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


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.

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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?

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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.

Tuesday, 24 Apr 2001


This morning we gather, still groggy from the two-day, four-plane journey from Puget Sound to the Crimea, in a hotel room with Fran Macy and Enid Schreibman, codirectors of the Center for Safe Energy (CSE) and chief organizers on the U.S. side of the “Clean Energy for Crimea” conference I’m attending. They brief us on the plans for the week and prepare us for our afternoon meeting with the Crimean Association for Ekologiya i Mir (Ecology and Peace), their NGO organizing partners on the ground here in the Crimea.

Fran’s first visit to this part of the world was in 1961, as a coordinator of the first U.S. – Soviet Union cultural exchange of the Khrushchev-era Cold War “thaw” — a six-month transportation touring exhibit that provided thousands of regular Russians their first chance to speak with Americans in Russian. Two decades later, he began organizing exchanges of professionals — psychologists and educators. Profoundly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, he began in 1989 to organize environmental exchanges for the Center for Citizen Initiatives, continuing through the breakup of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the newly independent states. It was during this time that he teamed up with Enid and founded the CSE in 1995 to support environmental activists in Russia, Ukraine, and other newly independent states.

Their hopes for this conference are straightforward:

  1. Popularize and build support for clean energy in Crimea and Ukraine.
  • Promote Ekologiya i Mir as an effective voice of the people, and increase its credibility and contacts with policy makers.
  • Establish ongoing government, business, and NGO relationships between Crimea and Washington state around clean energy.
  • Looking around the table, I’m proud of the stellar team of professionals from Washington state:

    • Tony Usibelli, energy policy specialist for the Washington Department of Trade and Economic Development. Tony is the single person in state government that has done the most to raise the profile and credibility of Washington’s clean energy industry.
  • Nancy Glaser, director of strategic planning for Seattle City Light, the largest public electric utility in the region and a national leader in energy efficiency, clean energy innovation, and environmental responsibility.
  • Gary Hirsch, president of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, the trade association representing some 70 businesses in the region that specialize in home, commercial, and industrial energy-efficiency technologies and services.
  • After a classic multicourse lunch at the local restaurant, we head to the new offices of Ekologiya i Mir, a very compact but lovely space packed with five computers, a copy machine, and plenty of desks and chairs for the five staff members that greet us. A surprisingly well-furnished office, thanks to support from a Dutch foundation.

    With translation by Maya, our interpretive genius, we find our Crimean colleagues are friendly, dedicated, intelligent, and energetic. They are genuinely delighted to have us here — an “international” conference brings extra prestige and credibility to their clean energy campaign. They also believe we can help them break through the stodgy, boring pattern of typical conferences here in which academics come expecting to read from their papers. With a huge political and cultural revolution just 10 years ago, they are in the thick of creating new patterns of social and political interaction, and they invite us to help them introduce fresh ideas and techniques for fostering real dial

    Founded in 1988 to mobilize opposition to a proposed nuclear power station, Ekologiya i Mir now boasts chapters in 14 cities, some 200 activist members, and a 20-person policy council that meets monthly. They work on issues ranging from chemical pollution to biodiversity protection to water quality and, of course, energy. Two years ago, they expanded from opposition to nukes and fossil fuels to a proactive agenda promoting clean energy. After all, Crimea has abundant wind, solar, and geothermal resources, and like all of the former Soviet Union, enormous opportunities to use energy more efficiently.

    The more I hear from Victor, Lenora, Edik, and Andre about their clean energy hopes for Crimea and their vision for this conference, the more I am struck by the parallels between their efforts and Climate Solutions’ campaign to help the Pacific Northwest to be a leader in clean energy.

    But more on that, and the opening day of the conference, tomorrow!

    Wednesday, 25 Apr 2001

    YALTA, Ukraine

    It is inspiring to be in the Crimea. The landscape is spectacular — the land rises from the breakers of the Black Sea up 5,000-foot mountains of ancient rock. The air is clean and the forests are full of unfamiliar birdsong.

    Inspiring, too, are the extraordinarily dedicated and tireless activists working for a clean energy future with the Crimean Association of Ekologiya i Mir (Ecology and Peace). The challenge seems so much greater here than in the U.S. that it’s humbling. The energy sector in the Crimea is deep in debt, and it is unable to collect payment for much for the electricity it supplies because incomes are so low. The banks will not make loans for new power-generation projects (90 percent of electricity is imported here) except at ridiculous interest rates over 35 percent.

    Yet here at the “Clean Energy for Crimea” conference in Yalta, activists have assembled top government officials, scientists, engineers, and business leaders to discuss how to overcome the challenges and forge ahead with strategic reforms, solar power, wind, and energy efficiency projects.

    What Ekologiya i Mir is doing is similar in many ways to what Climate Solutions is doing in the Pacific Northwest. Both organizations are articulating a vision for the region that combines economic and environmental benefits, and are working to bring together key players to foster fresh, exciting, strategic partnerships to turn this vision into reality.

    For our “Clean Energy Is Economic Opportunity” program, which aims to help the Pacific Northwest become a global center for clean energy technology, Climate Solutions is engaging economic development, technology, investment, and energy organizations. For our “Harvesting Clean Energy for Rural Development” program, which strives for the widespread deployment of renewable energy to foster economic development in the rural Northwest, we are reaching out to landowners, utilities, and other rural leadership.

