Truly green energy is not easy. It’s even harder deep in the Amazon. Trials and tributaries from Dr. Emilio Moran, lead author of “Advancing convergence research: Renewable energy solutions for off-grid communities”. Then sustainability expert Dr. Jem Bendell apologizes for “bright-siding” climate change. Scientist Ye Tao’s fast run-down of the “Meer” project – cooling Earth with mirrors. Image: Cavallini Johansen.

Because for me, climate chaos is a disaster that capitalism accelerated, distracted us from, and then limited our response for life-critical decades. Today, the global capitalists are now purchasing experts and politicians to spend our public funds on yet further distractions.

They pretend that technology and enterprise will fix the collapse of the biosphere so they can then keep their income and privilege and their prestige. That is why this UN Conference is becoming a career fest and trade fair at the end of the world. We see that these hall are full of people busy demonstrating their concern and capability to each other to create a shared delusion that infinite green growth is both true and moral.

– Jem Bendell, COP27 November 2022


We began the show with that withering clip from Jem Bendell, founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria, UK, speaking in Egypt at COP27. Later in this program (and this blog), you hear Bendell and Dr. Ye Tao again at COP27, with better audio. Ye Tao explains how millions of mirrors on land could reduce global heating. Bendell says our situation is that dire. Then Jem apologizes for the way scientists and academics have blind-folded us from the awful truth.

Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (57 MB) or Lo-Fi (14 MB)



EMILIO MORAN – Renewable energy solutions for off-grid communities

In this world of ours, at least 600 million people can’t plug in. They are off-grid but not by choice. Deep in the Amazon, a team of academics and engineers are trying to bring lights, refrigeration, and cell phone charging with a combination of solar panels and small generators suspended in jungle rivers. What they learned can teach us the real path to independent distributed energy for all. But it’s not as simple as you think.

This project is described in a new paper published in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, November 28. The title is: “Advancing convergence research: Renewable energy solutions for off-grid communities”. We have reached the lead author, American Anthropologist Dr. Emilio F. Moran. He is the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor at the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations, at Michigan State University.

Dr. Emilio F. Moran, Anthropologist Michigan State

At first, I felt this paper was too academic. Then we find a real-world experiment in one of the toughest off-grid places, the unconnected Amazon.


I think we can hear this paper and experiment with two ears. The first finds the valid and important intention to provide electricity to the 650 million people (at least!) left off the global grid, whose lives could be improved. They are in developing countries, which includes India. A few years ago we were told about 600 million people in India alone were off the grid. A 2020 World Bank report puts the number of people living with no connection to reliable electricity at 840 million.

The grid is not coming to them any time soon, if ever. Hundreds of millions of humans are not on the on-ramp, just years away from hooking up to a central grid in their country. That is not in the cards. Due to costs and environmental concerns, the authors think many of these hundreds of millions “will remain off-grid for the foreseeable future – perpetuating a cycle of poverty, inequity, and marginalization.”

The second ear listens for way this experiment and this path to locally-run distributed power systems could apply in developed countries. Can communities rush ahead of weak national governments, getting off fossil fuels by getting off a grid powered by coal, gas, and/or dangerous nuclear power? Could independent distributed power from renewables help communities be more resilient in the face of extreme weather strikes, social collapse, economic collapse, or war? (Just consider the Ukraine.) What can people in developed countries learn from this paper?

1. as intended, how will we get sustainable power to hundred of millions left out? but also

2. What can communities in the developed world learn from the experiment in the Amazon – to build resilience, but also to jump-start getting off the fossil grid with local action?

By the way, we don’t have to go to the Amazon to find marginalized aboriginal communities living off diesel generators. That describes a lot of First Nations communities spread across Canada. They still need to truck in diesel to keep the lights on. Most places in the Canadian Arctic depend on diesel generators.


Moran says: “Even the most isolated communities in the Brazilian Amazon watch national TV and use social media to communicate rapidly.” How is that possible?

This paper describes remote communities getting a few hours (up to 4) of electricity daily from diesel generators. Now with hard times and higher prices, they cannot even afford diesel fuel. They are back in the dark – except if someone driving charges a battery to bring back, which at least can keep cell phones charged.

As I mention in the interview, my wife and I got our only electricity from a battery charged in town visits for eight years, when we lived in the northern bush of Ontario. Our toddlers got to watch a half hour of the Smurf once a week. That was their TV diet, and now we learn that was probably good for them, as their brains began to develop.  According to Home Power magazine, “at least 180,000 families are living off the grid in the United States and that number increases each year.”


An increasing number of people worry the developed world is completely dependent on the grid. If a national power system goes down, people will soon run out of food and water. If there is a global electric disaster, say from a solar storm (Carrington Event), war or hacking terrorism, the whole support system could collapse.

In that case, is it not a survival benefit to humanity for a portion of people to be able to live without power from the grid? Is every person still living naturally, perhaps hunting and harvesting wild food, “poor”? Maybe we should be glad there would be survivors in a global grid collapse. Maybe some of those humans are better off without becoming connected? They become “marginalized” when they give up their independence, to become wage slaves, working the lowest paid jobs… Are we engaging in an assumption that our way is better, a kind of snobbery of technology?


