Discussion about sustainability

by Julie King ’12

On the evening of March 30th I hopped on my bicycle and ventured into town to the Haus der Wissenschaft, or simply, the House of Science, in order to go to an event that is part of a series of environmentally themed lectures throughout the spring and summer. The translated title of the event was “The University in the city: Are we running out of juice?” The two-hour event consisted of three lecturers, with slightly different themes relating to the shortage of resources and the development of renewable energy in Bremen, and a question-and-answer based discussion at the end.

The first lecturer and chairman of BUND Bremen (BUND= the German Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation), Klaus Prietzel, talked about “peak oil” and its implications on the environment, but mainly its implications on the energy industry. The term “peak oil” refers to the point at which global oil extraction reaches its maximum. Scientists disagree on the when peak oil will happen; the conventional consensus is for the year 2020, whereas more radically optimistic scientists predict 2035. Some scientists maintain that we have already passed the tipping point, which occurred in 2006. Because of the number of environmentally related events and sciences classes I have attended in high school and at Dickinson, Herr Prietzel’s presentation did not contain much that I hadn’t heard before. Some of his interesting points included the inefficiency and risks of oil dependence. For example, automobiles lose 80% of oil-produced energy through heat-loss and most houses lose around 95%. I found Herr Prietzel’s analogy of oil as a drug as particularly accurate: it’s dangerous, addictive and an expensive habit. Dangerous both environmentally and politically, especially consider 97% of the oil consumed in Germany is imported. In his conclusion, Herr Prietzel admitted that oil is important to the economy of Bremen, considering the economic roles of Mercedes-Benz and Daimler and the shipping harbors in Bremen and Bremerhaven.  Peak oil is a kind of crisis, but also an opportunity for positive change. Herr Prietzel asserted the importance of finding a substitution for oil, but admitted that the answer does not lie in biomass renewable energies or natural gas, but in renewable energies from sun and wind. More importantly, though, is the transition to lifestyles of lower energy consumption.

The second lecturer, Dr. Torsten Köhne, provided an interesting perspective as a board member of SWB, the energy company in Bremen. His lecture, titled “Sind nicht knappe Ressourcen vielleicht auch eigentlich knapp?” which translates roughly to “Are not scarce Resources actually in short supply?” Dr. Köhne’s presentation was a little harder for me to follow because of the speed at which he talked and the density of information on his slides. He started by talking about the importance of coal in the energy industry, its high costs and its damage to the environment. He then moved on to the prospect of renewable energies and I loved his quote “Die Sonne schickt uns keine Rechnung” – “The sun doesn’t send us a bill.” In order to power the city of Bremen sustainability, we would need 900 wind turbines, 60 square kilometers of solar panels, or 325 square kilometers of corn or turnips for biomass fuels. The problem is that we lack the surface area, capital, and public power supply infrastructure to achieve any of those options, and even more crucial is the public will for and acceptance of such an idea. He ended with the reality of the energy industry: decisions and initiatives are based on politics and money more so than what is best for the environment.

The last lecturer, Michael Flitner, was a Professor from ARTEC the Sustainable Research Center of the University of Bremen. His presentation was “Wege zu 100% erneubarem Strom” or “The Way to 100% Renewable Energy.” His basic point was just that our greatest need at the moment is more research, but by combining the energy production of on- and off-shore wind turbines, solar panels, hydroelectric means, and gas-forming bio masses Germany could be powered by only renewable energy by 2050. It could be possible that I missed the means to Professor Flitner’s “end” because of language problems, but I’m pretty sure his presentation only really argued for the need for research and public support to realize his plan – which seems fantastic, but ambitious.

The question and answer session at the end was interesting. The old man next to me brought up a great question – What about all of the energy consumption that can’t be plugged in? The consumption that for now can’t use renewable energy, like planes for example.  The answer to his question was just that we need more research and more changes in technology. Another highlight of the discussion was a man who was getting rather heated in his “Why can’t we be more like Denmark?”- speech. Apparently the smaller country to the north already has succeeded in the transition to substantial energy production from wind power. Needless to say, even if Germany is not quite up to par with Denmark, the event at the House of Science was worth attending and I feel quite accomplished for having understood such topics. My dream job would be to work for a German-based renewable energy company, so now at least I know there may be a job for me out there somewhere.

BIZ Internship

by Nicole Couturiaux

Greetings from Bremen! – more specifically, from my desk at the Bremer Informationszentrum für Menschenrechte und Entwicklung (Bremen Information Center for Human Rights and Development, or simply “biz”).

I’m into the homestretch of my last week of a 6 week internship at biz. Technically it’s Semesterferien (“semester break”) for the German university system, but this month and a half has been anything but a vacation for me. From 10am-6pm Monday through Friday I work to further education in sustainable development (meaning the bettering of both human lives and the environment through the institution of respectful, healthy, and justly-profitable social and business practices). biz is an NGO that supports local interest groups, holds seminars and lectures, designs and distributes museum exhibitions, organizes speakers to give interactive presentations in local schools, and maintains a library specific to research and pedagogic work in human rights and development issues.

Interning in a foreign country comes with a unique set of challenges. My responsibilities range from those involving complex skills, like helping teachers and students find research materials in our library, translating the biz website from German into English, and sitting in on planning committee meetings for upcoming sustainable development events in Bremen to more traditional “intern”-labeled assignments like making photo copies, answering the telephone, and mailing programs and flyers to the community. Acting as a librarian for, say, university faculty researching blue jean manufacturing processes and implications in China is tough, but, as I’ve learned, even a mundane task like data entry carries new weight and offers unexpected learning opportunities in a second language. In both situations, I was held accountable for accurate comprehension and articulation. And in both I was pulled outside of my comfort zone, but eventually met with success – rewarded with new vocabulary words and a sense of confidence.

Working with German colleagues has also been incredibly valuable. From the start I was much more hesitant to interact with these new acquaintances then my vocal, outgoing self has ever been. My coworkers, however, were understanding and very welcoming, so eventually I figured out biz’s office norms – the tone used between colleagues, team meetings, packing organic lunches, standard dress (this level of casual actually took me some time to get in synch with), etc. – and adjusted to my environment. It does help that everyone in the office is sensitive to cultural differences, as they work for a human rights organization, after all! Though they are interested in hearing my American interpretations of things, their support of my German is also hugely appreciated. In addition to an increase in my vocabulary, I have noticed my sentences flowing more smoothly and me incorporating more creative structures and idioms. Even my thoughts are thought more frequently in German.

The biggest impact of my coworkers on me is their enthusiasm in explaining their individual projects to me and encouraging me to investigate these topics with further research in our library. In this way I have learned so much about human rights and environmental issues – issues that transcend cultures – and how educational organizations like biz can effect changes in attitudes that in turn lead to definite changes in government and business policies. So, all in all, it looks like I had a pretty worthwhile Semesterferien.