    Just as we have used conferences to catalyze new collaborations, Ekologiya i Mir, with the help of the Center for Safe Energy, is doing the same here in Yalta. Their hopes for the “Clean Energy for Crimea” event are:

    • to elevate clean energy as a priority on the government’s agenda;
    • to decide on the most important actions to work on to turn the Crimean Parliament’s very positive goals into reality;
    • to assemble a broader, stronger coalition to lobby for clean energy action;
    • to begin to help Crimean business leaders organize joint ventures to build clean energy projects.

    After a morning of opening speeches (and amazing simultaneous translations), we break into American-style working groups on solar power, wind, and energy efficiency, complete with circular seating and framing questions designed to foster discussion.

    At the end of the day, we all report active and engaged groups, and even some heated passions as frustrations with government malfeasance and severe economic constraints boil over. The profound differences between Crimean and U.S. energy institutions and economics made it hard for us Americans to know what to say that would be valuable here. But there is energy and excitement at the conference; people are recreating the institutions of their society. Now, the challenge is to make the most of the final two days.

    Tomorrow, the Americans will make their main presentations, along with more dignitaries and NGO leaders from Crimea. Then the conference will hear and discuss summaries of the workshops, setting the stage for the last day’s “Action Roundtables.” This is where the rubber meets the road, priorities are decided, strategies are forged.

    I will report back with final reflections on the outcomes of this very unusual week in my life as an activist.

    Dobray den!

    Friday, 27 Apr 2001

    YALTA, Ukraine

    There’s an optimistic afterglow in the air as we celebrate (with singing, dancing, and countless toasts) the “Clean Energy for Crimea” conference, and it’s not only from the expansive, expressive kindness of our new friends and their fine Crimean champagne, cognac, and wine.

    One day before the Ukraine marks the 15th anniversary of the horrific Chernobyl nuclear disaster, this conference of hope culminated in the adoption of a detailed action plan to implement clean and safe energy in Crimea. An outstanding outcome, thanks to the masterful facilitation and clear vision of Conference Chair Victor Taravenko, the irrepressible organizing efforts of Eduard Shishonkov and his colleagues at Ekologiya i Mir, and the hard work of the participants.

    This was a step toward a dream that is taking shape — for Crimea to help lead a clean energy revolution for Ukraine and other newly independent states, just as Climate Solutions is working to help the Pacific Northwest do the same in the U.S.

    Less than 10 years after Ukraine achieved independence from the Soviet Union, the process of this conference was as important as the product. No matter that time was running short on the final day and participants were growing restless — as each working group recommendation was presented to the full group, all concerns could be voiced. The chair set an inviting tone: “We cannot approve recommendations without discussion or it would be too totalitarian.”

    Everyone was active. All had a chance to speak during the conference, and everyone had a hand in the final product. There were passionate disputes and there was conflict, but in the end, a spirit of collaboration prevailed. Democracy like I’ve rarely seen it.

    Our hosts gave us a lovely title of distinction — “the American delegation” — and welcomed us as full and honored participants. It feels great to be so personally enriched by visiting this country, to receive much, yet know that we also worked very hard and each of us — Gary, Nancy, Tony, Enid, Fran, and I — made a distinct and valuable contribution. And we were delighted to learn that Enid and Fran’s Center for Safe Energy has secured funding for a Crimean delegation to come to Washington state to further the exchange of ideas in the fall!

    Of course, it is the Crimeans that now must put the “action” in the action plan, although they face very significant economic, institutional, bureaucratic, and business challenges. The average above-board salary is just $30 a month, and the utilities are unable to collect payment for much of the electricity they supply. Government agencies are plagued by administrative fiefdoms and can’t afford to enforce important regulations. On top of all that, the business culture is still very young.

    But in my short time here, I have observed several important strengths that could, given the Crimeans’ dete
    rmination, allow them to succeed:

    • They have engineering and technical excellence and skilled workers, a legacy of the Soviet military-industrial complex, and strong entrepreneurial spirit (if not experience).
    • They are developing direct experience with wind power, solar, geothermal, and energy conservation, and even the manufacturing of clean energy equipment.
    • They have some articulate elected leaders that support clean energy.
    • They have a proven-effective NGO in Ekologiya i Mir to raise public awareness and bring people together around a common goal of building a clean energy future.

    The conference accomplished a lot. We exchanged information efficiently and the action plan strategically addresses a number of fundamental challenges. For example, for energy conservation strategies to work and to create a reliable stream of revenue to pay for new clean energy projects, Crimea must first create a system that gives customers incentive to conserve and that reliably collects payments. This will not be as simple as it sounds by any means, but the Crimean Academy, a prestigious institution of scientists and economists, as well as a main conference sponsor, will take the lead in analyzing how best to do this.

    As our chair said in closing, “We were able to act in the public interest, the territorial interest, the interests of the whole planet.”

    As an activist, you sometimes wonder if all your hard work really makes any difference. Other times you know there is nothing more important you could be doing. To the activists that made this remarkable week happen — and who feel like such dear friends already — you’ve done very, very well. Za vashe zdarovye!

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