What Do We Do When the Cathedral Burns?
When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.
Beset by divisive "yellow vest" demonstrations, the French were united by the Notre Dame fire in grief and their resolve to rebuild. Within a day, wealthy donors and companies pledged a billion dollars for restoration. The first challenge will be to determine what caused the fire so a repeat can be avoided in the rebuilding.
I wouldn't wish to diminish in any way the profound emotional impact of the Notre Dame conflagration. I have visited the great cathedral a number of times, and each time has been a deep spiritual experience. But if we had a similar response of shock and horror at the death throes of the Great Barrier Reef, the toxic state of the Ganges River, the degradation of the Amazon rainforest or the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere that gives us air, weather, climate and seasons, think of the responses we could develop.
What prevents us from action is the perceptual framework through which we encounter the world. We all share a common sensory system to inform us about what is happening around us. Humans have increased the range of our senses with telescopes, microscopes and technology to see, hear and smell far beyond the range of our organs.
However, factors like gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic position and personal experience shape the way we respond to the input from our senses. Ask a man and a woman about love, sex or family, a Bay Street financier and a Bay Street homeless person about money, the economy or welfare, a Palestinian and an Israeli about Gaza, water or Jerusalem, and chances are the responses will be radically different.
One of humankind's most important attributes for survival has been foresight — the ability to use observation, experience and imagination to look ahead and make decisions that minimize danger and take advantage of opportunity. Today, scientists and supercomputers provide powerful amplification of foresight by marshaling a vast array of information and projecting scenarios into the future. For decades, leading scientists and their organizations have warned about catastrophic changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, depletion of oceans, spread of toxic pollutants throughout air, water and soil, acceleration of species extinction and so on.
As Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments vow to fight a carbon tax and pit jobs and the economy against action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we fail to unite in recognizing the threat of climate change to our health and survival.
Children are not yet blinded by the perceptual complications of adulthood or our verbal declarations. They see that our current trajectory is toward a radically uncertain future. Inspired in part by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, young people are calling on adults for real action to preserve their future. Surely that merits as profound and intense a response as the French have had to the Notre Dame fire.
We know the cause of the current ecological crisis. With our profligate use of fossil fuels and over-exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources while putting our "wastes" into air, water and soil, we're destroying the natural systems on which we depend for health and survival. Having identified the cause, we could commit massive amounts to stop the practices that are creating the problems while searching for new ways to provide for our needs and to exploit what we call "waste."
This will call for a shift in the way we see ourselves in the world. By raising their future for consideration, children are trying to get politicians to move beyond their current priorities of re-election and party solidarity and to show businesspeople the folly inherent in the drive for ever-increasing profits and endless growth. There is no hidden agenda or ulterior motives behind their pleas. Ignoring their calls for action puts us on a road to extinction.
Repairing Notre Dame and preventing future damage is worthy, but we must also do the same with our precious natural systems and areas.
By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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