Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keeping an Eye on Earth

This post was accidentally deleted. It's back with a new title and some minor revisions.

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Model of the MS Turanor

Since arriving in Abu Dhabi just about three months ago, I’ve been to two events at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center (ADNEC.) The Eye on Earth Summit and the World Future Energy Summit, although designed to attract high level leaders and thinkers, were publicized as exhibitions that the general public was welcome to attend.

While they weren’t related to each other, there was a synergy between these two events. The Eye on Earth Summit (EOE) was convened 1 – 15 December 2011 to address the importance of networking and sharing environmental and societal information in decision making. The World Future Energy Summit (WFES), an annual meeting to advance future energy, energy efficiency, and clean technologies, was 16 – 19 January 2012.

Eye on Earth

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This model of Abu Dhabi lit up to highlight
city sectors and corridors

I was aware of EOE before I left the US, and once in Abu Dhabi I noticed the publicity in print media, radio, and roadside signage. I went online to pre-register for the Exhibition, as recommended, knowing that you needed to be an invited delegate to the Summit. ADNEC is the sprawling, modern glass and steel complex adjacent to the Capital Gate, the world’s most leaning building. I arrived and made my way to the Exhibition Hall which, just like everything in this new place, was an adventure in itself. I fervently hoped that I would be able to find my way back to the car.

On my way to the registration desk, I was required to pass through a security screening, and then I made my way to a reception desk and produced the printout from my online registration. After some searching, it was determined that they didn’t have a badge for me. The very nice but somewhat flummoxed woman behind the desk asked me, in so many words, who I was and why I was there. Well, I explained, I have a master’s degree in geography and planning, I recently worked in conservation at The Nature Conservancy, I just moved to Abu Dhabi, and . . . “Here is a guest pass,” she said. “This will get you anywhere you want to go.”

As I made my way to the Exhibition Hall I noticed the large, elegantly set dining room, the complimentary coffee, pastries, and fresh fruit that people were enjoying in the Concourse, and the number of people with name tags that said “Delegate.” I felt so . . . unofficial . . . with my “Guest” badge, but at least I had something. Eventually I turned it around so nobody could see what it said.

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The Exhibition was elegantly designed and lit
I was impressed as I entered the exhibition; it was so elegant. The first exhibitor I found was the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI,) which was on my “must see list.” I chatted with a woman there who said “Are you going to the Plenary?” I hadn’t thought of going to any of the sessions because I wasn’t invited, but I suddenly remembered that I had just been told I could get in anywhere. I hadn’t really looked at the schedule, so I asked who was speaking. “Bill Clinton,” I was told. When? Well, basically now, right next door.

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Waiting for the keynote speaker
I hurried out, and cued up to get into the VIP Plenary hall. As they checked my badge and nodded me through I noticed a familiar looking woman entering just ahead of me, in Western clothing with grey hair in a ponytail. Dr. Jane Goodall! As the room filled up with Emirati dignitaries and international delegates, I reflected on my luck and timing.

It was a huge thrill to be able to see a former United States President speak in person. I thought Former President Clinton’s speech was inspiring. He spoke about his foundation and its work, how important and rewarding it is to be project- and results-oriented, and how great the need is for all players to have a common vision when it comes to environmental issues.

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It was an unexpected priviledge and a thrill to hear Former President Clinton speak

After the plenary, I returned to the exhibition, scouring the hall. I have never seen an event so meticulously planned and beautifully presented. I bought one of the first 100 copies of AGEDI’s amazing Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate, which is already an invaluable resource for all kinds of information as I write this blog. You can read about the release of the atlas at

Security check (1024x681)Several people started conversations with me as I wandered, asking where I was from and what my line of business was. Even though I admitted to being between careers, I still collected several business cards.

I decided to head home at lunch time, feeling like I had already gotten so much more than I signed up for. Leaving the hall, I noticed that the security checkpoint was abandoned; the dignitaries, including President Clinton, must have left the building.

And I found the car; no problem, but I had to return to the concourse to get some money for parking; I didn’t have anything small enough. When I arrived at the ATM, there was a crowd of workers in blue and orange uniforms in front of it, each one needing to use the machine. When they saw me waiting, they graciously indicated for me to go ahead of them, which I appreciated. However, as I approached the machine they didn’t move aside, as I expected them to. They remained huddled around; apparently their need for “personal space” is not great. It wasn’t completely comfortable to feel like a rich, giant, Western woman among these small male workers, but it wasn’t threatening. Just . . . different.

That was the only day I went to EOE. Although I would have liked to go the next day to see Dr. Sylvia Earle and Philippe Cousteau, Jr. conduct a panel discussion on oceans, it wasn’t meant to be. There is so much to do and see here, you can barely dip your toe in somewhere before something else beckons.

World Future Energy Summit

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MS Turnanor, first solar ship to
tour the world
This time I had a friend to go with. Terry and I have discovered many common interests, including this event. After our SUP demo at the Shag, we headed over to ADNEC. Terry was most interested in seeing the solar trimaran that’s making a round the world voyage, while I was just generally interested, as a comparison with EOE and to see what new technologies are being developed. Part of that interest goes way back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when I first became aware of solar power and recycling, and the rest from my recent work on The Nature Conservancy’s Whit Hall Interpretive Center at River Fork Ranch, an education center in Nevada that incorporates energy efficient technologies.

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Is Convex Photovoltaic the future of PV?
The WFES was huge, with 650 exhibitors from over 140 nations in sectors including solar and wind energy, geothermal, carbon management, energy efficiency, smart grids, waste management, waste to energy, water management, and air treatment. Exhibitors representing economic development agencies, products and materials, investment and trade, media, and education were also present. Yes, it was huge. Terry and I admitted to each other that we were a bit out of our league, but we saw some interesting things, and we did eventually find the exhibit and model of the MS TÛRANOR PlanetSolar, first solar boat expedition around the globe

As we headed out to look at the boat, which was docked just across the highway from ADNEC, we ran into Terry’s neighbor who she had, coincidentally, been telling me about earlier in the day. Wow, we even know someone! Maybe we deserve to be here, after all. He greeted us enthusiastically, and said that the event had been spectacular, mentioning in particular the announcement of the Zayed Future Energy Prize at the Emirates Palace Hotel the evening before. The prize recognizes achievements in new and innovative energy solutions, giving large cash awards. I like it that this country recognizes that it must see a future beyond oil, and it’s investing now in the technology.

Both of these events made me feel like a very small fish in a very large pond, and yet I got so much out of going to them. Stretching your mind, and your inner self, works just like stretching your body. It makes you more flexible, relaxed, and ready to take on the world.

Thanks for reading!

Smoking compartment 2
This smoking booth keeps air clean for others.

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