ttierney July 21st, 2009
Why are green projects more successful in some areas and not in others?
One of the highlights of our visit to Samsø was a half-hour conversation with the passionate and captivating leader Søren Hermansen and his equally passionate partner, photographer Meline Lundén. They pointed out that on Samsø they took a holistic approach that he described as an “energy democracy.” Firstly, Denmark is not a producer of fossil fuel based energy (like the U.S. and GB), which means that no-one is lobbying the government and they did not have to overcome inertia created by existing energy interests. As far back as the 1970s, the Danish government has been supporting alternative energy by supporting research in sustainable energy use. They, like many other Northern European countries, are also used to high taxes on gasoline to discourage overconsumption. By energy democracy he meant the participation of all constituents in shaping a shared vision of an economically and environmentally sustainable society. In this way, citizens have a moral and economic stake in the project and take ownership of the island. The Samsø project had an effective leadership team consisting of the charismatic, warm, dynamic Søren Hermanson and the technical brain Age … Søren and Meline … described their way of relating to the citizens as “embracing our community,” with which they emphasized the importance of knowing their neighbors and building on their strengths. Søren characterized the U.S. as a nation with a great sense of humor, but as way behind the curve in renewable energy research and production despite its leadership. For example, the carpenter Michael, who often upgrades homes to make them more energy efficient, talked about how inefficient he found American building methods on a recent visit to Akron, and this despite all the available know-how and the wealth of materials. (And the American carpenters knew that it was inefficient, which is even sadder.) When Søren visited Greensburg, KS, the town that got nearly destroyed in a tornado and decided to rebuild as a green community, he suggested to them that they build a communal district heating and cooling plant. He ran into huge resistance and found the citizens horrified of such a “socialist” (our phrase) endeavor. This is interesting considering that in America, there are many existing forms of cooperative arrangements, e.g. in the agricultural sector, but Americans seem to have an almost instinctive resistance/fear of the IDEA of cooperative activities. This is a good example of a point Jan made during his lecture about the importance of the deep local knowledge of the culture where projects are initiated – and of Søren’s point about “embracing the community.”