Samsø- Leading the Way While Others Say ‘We Can’t’

Samsø is a small island in the center of Denmark. To get to the island, it’s a little over an hour drive from Copenhagen to Kalundborg and then another two hours on a ferry

English: Samsø, Denmark

English: Samsø, Denmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

until you reach the Samsø shore. With a population of roughly 4300 inhabitants in an area of 114 km² ( a little over 70 miles), Samsø might seem like any other small island around the world. Pastoral, idyllic, agrarian, Samsø is known across Denmark for its harvest of new and gourmet potatoes. But the Samsings and their island are unique for another reason; Samsø is a renewable energy island with a carbon negative footprint.

In 1997, Samsø won a Danish government competition to become a renewable energy community. In 10 years time, the residents had transformed their fossil-fuel based energy economy into a citizen-powered renewable energy economy. Samsø incorporates energy efficiency measures along with solar, biomass district heating, and wind to create its energy portfolio. Including the 10 offshore wind turbines, Samsø generates more energy from renewables than it uses and is able to export the surplus back to the Danish mainland. This has led to a 140% decrease in Samsø’s CO2 emissions.

Being a small island, it would have been easy to the locals to think that transforming their energy grid was a project that was just too big. In fact, many citizens thought that in the beginning. But through a series of local meeting forums, the Islanders came to recognize that this kind of transformation meant a more vibrant local economy and jobs, independent of subsidies. They would become owners in their energy future instead of customers. Energy democracy and independence were important selling points to the Samsings.

I first discovered Samsø from a children’s book. I read the story, Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world, to a group of my elementary students in my after-school eco-club class. The story really resonated with the kids. They liked that despite being too small, Samsø joined together as a community, rose to the occasion and transformed their energy grid. “If Samsø could do that, we can too,” the kids agreed. This concept, so easily understood by my eco-club kids, hasn’t resonated with the same clarity among adults, especially in places like the USA where we spend a lot of time arguing our point and maybe not as much time listening to what the other person has to say.

I visited the Samso Energy Academy in August and was fortunate enough to spend some time with it’s charismatic director, Søren Hermansen. Shortly after, Hermansen took the Samsings’ story on the road on a 3-week tour of speaking engagements across America. Fortunately, my town of Santa Fe was one of his stops. Søren has a new e-book just released in English, Commonities = commons + communities. The book extols the shared ownership of the commons along with the wisdom of community. Combining those two concepts, front and center, will help us create a path to a better, more equitable energy future.

In Santa Fe,” one of our sustainability commissioners mentioned to Søren, “we are known as the City Different. People like being different and creating their own solutions.” “That’s part of the problem,” he responded. “You need to be the City United not the City Different.” We all laughed. But, that seems to me to be our best path to redemption.



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Global Warning, Our Oil Addiction and Living on a New Planet

Narrated by Leo DiCaprio, this clip is based on the book by Thom Hartmann, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late.

“Picture this, a blue planet protected by a thin layer of atmosphere that keeps temperature, air and water in perfect balance to maintain life. In the cold depths of space, this planet is a virtual paradise, the only one know of its kind. And, it is our planet, Earth. But something is wrong…human civilization and our relentless consumption has brought this planet to the brink. But specifically, our addiction to one single resource may push us over the edge. And, that resource is Oil.”

“So get educated, stay educated, so we can think for ourselves and join the fight to save this unique blue planet for future generations,” DiCaprio closes. But, this problem of climate change is not really just a problem for future generations. As author Bill McKibben argues in his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, we no longer live on the planet Earth where the climate has allowed human civilization to flourish over the past 10,000 years, but on a new planet with more erratic and extreme weather. McKibben calls the planet Eaarth. We are now living with human-induced climate change. While  hoping we can still return the concentration  of CO2 in our atmosphere to 350ppm (someday because even if we cut emissions to zero, we’ve already committed the planet to further warming), we must focus our efforts to adapt to that change. McKibben suggests lightly, carefully, gracefully with a focus on local systems. activity photo climate day 2009
Image via Wikipedia

We also must engage our political system. We’ve seen no seriousness or urgency out of the Senate as the Clean Energy and Climate Change bill languished. As McKibben writes in the Huffington Post (linked below), “Political time is in short supply, too. So far, of course, Washington has done nothing—the Senate is currently considering a watered-down version of a watered-down bill, one that would only apply to electric utilities and only cause the slowest of changes, and even that has not persuaded President Obama to knock heads. He’ll go after BP, but not the GOP—the bill’s great champion, John Kerry, summed up the prevailing strategy for winning votes: “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.” “

We can still bring change through grassroots efforts, like those of, 1Sky and Repower America (links below) and also through the efforts of many individuals calling their Senators to tell them that we need a bill that addresses climate change, carbon pollution and clean energy now. Get educated, stay educated and get active. Your future is now.

