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This Tesla-Loving Superstar Is Helping Power Africa With Solar
Akon is probably best known for being a multi-platinum singer and rapper, but he's also a major solar advocate and Tesla enthusiast. In 2014, Akon, along with Samba Bathily and Thione Niang, launched Akon Lighting Africa to provide solar power to homes in parts of Africa that do not have reliable access to the grid.
According to the organization's website, Akon Lighting Africa has brought "a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits" to 14 African countries. For some of those communities, it was the first time they ever had electricity.
Clean Technica director Zachary Shahan had a chance to interview Akon last week at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. Akon explained to Shahan that his motivation for starting the project is very personal. Growing up in Dakar, Senegal, he did not have electricity.
"It was always a dream of mine to be a part of Africa's building infrastructure," Akon told Shahan. "And the whole idea was to start with energy because energy was the key to starting the infrastructure-building in Africa."
Just how, Shahan asked, did he go from rap sensation to clean energy advocate? Akon explained that when he was young, "music wasn't even a thought. I wanted to be a doctor—a brain surgeon" he said. He later added "I just wanted to be rich."
"It's crazy, but that was my goal," he said. But after serving time in prison for his involvement in an auto theft ring, his employment options were limited.
"I kind of made a lot of decisions that landed me locked up, and by the time I was released I couldn't get into a Fortune 500 company," he explained. So Akon, whose father was a jazz musician and whose mother was a dancer, turned to music. Even amid all of his musical success, though, Akon said he "always looked at music as a vehicle to get to bigger and better things in my life."
For now, he hopes to continue to expand the reach of his organization. "My idea is, just keep doing what you're doing and learn as you go," he said.
Finally, Shahan half-jokingly wanted to know if Akon had a Tesla. It turns out he's a huge Tesla fan. He used to have 28 cars, including Ferraris, BMWs and Lamborghinis, all of which he sold. He now owns four Teslas (a Model S and Model X at his home in Georgia, and a Model S and Model X at his home in California). He said he was one of the first people to put down a deposit for the Model X years ago.
Akon joined partners Bathily and Niang today at the Powering Africa Summit 2016 in Washington, DC. The three are there to present their projects supporting electrification of Africa. Bathily, who's also CEO of Solektra International, will speak on Friday on a panel focusing on how to finance access to renewables in Africa.
Watch the full interview of Akon here:
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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