When I was travelling in Chile 10 years ago I had a golden rule. If I needed a bus, I would go to a main road and wait. It did not matter where in the country I was nor what time of day it was. Before long there was always a bus.
I have a similar rule for earthrise stories. Look at any environmental issue anywhere in the world and you will soon find someone trying to do something about it. It does not matter whether it is in a remote part of Africa or the middle of a US city. There will always be someone.
Sometimes the stories come one at a time. Sometimes they come in threes.
In Kenya, three presented themselves immediately. Sam Duby in Kisumu has developed a way of turning an old car alternator into a low-cost wind turbine that is easy to assemble. Lucy King in Nairobi has enlisted African honeybees as unlikely advocates to broker a peace between hungry elephants and the farmers whose crops the weighty quadrupeds have targeted.
|Conservation programme has seen the number of elephants rise in Kenya. But Marauding gangs of elephants are increasingly raiding farmers’ crops. [Al Jazeera]|
Helen and Kenya Mutiso in the Rift Valley teach local farmers about the financial and environmental benefits of growing indigenous trees, in addition to the lucrative fast-growing non-indigenous trees that farmers already know about.
California proved just as abundant. In the hi-tech labs of San Francisco there is a wave of young scientists looking to develop the next generation of smart ‘eco-materials’ that might soon be commonplace. They are experimenting with energy-scavenging devices that harvest the ambient energy around electronic products and convert it into usable electricity.
They are surrounding office blocks with tubes of energy-generating algae that feed on polluting emissions from cars travelling on nearby roads. They are also developing plastics that utilise UV rays to heal scratches themselves, reducing non-recyclable waste.
I think what unites all these people is a spirit of what you might call “enviro-entrepreneurialism”. It is the desire to give their idea a go, see how it works in practice, fine-tune it, and then hopefully see their vision adopted by others.
I can imagine that conferences like COP18 could provide an “enviro-entrepreneur” with an opportunity to spread the word and perhaps seek out new funding. But what else? For them, action speaks louder than words.
Over the last few days I have tried to apply the Chilean bus rule to Europe’s biggest and most interesting ongoing environmental story.
I have set myself the task of finding a positive angle on the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Surely someone in Chernobyl has come up with an awe-inspiring environmental idea? I think I have found the story – but you will have to wait until the next series of earthrise to know what it is.
What I can say is that it is unlikely to fix the problem. It is reckoned that the plutonium in Chernobyl will be a problem for all of imaginable time.
But whether or not they fix the problem is not really the issue. What is important is that they are already putting ideas into action – and not flying half way around the world to sit around a large conference table in a large air-conditioned building to talk about it.