Sunday, July 22, 2007

One Man's Blessing: Another Man's Curse

The Eastern Caribbean could thank God for Sahara dust, because this is what has prevented any significant storms from forming so far this season. With warm ocean temperatures, a lot of tropical waves, weak upper level winds and a lot of high pressure above us; if it were not for the Sahara dust, we would be experiencing a record breaking storm year.

When dust from the Sahara region gets into the air and travels with wind currents, it keeps the air around it dry. Many meteorologists believe that the dust prevents storm formation, and when observing satellite data and finding clear skies where there is dust and rain where there isn’t: it’s a pretty believable hypothesis.

But Sahara dust in our skies may be a blessing where hurricanes are concerned, those where the dust originates, ‘Sahara dust’ is not just plumes of sand blowing off barren dunes with little to no impact on others. It is also dried topsoil blowing off land that’s supposed to feed villages. It is also a critical indicator of what is going on in the environment on our sister continent; as the sun bakes the ground.

This is bad news for everyone: Sunlight is absorbed by plant life and moisture is added to the environment through a process called evapotranspiration. This is what makes the Amazon Basin the ‘lungs of the planet’. In Africa, the natural process of evapotranspiration has been interrupted by human activity.

As the vegetation has been reduced, the sun enters the atmosphere, bounces off the barren landscape back into space – and clouds don’t get a chance to form. This phenomenon is called the ‘Albedo’ effect. When clouds don’t form, vegetation can’t grow, when vegetation can’t grow, people and livestock go hungry, and thirsty, and the topsoil blows away.

Dust clouds have grown tenfold over the last half century and while this may provide a saving grace for those of us who look east to storms that could unfold upon us; The blessing that is sparing us, comes at the price of the suffering of others who need their soil and their environment just as much as we do. Having massive plumes of dust in the air, instead of on the ground supporting life, is saving lives on this side of the ocean: but taking lives on the other.

Germans Sponsor Solar Energy Project in Grenada

“When we succeed in this, all of Grenada will succeed”, were the words of Sir Daniel Williams, Governor General of Grenada, while he spoke about renewable energy at the launch ceremony of a solar system for Presentation Brothers College, in St. Georges, Grenada on June 4th.

According to the Governor General, the long term cost savings in solar energy far exceed the initial investment; which ultimately results in a net financial gain. For business, investments in solar energy could make companies more profitable as their energy costs decline the Governor General explained.

The Federal Republic of Germany provided the funding to install the photovoltaic system with a $29,000 cheque that was handed over by German Ambassador, Dr. Helmut Ohlruan at the ceremony. The German government is also encouraging the expansion of sustainable energy use through the Caribbean Renewable Energies Development Project.

While the effects of climate change are increasingly visible worldwide, and is expected to worsen, investments in sustainable energy technologies in Grenada, could position the country to be a highly competitive and prosperous country in the future.

Grenada is in the position of being able to exploit renewable energy to drive it’s economic growth, without the price tag of dismantling the outdated industries, more wealthy nations are facing.

For the students, this is already providing the kind of inspiration that drives innovation. After proudly pointing out plaques on wall that were won at the science fair for a project on alternative energy, three young visionaries from Form One insisted that being exposed to solar energy in a learning environment will drive innovation in Grenada.

Kishon Francis remarked that by learning about solar energy and seeing the effects (such as cost savings), Grenadian youth will soon be inventing even better energy systems for the future.

Mario Redhead also believed that exposure was a key to inspiration. “It is better technology, and they [students] will want to be like the person who made it”. Naquam Gilbert pointed out that solar energy would also be very helpful after a hurricane, to provide power.

The solar voltaic system that has been installed at Presentation Brothers college was provided by a local sustainable energy company called Grensol. Terry Pierre, Head of the Science Department, School Principal Mr. Jeremiah and Grensol are keen to foster inspiration and learning: So they hooked up the energy meter to a computer in the school so students can analyze the energy production, cost savings, and in the near future the data will also be available on the internet for others to use.