Tuesday, 24 Apr 2001

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine

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
    ogue.

    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!