Truly Becoming a Solutionary

Last summer I had the privilege of participating in an amazing Twin Cities Summer of Solutions Program. While I knew this was really a special experience it wasn’t until recently that I’v realized just how well SoS has prepared me to work as a solutionary.

Last weekend I had a chance to give a presentation about one of our Summer of Solutions (SoS) projects at the Northland Bioneers Conference along with several other SoS participants. This conference takes place all over the country and includes thousands of participants. Revolutionary thinkers from around the country talked about pioneering ideas to make our earth more sustainable.

My presentation was about Cooperative Energy Futures, an energy efficiency co-op that works to create community powered energyefficiency as a first step on a pathway towards a Green economy. Throughout the summer I realized that we were doing groundbreaking work, but it really wasn’t until the Bioneers conference that I realized that this work is truly on par with what some of the greatest leaders of our day and age. We are not a just a group of youth, innovators who are contributing to the cutting edge of the global systems thinking we need to pull us out of crisis.

While I have always been confident in my ability to do good work I have considered myself inferior to the “grown up” world.  SoS taught me that I don’t need to wait to make an impact until I’m done with school and that my input and work is just as significant and needed as anyone else’s. I am no longer afraid to take on commitments because I don’t think I can do it, instead I try my best and ask for help when I need it, and in doing so I’ve surpassed what I thought I was capable of.

I am starting to realize while this personal growth is great what will be more important is passing on this confidence to my peers.  By helping others start doing work to improve our world in a way they feel passionate about I hope I can become part of a global solution, one that grows and blossoms over the years to come. In a world facing massive economic, social and environmental challenges we need strong leadership from the youth that will inhabit this plant after our current leaders have passed – SoS is one incredible program that is helping create that leadership.

Naive college kids

In the past week or so, Cooperative Energy Futures (CEF, the energy efficiency co-op I’m heavily involved in) has started to get off the ground and had several meetings with ‘adults’ or older, wiser, experts in the field, to talk about what we are trying to do. Generally these meetings were incredibly helpful, people were willing to donate their time and expertise to listen to our plan, give us advice and help us move forward. These people were excited to hear about what we’re doing, thought we are smart and engaged, however almost all of these meetings included a discouraging section in which we were told we had a lot of obstacles to overcome and it was unlikely we would succeed.

Part of the reason that I enjoy working with CEF is that it is incredibly visionary; we are trying to implement a model that has never really been done before. We have done our homework, researched efforts going on around the country, know the materials, and have spent a lot of time developing effective training and teaching methods, but our process is very experimental, constantly changing and generally somewhat uncertain. We also have a lot of challenges to face, but I have never thought of these as things that cannot be overcome, merely something we have to figure out.

Yet these adults came up with question after question of how this was all going to work, a lot of which I didn’t have answers to. They pointed out flaws and potentially insurmountable difficulties, and I started to become discouraged. These people were all incredibly supportive of us, they liked our ideas, our enthusiasm, but also wanted to make sure that we understand what we are up against and ground us in the fact that what we are trying to do probably won’t work. It was somewhat of a stark awakening.

Part of me wants to believe the logic that these people presented; they have a lot more experience than we do and understand more thoroughly how difficult it is to start a new venture. But, I also realize that if we don’t try and make these fundamental changes to society no one will. A larger part of me believes in our vision, in our ability do something bigger than we thought was possible. If everyone listened to the strong voice of the status quo and refused to take risks or try something that has never been done before because it seems too difficult our society would still be stuck in the Stone Age. Already CEF has tested and stretched what I thought I was capable of. While we don’t have the answers yet, and we do understand that there is a lot for us to overcome, I still believe that it is worth wile to try. I am learning to enjoy being the naive college student that can listen to the discouraging words of older generations and then say I’m going to do this anyways. Summer of Solutions has given me the chance to enact a vision of the future I didn’t used to think was possible, and even if our work doesn’t come to fruition I have learned so much in this process there are no doubts in my mind that it won’t be worth it- and if we can make it happen we will have done something incredible.

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

See car on the road for scale

Last Sunday afternoon my day was rudely interrupted when the power went out. It was off for less than three hours but for that time I felt completely incapacitated, disconnected from the rest of the world and lost, not being able to do anything productive. Though logically I knew it was true these three hours demonstrated, more then all of the facts and figures I have learned, just how dependent we are on power to function on a most basic level.

This realization was quite timely, just after our visit to rural, Western Minnesota and one of the largest wind farming areas in the country. Minnesota is leading the country in wind power. Driving by farms of corn and beans we could see hundreds of wind turbines all around, it almost seemed like the cute baby .75MWs were slowly growing into larger adult 1.5MW turbines as we continued down the road. While impressive from a distance I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude of a wind turbine up close.

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