Things To Watch: 1.21 Gigawatts With RE-volv, Part 3

In the second part of our interview with Andreas Karelas, the executive director at RE-volv, he spoke about what issues he wished more climate groups would discuss, solar in developing nations, how to get solar if you think you can’t afford it, and why it’s the best investment you could ever make.

Just joining the conversation? Catch up with parts one and two.

SN: Energy independence is a huge issue, especially for the developing world in terms non-dependence on oil. It’s amazing how energy affects things we don’t even usually think about, like health, ability to make money, and education.

AK: I read this recent story about how docile and cooperative the chimpanzees were when Jane Goodall first began studying them. About five years into the research they started putting out bananas near the camp to get the chimps to come closer, which created this limited resource that the chimps fought over. The argument that the author is putting forth is that limited resources cause conflict, and we can see this same dynamic at play in our world today. One of the main things we fight over is oil, a scarce resource that governments expend monetary and military capital trying to control in order to accumulate and exercise geopolitical and economic power. With control of this resource, you control an alarming share of daily life, and thus effectively concentrate power in the hands of the few. Now, if we can distribute energy around the world so that every community could power itself and not be reliant on a limited supply of a scarce resource, then we’re talking about a whole new way of human interaction.

I focus on solar energy because climate change is the biggest threat of our time and solar is an excellent way to help mitigate climate change’s effects. The other reason is that if solar and renewable energy are distributed in the networked way that we’re talking about, then it will change the world from hierarchical to non-hierarchical. And it has to, there’s no other option. A culture or community that’s reliant on its own solar energy, growing its own food, and building its own resources cannot be dominated because the center of power has been redistributed from the few to the many. It’s a fundamentally new way of organizing and that’s the hope that I see for the future, and a future I think solar energy in particular can bring.

SN: Interesting, I never really thought about it as a way to change the fabric of society—its structure and center of power. You mentioned Jane Goodall, and I noticed your Facebook feed and saw you had an MLK quote that encapsulates what you just said:

“I just want them in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world”

SN: Are there any other thinkers, or pieces of writing, that encapsulate what you do, or the philosophy behind what you do?

The other thinker that influenced King, and is an influence for me also, is Gandhi. Gandhi realized the value of self-reliance. India was in a colonialist system where they were dependent on Britain to provide them with clothing, among other things, and Gandhi refused to buy British and he began making his own clothing. When the British put a salt tax on India, Gandhi went to the ocean and collected his own salt, and that self-reliance gave them freedom, and that’s what solar energy is doing.

When you look at the environmental movement, and this is actually one of the reasons I started RE-volv, it is a history, essentially, of asking and trying to push the government into changing and making laws that will stop environmental pollution, and in my opinion that practice isn’t working anymore. The oil industry and the coal industry, the big fossil fuel industries, have too much of a hold on our democracy. It’s a corrupt system; they’re not going to stop what they’re doing—that’s their business.

SN: Of course. They’re making too much money to stop.

AK: Of course. So what we as a community have to do is, like Gandhi, collect our own salt and sew our own clothes. We need to go and generate our own electricity, we need to start reducing carbon pollution in our own communities right now with the resources we have, which are actually pretty cool. We’ve got crowdfunding, the Internet. We’ve got movement building online and we’ve got solar leasing and solar technology that’s able to save people money and this unique revolving fund model to help grow it. Again, all of this stems from a D.I.Y attitude.

SN: Yes, King and Gandhi are great for that.

AK: Yes, and the other person who’s a really big influence of mine is a guy named Hermann Scheer, a member of parliament in Germany when Germany passed what’s called the feed-in tariffs. This policy really drove renewables in Germany. He wrote a book called The Solar Economy and that book contains everything that we’ve talked about today.  He lays it out in such clear detail.