A few years ago, the Brazilian government tried to “solve” this problem in the unconnected Amazon. They landed with a lot of solar panels and some batteries and left. Moran reports that within 5 years, 80% of those installations were no longer working. There was no one to govern, maintain, or repair them. Just drop-shipping technology from a more developed world does not work.

So funded by the National Science Foundation and the Mott Foundation, this team began by going to remote Amazon communities. They did not start with lectures, but did show a specially made video. They they did the unthinkable: they asked local people: “What do you want?” and “How can we get there”.

This is a recurring and central point to the new paper “Advancing convergence research”, and in our interview. The skills of social scientists (like our guest Anthropologist Moran) have been kept away from the commercial and industrial urge to impose solutions “top-down”. If we want renewable energy to success, or any of the climate or economic changes to become a stable reality, a biodiversity of expertise is required. Engineers alone cannot “solve” complex human situations.

Only in the last couple of weeks, this test team managed to get solar panels into a couple of remote communities. Sounds easy, right? The panels and other equipment have to use three different size boats to arrive. The shipping gets smaller along with rivers, with the final trip made with panels balanced on canoes. The group is excited to (a) see how the installation goes (they pre-trained local people) and (b) see if they can keep it going.

Along the way, a hope-for convergence happened between outside organizers and local people. Take the example of the small generators that will back up that solar power. They are designed so the river runs through, turning a turbine at relatively slow speed, but powerfully. The units are designed to allow fish to pass right through. Nobody wants electricity that kills the food you depend on (river fish).  But they have to be cleaned regularly. The Amazon basin rivers are loaded with life. Any turbine is going to get clogged with mud, parts of vegetation and possibly snakes. A local person figured out a design that lets people in a canoe easily raise the turbine for cleaning. That made it work.

I want to emphasize the maintenance angle, because it applies to any of our listeners hoping to install solar, wind or biofuels for their own homes or business. Can these systems be user-maintained? [If solar panels on a roof need to be cleaned to be efficient, what if a senior can no longer climb that ladder and work safely at heights?

Aside from all that, I think this paper and interview can tell us more about what people in the industrialized fossil powered world have in our future. We need to decentralize power, replacing giant distribution grids with local area power, and even individual home power. With renewable energy, that solves a lot of problems. But again, we need to consult within each community, educate, get agreements and train some maintenance folks. Otherwise it won’t work. No magic authority is coming to give you energy independence. That is against everything they stand for. That is my opinion, and part of my interest in this paper.


Another gem in this paper, perhaps coming through your own lens of Anthropology, is the way humans react to anything new. I think this applies widely to technological changes, but also to the pandemic and climate change. Emilio Moran tells us about “Diffusion of Innovations” as proposed by the late Everett Rogers, and how that applies to replacements for fossil fuels.

The late Everett Rogers also introduced the term “early adopter”. He was a Professor at the University of New Mexico, who passed in 2004. Rogers grew up on a farm, taught rural sociology, and lectured all over the world.  In it’s entry for Rogers, Wikipedia says:

Rogers proposes that adopters of any new innovation or idea can be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%), based on the mathematically based Bell curve.”

This theory of diffusion may explain a lot about various reactions to the revelations of climate science and climate change itself. So much about extreme conditions is new – “never happened before”, “set a new record”. As a reaction, some people seek to find out more, while others reject global warming as a “hoax”. There are early and late adopters, and so on.


Part of the effort of this paper is to investigate and then test how people can accept and use a new technology. But we also need the opposite. How can we investigate and test how to get people OFF a deadly technology, whether it is smoking or gas automobiles?

This is important because as Richard Heinberg points out, so many times “clean energy” does not replace fossil power, but just adds on to it, trying to keep up with an impossible demand for infinite growth. It would be like the village adding river-run power and solar panels and still keeping the diesel generator running, because they want all that power and more. Have we then “gained” anything, having used more fossil fuels to make the PV and fly in experts from the Global North, and all that, if total energy use just increases?

Can a Convergence Framework be used in the Global North to break our addiction to fossil-powered technologies?



Jem Bendell and Ye Tao share a common life twist. Both were recognized experts at the top of their fields, and both changed their lives and careers once they recognized the dark reality of rapid climate change.  The clip coming from the show opening was posted by Jem Bendell on YouTube. It was titled: The #Lamborghini-loving culture is why elites fail to stop climate chaos – today at #COP27.


Author of books on corporate responsibility and sustainability, Jem Bendell gave keynote speeches at international conferences. He founded anInstitute at the University of Cumbria teaching sustainability to elite experts and bureaucrats from all over the world. Then Bendell sort of dropped out, labeling his former field of sustainability a failure. His latest book is “Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos” written with Rupert Read.

In the show I play audio of Jem Bendell speaking at a forum organized at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, by the activist media group “Facing Future TV”. With him was Dr. Ye Tao. Tao is a science star with a Doctorate in Chemistry and work in physics. While at Harvard, Ye Tao abandoned that work to focus on the incoming threat of climate change. Fearing heating and weather instability, Tao looked for solutions, or at least a technology that could cool us a bit. Discarding all the technology that needed too much carbon to install and run, he arrived at mirrors to reflect the sun’s energy back into space. You get a fast introduction into the Meer project in this Facing Future talk.





We go out with a few more words from Dr. Jem Bendell, at a press briefing in Egypt, COP27, November 2022.

I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.