Links to Help You Get Active on this Issue:

Where to Find my U.S. Senators Contact Info

Repower America: Together, We Can Solve It


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Join a Hands Across the Sand Event on June 26


As the Gulf of Mexico continues to fill up with oil with no end in sight, the reports continue to bring us more distressing news. As of June 16, NOAA tells us that 1/3 of the Gulf is now closed to fishing.

Methane (a very potent greenhouse gas) adds a new dimension to this ever-unfolding catastrophe.  The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill. “This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history,” Kessler stated.

Meanwhile according to McClatchy News Service, the Department of the Interior’s MMS approved at least 5 new oil drilling projects without environmental review.

What can you do to express your outrage at this environmental cataclysm caused by human greed and non-existent government regulation?


Attend a Hands Across the Sand event near you on June 26th. The image is powerful, the message is simple.  NO to Offshore Oil Drilling, YES to Clean Energy. On Fort Lauderdale Beach, the event is being held at the intersection of AIA and Las Olas Boulevard.  Here is a link to one of the Facebook pages created for the event.

To find an event near you go to
See you at the beach…

From the South Florida Wildlands Association:

The Department of the Interior needs to hear from you. The current moratorium on deepwater drilling should become a permanent ban. Current deep water drilling pushes the limits of human technology. The acknowledgement before Congress by executives of virtually all oil companies engaged in deepwater operations that they would be as incapable as BP of coping with the current spill, makes any other course of action far too risky.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS), has allowed numerous ‘environmental waivers’ for offshore oil operations in both deep and shallow waters.  The DOI should undertake an immediate and complete review of all current permits.  Where environmental safeguards are lax, non-existent, not enforced, or not up to ‘best available science’, the DOI should halt the operation immediately.  The DOI must implement a monitoring and inspection system on all remaining offshore oil operations to insure that environmental safeguards are being met on a regular basis. See the below link.

DOI-Send Your Comment

Additional Links to Help You Get Active on this Issue:

Where to Find my U.S. Senators Contact Info

Repower America: Together, We Can Solve It


Naomi Klein in the Guardian

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Repower America With Clean Energy

International Day of Climate Action
Image by Earthprints via Flickr

America faces unparalleled  economic, national security and environmental challenges. The solution seems simple- make a  transition to clean, renewable energy. A majority of Americans support a clean energy future, but powerful special interests block our path, and are spending millions of dollars to protect their interests.

What can you do?  Call your  US Senators today and tell them you want a clean energy future and real comprehensive climate change legislation. Don’t just call once, call often and tell your friends to do the same. Then add your voice to the Repower America Wall.

Here is an excerpt from the Repower America Wall recorded by  our beloved science guy, Bill Nye. In this video Nye talks about the need for patriotic young Americans to get excited about math and science so that they can develop the new technologies for energy and sustainable living. “If we don’t act on climate change, other countries will… The United States invented light bulbs. It invented audio. It invented television. The United States sent the first people to the moon…Why shouldn’t the United States come up with the new technologies in energy? Wouldn’t that be great?”

Nye concludes, “Add your voice. Influence our leaders. Let’s get going on this. The problem is real and its serious.”

Links to Get You Active on this Issue:

Where to Find my U.S. Senators Contact Info

Repower America: Together, We Can Solve It


LeMieux EarthDay 1
” I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as if they were great and noble. The world is moved along , not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”- Hellen Keller

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Ahead of Earth Day and Cochabamba, Bolivia’s indigenous summit on climate change along with the anticipated unveiling of a Senate climate bill this coming week, Democracy Now spoke with someone who sounded one of the earliest alarms about global warming. In 1989, Author Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature but his warnings were largely ignored. Below are some excerpts from that interview.

BILL McKIBBEN: On his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:  Look, the planet that we live on now is different, and in fundamental ways, from the one that we were born onto. The atmospheres holds about five percent more water vapor than it did forty years ago. That’s an incredible change in one of the basic physical parameters of the planet, and it explains all those deluges and downpours. The ocean is 30 percent more acidic, as it absorbs all that carbon from the atmosphere. NASA said yesterday that we’ve just come through the warmest January, February, March on record, that 2010 is going to be the warmest year that we’ve ever seen.

And we begin to see just in every day in the newspaper the practical effects of all this. Last week it was Rio de Janeiro with absolutely record rainfalls, causing landslides that killed thousands. Today, in the run-up to the summit in Bolivia, in Peru an enormous chunk of glacier fell off a mountainside into a lake, set up a seventy-five-foot-high wave that killed some people and destroyed the one water processing plant in the whole area. These sort of things happen now someplace around the world every single day, because we’ve undermined the basic physical stability of this planet.

