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!