Island of Tokelau Becomes World's First Solar-Powered Country
By Paul E McGinniss
Goodbye diesel generators, hello sunshine and coconuts! The remote Pacific island nation of Tokelau, which lies midway between New Zealand and Hawaii and was settled over a thousand years ago, is the first country on the planet to give up fossil fuels and power itself solely by renewable resources.
Tokelau's three atolls, which are territory of New Zealand, now have independent renewable energy systems comprised of solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels and coconut biofuel powered generators. Each renewable power plant has battery back up installed and produce enough clean energy to supply 150 percent of the countries current demand.
Previously the island country powered itself by shipping in thousands of barrels of dirty diesel fuel. According to PowerSmart, the New Zealand based company which installed the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project, diesel generators were burning around 200 liters of fuel daily on each of Tokelau's three atolls, meaning more than 2,000 barrels of diesel were used to generate electricity in Tokelau each year, costing more than $1 million NZD. Money saved from diesel fuel costs will now be put toward social programs.
Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand, Murray McCully said in a statement: “Until now, Tokelau has been 100 percent dependent upon diesel for electricity generation, with heavy economic and environmental costs.”
PowerSmart Managing Director Mike Bassett-Smith says the company is proud to be leading the project because of the impact it will have on the well-being of the people of Tokelau:
"All across the Pacific there are clear issues with the current and expected future costs of electricity generated using diesel, not to mention the environmental costs and risks of unloading diesel drums on tropical atolls. ... Energy costs underpin the economic and social development of these nations and making a positive impact on these issues is the single most important reason we started this business."
New Zealand is now working with the pacific nations of Tonga and the Cook Islands to develop renewable energy. And the renewable energy project in Tokelau has generated much interest in renewable energy from New Zealanders as well.
Many countries around the world are announcing aggressive plans for renewable energy development. Saudi Arabia just announced plans to go 100 percent renewable with Mecca working toward becoming the first city in Saudi Arabia to operate an entire power plant from renewable energy sources.
Scotland has set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.
In India a climate change movement against fossil fuels has rallied many to embrace clean energy, including the remote village of Sompeta in the state of Andhra Pradesh, to adopt widespread installation of solar PV.
Despite enormous pressure from the heavily subsided, powerful fossil fuels industry, the U.S. has made great strides in developing renewable resources. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, as of 2011 the U.S. was number one in geothermal energy capacity in the world and second in wind power. And we are the fifth largest producer of power from solar PV.
But we have a long way to go if we want to be 100 percent renewable. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, approximately 8 percent of U.S. power is now generated by renewable resources. And the U.S. is the second largest consumer of energy, after China, which recently surpassed American energy consumption.
There is an urgent need to combat climate change and get off fossil fuels. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, pointed out in his feature piece for Rolling Stone Magazine, "We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain." McKibben is working hard to get these facts out to Americans during his Do the Math Tour.
Fortunately, there's reason for hope. Think Progress reported that renewable electricity nearly doubled under the first Obama administration. And in 2011, global investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time. Since 2004, one trillion dollars have been invested in the global clean energy sector.
Let's keep the momentum building and keep steady pressure on world leaders, as well as our state and federal governments to push for 100 percent clean energy. Sign EcoWatch's petition today, telling Congress to expedite renewable energy.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
Paul E McGinniss is The New York Green Advocate. He is a green building consultant and real estate broker in New York. He is pretty much obsessed with all things environment and has lately become a resiliency addict.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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