Friday, June 28, 2013

The Toronto Report

For the earlier part of this week, I was in Toronto at the Renewables in Remote Microgrids Conference. It was a really great meeting of the minds. Canada has really similar power issues to Alaska. They have big cities that have relatively inexpensive and reliable power sources, whose populations dominate the nation. And their rural regions are sprinkled with remote communities (which we call villages), populated by First Nations people (whom we call Natives) that are off-grid and run off isolated diesel gen sets. And they have low average income rates (generally below the poverty line), very poor city services, and pay anywhere from forty cents to over a dollar (!!) per kW-hr of electricity, since their diesel is either flown, trucked, or barged in when it is possible (i.e., when the river is frozen or not-frozen or whatnot). And they would like to link together via transmission lines, and/or develop local renewables such as wind, solar, and hydrokinetics. Yeah, we have a lot in common. However, they consider us to be very advanced compared to them, since we have the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and the Emerging Energy Technology Fund (EETF). However, the Alaskan renewable energy projects are in their infancy, so we haven't had a lot of performance or financial data yet. So it was very surreal to me to watch all of these presentations while nodding my head (yup, yup, they are just like us, no wonder they invited us!), but toward the end of the conference, to have them refer to us as, "the Alaskans, who are far ahead of us and have most of these problems solved!" I was shocked, and as my eyes bugged out of my head and I looked toward my companions for their reactions, I saw all of their eyes bugging out of their heads, too!

Toronto is a lovely city; it is super clean, and full of people bustling about at all hours! Also, apparently, we were there for the tail end of Pride Week. Every day in between my hotel and the conference, I passed a church that had a rainbow flag and a sign that said, "God loves and welcomes everyone, and so do we." It gave me a huge warm fuzzy. I didn't take a photo since I was there when it was dark, but now I wish I had at least tried. Silly Arvay, pixels are free! I guess you can tell I am of the generation that once had to pay for film and photo development! Anyway, I don't know if it's coincidence, synchronicity, or planning, but their pride week occurred just as DOMA was struck down and Lisa Murkowski stepped up to support gay marriage. She had voted for DOMA, but in her statement, she said she had met so many happy, healthy gay families, and her opinion on the matter had changed. I recommend you read her statement if you need a warm fuzzy. People can change, they really can. :)

All that being said, every time I leave Alaska, I am reminded of why I live in Alaska, and even this absolutely lovely time was no different. There are minor things that alone would do it for me:
1) Traffic
2) Having strange men stare at and/or hit on me (even when my constant companions are two very large, hairy, bearded Alaskan men).
3) Cars cutting off pedestrians

But the biggest thing that makes me feel gloat-y is seeing people fret over problems that isolate them rather than problems that bind them together. This person is fretting that she chipped her brand-new manicure, and the others in her office think she's silly and too vain. That person's upset because his flight was delayed, and he'll be late for a meeting, and his fellow passengers think he's pompous and full of himself.

To them, these are very real, legitimate problems, but I love that when I have I'm late because I had to shovel my driveway on my list, I can let those other things slide several decimal points down, and my coworkers will understand if I'm late for a meeting, because they all have this shared experience that today, we have eight inches of fresh snow. I understand that living on the edge of survival in Alaska is kind of an artificial "survival" situation, because we freely choose to live here. Any time I wanted, I could certainly move back to California and not worry at all about how to change a tire, since emergency roadside services would always be a phone call away, and I would not die of exposure before they showed up. But... in the short term, our precarious conditions are very real, and so we must focus on taking care of them--and each other--and life's more trivial things really become trivial.

My friend and colleague DL said, "People make up problems to fret over so they can avoid thinking about the real ones." I thought about it on the flight home and concluded that I disagreed. At the end of the day, no one has no worries. To the person to whom a perfect manicure is important, her problems are no less real than those of a single parent, minimum wage worker who's just learned that her child has a chronic illness. We all have the hand we are given and fret over the lowest card. But somehow life feels more meaningful if the lowest card is your literal survival, and that it is a shared lowest card with the entire community around you.

Since I've returned, the air is smoky from the local wildfires, and it's still too warm for my taste. But it feels like home. And, there are hella dragonflies buzzing about, swooping and killing mosquitoes like black hawks. Go dragonflies go! And... the heat is supposed to break within a few days! "The National Weather Service says the Kamchatka low is making progress toward Alaska and will likely cool things down next week. That could mean daytime temperatures at or below normal for this time of year – in the low to mid 60s." YAY!

Oh, here are my photos to complete my report.

Our little Alaskan bumpkin group taking on the big city!

A beautiful hibiscus:

Toronto is so warm and humid it felt like Hawai'i!

I wasn't sure if this was famous, so I snapped a photo just in case it was:

Two PhD physicists spent a good ten minutes rigging up a way to hang up our oversized poster. Later, I found that someone else had fixed it with an elegant solution using a bamboo stick:

I was so tickled!

The glass floor at the top of the CN Tower:

We indulged and paid over our per diems for dinner at the spinny restaurant on top! It was lovely!

I came home and picked up veggies for the week:

And was stopped on my way home from the farm by an angry moose:

I threw my car into reverse and backed away. Eventually, she walked off the road into the brush.

1 comment:

mdr said...

Glad to see you safely returned.