On solutions and limits on growth: Well, reversing the trend is hard—impossible, in fact. We’re not going to stop global warming. We can keep it from getting worse than it has to get. For that to happen, Juan, we need things to happen at two levels. One is the governmental, national and global. We need a stiff price on carbon, one that reflects the damage it does in the atmosphere, that will reorient our economy in the direction of renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. But we’re also going to need, because we have a new planet, a new set of habits for inhabiting it successfully.

Our fundamental habit for the last couple of hundred years has been to assume that growth is going to solve every problem that we face. I think now we’ve fundamentally reached the limits to growth that people started talking about fifty years ago. When you melt the Arctic, that’s not a good sign. So we’re going to need, instead, to start focusing on security, on stability, on resilience, on figuring out how to allow communities to thrive, even on a tough planet. And I think that that has a lot to do with decentralization, with scaling down, with spreading out, with building food systems and energy systems that aren’t too big to fail, that are small enough and stable enough to succeed.

On Coal: Coal is the most dangerous substance on the planet, in almost every way—I mean, for the people who have to mine it and for the landscapes where it exists, like across southern Appalachia, for the people who have to breathe the smoke around power plants, mostly in our inner cities, but most fundamentally for the climate. Coal produces more carbon per BTU than anything else you can burn. And as a result, more than anything, it’s what’s driving our climate problem.

We’re not going to have, in the time that we require it, anything that really resembles clean coal. What we need to do is make that transition away from coal, and make it as fast as we can. Job one is putting a really significant price on carbon, so that coal begins to pay for some of the incredible damage that it does to the environment.

On Three-fifty is the most important number in the world. NASA scientists have said that any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth has adapted. That’s strong language, and it’s stronger still, because we’re past it already. We’re at 390 parts per million or so today and rising about two parts per million a year. That’s why the Arctic is melting. It’s why the oceans are acidifying. And it’s why we need a movement around the world to force political action sooner rather than later. We’re running out of time.

For the full interview, click on the video below:

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Additional readings:

Words of Power: Do You Understand the Power of the Pebble People? For Benazir Bhutto on Earth Day, with Help from Alice Walker, Yoko Ono and Bill McKibben

Al Gore and Political Will in the Concrete Forest

As I descended off I-95 into the concrete forest that now covers the city of Miami, I pondered the artificial shade. Darkness permeated while the sun rested high in the sky.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair Construction raged on even in the early morning hours of Saturday. As the construction workers labored, the homeless slept. The forest was still, despite the jack hammer vibration penetrating the silence.

I looked upward at the pervasive high-rises that the city touts have surpassed 60% occupancy, although that is not obvious from appearance. Too bad that Miami can’t house some of its homeless in these buildings. It would be good public relations for the city, not like the messy shantytown farther up the road.

But that would never happen in the concrete forest. Here, corruption and bad political decisions spread like the invasive melaleuca trees that swallow the Everglades to the west.

It is amidst this concrete forest, I had come to the Miami Book Fair to see former VP, Al Gore promote his book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis(Rodale Books, $26.99).

Gore’s presentation was articulate, engaging and funny. He discussed the more than thirty summits he’s convened around the world, bringing together the eminent voices of climate change science. The good news, Gore told us, is that we have everything we need right now to solve the climate crisis. In his book he outlines some of the solutions from renewable energy to CCS to soil initiatives. We have everything we need, except perhaps ‘political will’. Gore closed his presentation with his classic line, “ but political will is a renewable resource”. Al Gore at Miami Book Fair

As I held that thought in my head, I wanted to ask him about this line he’s been using since before the film, An Inconvenient Truth,  “political will is a renewable resource”. We all lived that. Last November we had a historic election. We voted in unprecedented numbers for change.

We changed our political leadership but climate change still sits on the backburner in the Senate. The US with 5% of the world’s population still produces the majority of the total greenhouse gas emissions. There are some figures that show China- who now holds almost all of our manufacturing jobs- dumped more heat trapping gases into the planet’s atmosphere in 2009. Although looked at on a per capita basis, the USA still holds the award for world’s largest polluter.

We know the historic legislation, H254: American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by the House this summer doesn’t adequately addresses the severity of this crisis we are facing.

Al Gore at Miami Book Fair “We need to go quickly and together,” Gore said. Yes, as we approach December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen the world’s population agrees, but does the US government? And, how do we get there with the democratic leadership we have? That is the question I wanted answered. Surely, Gore must have some opinion.

But, before I got a chance to ask him, his publishers had me pulled out of the book signing line because I was holding a DVD of An Inconvenient Truth. The line was only for people who purchased copies of their book, Our Choice.

Thus, I am left with my unanswered question and a few photo souvenirs.

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