Rhys Roth is a founder and codirector of Climate Solutions, whose mission is nothing less than to stop global warming at the earliest point possible by helping the Pacific Northwest become a world leader in practical and profitable solutions.

Monday, 23 Apr 2001

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine

This is no typical day in my life as an activist. I’m in a sunny cafeteria, where a few young women are chattering in a Slavic tongue over cheery English pop music echoing from the kitchen. Breakfast is sugar beets, rice, and some sort of meat loaf. It is early morning and I’ve survived a grueling two-day journey from Seattle to Detroit to Amsterdam to Kiev, capital of Ukraine, and finally to Simferopol in the Crimea, an isthmus that spears south from Ukraine’s mainland into the Black Sea.

This isn’t my vacation paradise, though it is for many Russians and Ukrainians. I am part of a four-person Washington state delegation brought in by the Crimean Association for Ekologiya i Mir (Ecology and Peace) and the Berkeley-based Center for Safe Energy for a conference aimed at developing a blueprint for making the Crimea a regional leader in clean energy.

This is a bit far afield for Climate Solutions, but all the same an exciting extension of our work. After all, our mission is to stop global warming at the earliest point possible, a crisis that is, well, global! Our work is centered on helping the Pacific Northwest to be a world leader in global warming solutions — especially clean energy innovation that couples compelling economic opportunities with profound environmental improvements.

Six months ago, I sat in Fran Macy’s living room, along with his codirector at the Center for Safe Energy, Enid Schreibman, to explore the potential for collaboration between our respective Earth Island Institute projects. They felt that Climate Solutions’ approach of organizing around a positive vision of economic and environmental opportunity through clean energy leadership could serve Ukrainian activists well in their fight against grandiose plans for expansion of the nuclear and fossil fuel industries. Now, because of fortuitous timing and Herculean efforts by the CSE and their Crimean partners, we are here at what has shaped up to be a very impressive conference and a series of important consultations.

Doubts of various sorts have been traipsing across my mind on the way here: How can we as Americans, the undisputed energy hogs of the planet, speak here with credibility about clean energy? How do I justify flying halfway around the world for clean energy, especially when our new quasi-elected President seems bent on handing over American energy and environmental policy-making authority to his dear friends in the oil industry? How relevant is our knowledge of the energy industry in a country that is in serious economic crisis and that has just begun to try to adopt market systems after decades of economic life directed by the Soviet Central Committee?

But I’ve brought along some extremely bright and capable professionals, and Fran and Enid, who know intimately the needs of the environmental groups here, are very enthusiastic. Looking at the numbers, this is an important part of the world in terms of global warming. Ukraine emits over a million tons of carbon a year and, when combined with Russia, begins to approach the emission levels of the U.S. On a per-person basis, the U.S. is unrivalled, with each person responsible for an average 5.6 tons a year of carbon pollution, compared to 2.1 tons in Ukraine. But Ukraine clearly has tremendous potential to improve its energy efficiency and reduce pollution. It is one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world as measured by energy consumption per dollar of GDP — 135,000 BTUs per 1997 dollar, 11 times that of the U.S. and 26 times that of Japan.

Tomorrow, meet my Washington state teammates and join us as we’re introduced to our partners at Ekologiya i Mir.