we can also learn to see our essential roles as parts of that planetary body. From an ecological point of view we can see that nobody is expendable.

We  play different roles at different times, and  as we observe in nature, it is natural for each of us to  exhibit a certain "pleomorphism" -- that is to say it is natural for us to adapt our roles to the different environments and contexts we inhabit, and in so doing, use our behavioral plasticity and flexibility to enter The Great Conversation with the appropriate voice at the appropriate time. What has been lacking before was a medium to add our own vibrant Arabic color to that conversation on the world stage.  We contributed to what philosopher Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard in his classic 1979 work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge called "Le Grand narrative" or “master narrative” of world society, but we mostly did so in the tongues of our former colonizers, wearing their garb and looking through their eyes.  We were often made to feel, by the historical legacy effects of colonialism and what Edward Said called "othering" and "orientalism"  that our own take on things, and our way of expressing our experiences, was somehow less interesting.

But now the launch of National Geographic Araby changes that equation definitively.

There is a passion that comes from participation, and when  when we become truly INTERESTED in our own stories ourselves (which often comes with the realization and confidence of knowing that we count in the grand narrative) our stories suddenly become INTERESTING to everybody else.

Adam Smith, the economist who wrote The Wealth of Nations, talked about how, when we act out of self-interest, in a system that was transparent, an invisible hand would guide us toward a positive outcome.  What isn't often talked about is his second book -- The Theory of Moral Sentiments, wherein he described how self-interest is not at all the same as selfishness.  It is actually a passionate interest in how you yourself are connected to the whole -- and the changing roles you play (that pleomorphism I mentioned) -- a feeling that your existence has meaning, and that you can do great things.

The "self", of of course, is a kind of BRANDING.  And Marketing is, as Irving Goffman famously wrote, "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life", i.e. how you fit into the Great Conversation.  Each of us is an ambassador for our personal brand. And let us not forget that "the corporation" means the incorporation of each of our personalities into one giant body.

As I mentioned earlier, until the Abu Dhabi Media company launched National Geographic Araby,  many of us in the Middle East and Africa felt excluded from "the Great conversation".  Other people told our stories, in their own languages, through their eyes.  I know this first-hand because my grandfather's cousin was Hormuz Rassam, a great Iraqi archeologist who discovered Nimrud and the Tablets of Gilgamesh, but at the time received no credit from the British.  National Geographic articles of those discoveries at the time had no way to present the true stories coming out of the Middle East and Africa because our own people had no voice.  Most of our achievements were eclipsed from the meta-narrative. Most of us felt discouraged, thinking that perhaps the problems lay within us -- after all, if even our great archeologists and scholars could find no way into the Great Conversation, what chance did we have to make a difference? Perhaps we made no difference. And so we became indifferent to our own contributions.

But today's globalized Digital Media Platforms and Technology have removed most of the barriers to entry! We can connect with each other across the globe via youtube and flickr and facebook and myspace and blogging and commenting and expand the great conversation to include our voices among the many. And with National Geographic Araby there is now a platform to life those voices of special interest to the world stage.

Of course to participate in this Great Conversation, we know we have to do things that others will find interesting.  But since the access barrier has been removed there is only one final barrier that we have to take down -- the barrier within us.  After generations of feeling we might be  somehow "less" than the West when we embraced our own traditions, defensively trying to be "hyperwestern" in all we do, we must now discover a new, post-modern authentic Arab identity.    We must find ourselves interesting as ourselves, get interested in our own stories, and invest our time and energy in doing interesting things. When we truly begin to take a passionate interest in what we do and who we are, we can be quite sure that others will take a passionate interest in us too.