National Solar Energy Week is like a breath of fresh air, set as it is
against the backdrop of politicking over privatization of the Mexican
petroleum industry in the upcoming presidential administration. The occasion
fuels hope for clean alternatives to the dirty business of oil exploitation.
While the National Solar Energy Association (ANES) was holding its event
October 2-6 in Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the Group of Eight
rich nations plus a dozen others were having their second G8+5 Ministerial
Meeting on Climate Change, Clean Energy, and Sustainable Development October
3-5 in Monterrey, only a few hours from the border with the United States.
The association's agenda was the most recent addition to an ongoing 30-year
effort to structure a national training program to help everyone from kids
to scholars to decision-makers to end-users of electricity understand the
utility of solar and wind power in cost effectiveness for health and the
environment. Once the awareness is raised, great strides can be made in that
ANES board member Eduardo Rincón Mejía, a professor at the Mexico State
Autonomous University, speaks for many of Mexico's most brilliant minds when
he notes that the country's abundance of sun and wind can provide for all
its energy requirements for several centuries to come, if only we could
somehow shift away from the current 90% dependence on fossil fuels.
Rincón says that Mexico has to get on the stick and move over to renewable
energy sources within a 20-year time span if it expects any real
development. "The advantages of such a change include the generation of
hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs, a huge reduction in pollutant
emissions, the reduction of deforestation and desertification, important
savings on fossil resources, and the advancement of science and technology
in the country," he says. It also would help decrease "the sense of urgency
for the emigration of poor inhabitants from rural regions to other countries
... to diminish the import of fossil processed fuels, and to mend the water
supply problem, among other economical, health, and social benefits," he
Although some clean energy technologies are costly, many cheap, reliable,
and efficient systems could be put to work immediately, with the spin-off of
a boost for domestic industries. These systems include water and air heating
and cooling, solar hot plates and ovens for cooking, wind generators, and
For example, almost 30 million people nationwide consume food prepared using
wood, which is bad for the forests and for people's lungs. Meanwhile,
countless millions more use LP gas for cooking and water heating, which
results in major emissions of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and other
pollutants. All the while, effective solar cookers and water heaters have
been designed in Mexico. If only consumers could get them.
One project, partnering the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature
(FMCN), the World Health Organization, World Bank Development Marketplace,
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the non-profit Solar
Household Energy, Inc., has sponsored the manufacture and distribution of at
least 500 passive solar crock pots in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve of
Querétaro state, in Oaxaca state and in Nuevo Leon state.
Now FMCN is working with Energía Portatil, S.A. and Lindblad Expeditions to
encourage the latter's tour group members to donate toward subsidizing the
cost of these hot pots for 1,000 families in the rural communities of the
Gulf of California region in northwest Mexico.
Only the use of renewable energies can guarantee sustainable development for
Mexico, but publicity and availability of more economical technologies are
important to assure massive use here and in the rest of the world, concludes
If the G8+5 got the message, the funding for that could flow. Their meeting
was a follow up on the climate change mitigation plan they hashed out in
Gleneagles, Scotland, last year. The drafters of the eight richest countries
are from the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, United
Kingdom, and Japan. The +5 are China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and
As it stood, the Gleneagles Plan of Action failed to address short-term
mechanisms for easing climate change woes and funding for same, especially
in the more vulnerable countries, such as Mexico. Environmentalists have
called on the G8+5 to abandon illusive expectations for revitalizing the
atomic industry to the benefit of the rich, nuclear equipped nations and
focus instead on helping developing countries with renewable resource
innovations in energy conservation.
This is really a matter of life and death, not to mention environmental
justice and equitable distribution. The rich countries emit 73% of the C02
greenhouse gas and use 61% of the petroleum, while the poor ones feel the
brunt of the climate change effects, which are already claiming 160,000
victims a year and are expected to claim double that by 2020.
It is imperative to bring the National Solar Energy Week message down to
earth for the policymakers and pursestring-pullers to get it.
Talli Nauman is an environmental analyst for the IRC Americas Program and
founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. This
article first appeared in the Herald/Mexico October 9, 2006.