Jack Hidary and Bioneers Conference
Every year, for the last twenty years, a group of thinkers have gotten together to discuss breakthrough solutions for our world. This year I went there in a 2010 Toyota Prius to learn and be inspired.
©2009 Isaac Hernández
Given that the UN Climate Change Conference is happening in Copenhagen December 7-18, much of the conversation was dedicated to the idea of reducing carbon emissions. Everybody seems to agree that we can reduce our emissions by 80% by 2020, with the technology we have available today. Thousands of experts are saying that waiting until 2050 to reduce our emissions by 80% is not enough, causing irreversible damage. Unfortunately the US government thinks it is. But the people at Bioneers don’t despair, instead they get into action, with many solutions, some of which I will share here in the following months.
As Ken Ausubel, co-founder of Bioneers, said, “if your kitchen is on fire, you don’t just sit there depressed. It’s time to grab for the extinguisher.” It’s a fact that we humans produce 70 million tons of CO2 every 24 hours. Changing the light bulbs to low energy fluorescents and remodeling our homes with energy efficient windows is part of the solution, but not enough. We need to let our leaders know that we want more. And sometimes we have to become the leaders.
Take Jack Hidary, for example, he wasn’t happy with the amount of CO2 put into the New York air by the 13,000 inefficient Ford Crown Victoria pullulating on its streets and avenues. So he helped form SmartTransportation.org, a coalition of health, civic, business and environmental organizations working together to improve our lives through innovative transport solutions. In just two years, their initiative has replaced 25% of the taxi fleet with more efficient hybrid vehicles. A hybrid taxi costs the same than a Crown Victoria and saves the driver about $5000 per year in gasoline. Even if the $2000 batteries have to be replaced after three years, it makes sense to drive a hybrid in the city, doing 30 miles per gallon instead of 10-12mpg for a Crown Vic.
Jack thinks that in two more years the full fleet of yellow cabs will be high efficiency vehicles. He didn’t stop there. He talked to dozens of executives about the pollution generated by their “black cars”, the Lincoln Town Car vehicles that sit in front of office buildings, idling. When Jack showed the executives photos of the cars emitting carbon dioxide, they agreed to replace their fleets with hybrids.
Mr. Hidary is happy with these results, but he wants more. “At the current ramp rates,” Jack says, “Green Vehicles won’t reach 5% of total US fleet before 2030. Even the Obama Administration’s goal of 1 million plug in hybrid electric vehicles by 2015 won’t represent more than .4% penetration.
Renewable energy for the creation of electricity in the US is in a similar situation, reaching less than 4% of the total, in a market dominated by coal burning, with 46% of the total. But Hidary thinks that it’s within our reach to change this very quickly. Thanks to social networks like Facebook, we’re becoming more connected, with many positive results.
Imagine that you’re driving your car and someone hits you from behind. You get out of the car ready to yell at the other driver. Imagine that there’s an application for your phone that allows you to see if you’re somehow connected to another person. This is something that will happen very soon, according to Jack Hidary.
So before you start screaming your lungs out, your iPhone buzzes and lets you know that the man who hit you has a common friend with you, and not only that, he’s also going to the same birthday party you’re going on Saturday. The relationship with that person suddenly transforms. You exchange phone numbers and look forward to seeing each other at the party. No need for police or insurance reports.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” These are the words Chief Seattle said in 1854. They hold true now as much as ever.
This connectivity helps us communicate solutions much faster than ever. One solution that Hidary thinks is worth spreading is PACE, a system that started in Berkeley, California, from the hand of Cisco Debris and Dan Cayman, and is now in 15 states. What’s PACE? A great way of allowing everybody jump into the renewable energy bandwagon, permitting people install solar panels for very little, and ultimately allowing for the home owner to charge the batteries of their electric car at no extra cost to their pocket or the environment.
How does it work? PACE provides long term loans, payable over thirty years. The payments are tied to the property tax, so you just pay a little bit every month to wean yourself from coal, possibly the same that you would be paying for the old-fashioned electricity.
For $3500-4500 one can transform a Toyota Prius into a plug in version, thanks to Lithium-Ion kit made in China, with the installation made by 3prong power, which was present at the Bioneers Conference. The cheaper transformation allows only for 15 miles on fully electric mode, while the other doubles the range to 30 miles. Can you imagine if you could drive to work and then come home and charge the car with your solar panels?
“Yes, that’d be nice,” says a woman checking the Prius, “but if I live within 7 miles each way from my work, I think I rather take the bicycle.”
It’s true that the bicycle is still the most renewable energy available, but you cannot convince everybody to ride bicycles, that’s why every solution helps move us along towards the goal of reducing CO2 by 80% in 10 years.
Many people at the conference seemed to agree that China is in a privileged position to lead the world with renewable energy, given that your country doesn’t have as many political hurdles as the US and it’s already investing heavily in solar plants. There’s much to do still, but our children will appreciate the investment we do today or they’ll suffer if we don’t. Make sure you’re a part of this revolution. Just like Jack Hidary, be part of the action and the solution.