Carbon Free Athens: A Vision From the Future

Friends and fellow citizens of Athens, you give me great honor to speak to you today in 2035, only 20 years after our start, to summarize the steps by which our town of Athens has achieved such international prominence by taking the lead to demonstrate the advantages, and relative ease and speed, of getting almost entirely off any dependence on fossil carbon as an energy source.

The essential first step was obvious - we recognized the absolute necessity of getting off carbon, for our own good and especially for the good of the next generation. Scientists had warned us that the entire biosphere could be in overwhelming danger from runaway climate caused by human-generated carbon in the atmosphere.  We HAD to stop, NOW.

The next vital step we achieved by a bit of luck-  many of our better-off citizens needed little persuasion to see the wisdom of taking assets from their investments in unknown distant activities and placing them on known beneficial efforts, done by people they knew, right here-  We worked with the motto:

 “ Make HERE the place I’d rather be”.

With that done, the next step was again obvious - to find out best practice the world over- no need to waste resources re-inventing anything that had already been shown to work. 

Many highly capable and energetic young people, searching the web and visiting distant places, soon discovered a rich store of proven successes in waste reuse, solar energy , building retrofitting, transportation technology and organization, and many others- all to the goal of a carbon-free, good life.

With this new information, we hardly needed to do more than simply choose the most appropriate for our situation, and implement these best practices that were here. Very little additional innovation was required to achieve the remarkable results we see here today.

Below is an extremely abbreviated summary of our achievements in several important categories of activities which have contributed most to our town’s outstanding achievement in carbon reduction, and its demonstration to the world of what can be done.

ENERGY- Without which, nothing.  Energy was the essential ingredient in everything that followed.  It was clear from the beginning that to get off carbon we had to find a source that was large, widespread, everlasting, and clean.  One such source stood right in front of everyone’s eyes- everywhere- solar energy, in all its multitudinous forms, including wind.  All over the world, we found solar was being used in many very large and very small applications, and very effectively-- for warmth, cooling, cooking, industrial uses and most importantly, generating electricity.  And best of all, we found that each one of these uses was being very rapidly improved in performance, and reduced in cost.  And still is!

So our energy choice was simple- go for solar/wind in a big way, and get the resources to do it by redirecting priorities from the old fuels and from the many profitless activities of the past, and move them there. That agreed, progress toward all-solar power was astoundingly swift.

ELECTRICITY- It was clear from the beginning that here was no technical barrier to the replacement of all ff electricity with solar and wind, with backup from waste-fueled combustion engines.  All needed hardware and know-how was immediately available. All that was required was a sufficient diversion of resources from non-essentials to the investment in all solar/wind., and the business agreements allowing sharing by way of the grid.  With energetic promotion and many indisputable examples from everywhere in the world this was quickly done. 

An essential component of this quick shift to solar was recognition by many highly motivated and energetic protestors against fracking and all the other messy indicators of the fossil fuel addiction, that the best way to eliminate what were in fact merely side effects,  was to simply QUIT using the root cause of them all- carbon fuels. The best way to do this was to go to all-solar as quickly as possible.

And, most important to accelerate this process was a recognition that the change was affordable, easy, quick and FUN, since it brought the community together for a common purpose, readily achieved in very visible steps.

Fun became the signature of all of our community projects- good food, music, entertainment at each gathering.

WASTE- First, we recognized that there is in fact no such thing as waste. Every bit of it can be used to some good purpose. Then we made as little of it as possible, reduced packaging, repetitive advertising, over-selling anything, and all the other obvious things we had ordinarily used to do little or no purpose, and now, don’t do.

 Next, we reused what could be, by way of repair, repurpose, reshape, resell.

Then, recycle, as we do food waste, all of which goes to the biogas generator to generate methane for electric power generation, and fertilizer.

And, where appropriate, pyrolyse --use any available source of heat to decompose, gasify, carbonize any bio-material-tree trimmings,  weeds, leaves ,pond scum, etc,  to produce fuel gas, and carbon.  The fuel gas going to electric generators, and the carbon to to the ground or many other valuable uses.

Pyrolysis is a carbon-negative energy source, energy from plants (the sun) and carbon from the air and to the ground.

TRANSPORT-  Since about 1/3 of all of basic energy use, and most petroleum had been used in transport, it seemed at first glance that getting off petroleum transport would be very hard to do. Not so, we quickly found.

The first and most effective way to reduce carbon in transport is to do less transporting, with that more efficiency, and with solar-derived electricity.  One already well proven way was to use car clubs,  eliminating the extremely wasteful system based on private vehicles sitting more than 90% of their time doing nothing at all but depreciate, taking up amazingly large fractions of the area of a town.  This one step reduced transport carbon by at least 20%.

And of course transport running on electricity,  from PV, biogas, syngas from pyrolysis.  The best and most copious being PV- solar electricity, then getting cheaper by the day---and still doing it!

 A major advantage here came from an early effort to develop user perception of electric vehicles as simply better than the old combustion ones---the superior performance and much lower net cost of operation of electric vehicles, and the fact that an electric transport system is highly reliable and resilient- and immune to fluctuations of fossil fuel prices.

 SHELTER- Buildings used to take about 1/3 of the fossil fuels previously used.  So it was vital that they be improved just as had been the transport system.

 It is easy with modern technology and design skills, to make a new home that requires nearly no power input, deriving all of its needs for heat, cool, cooking, lights, etc from a combination of solar panels and import/export with the grid.  Such designs were made highly desirable, even essential by way of the carbon tax.

But most houses are old and usually quite energy wasteful.  Fortunately workers all over the world had shown how to retrofit even the worst of them to save a very large fraction of that wasted energy.  We copied the most successful.

With the aid of our far-sighted investors, and with citizen labor led by experts, we went from house to house, retrofitting the best ideas we had found, and as predicted by others, got as a result a marvelous great leap forward in both energy usage and comfort and convenience for the entire community.

Retrofit gave employment to anyone willing to work, with the highly beneficial effect of making the town fully employed, so allowing a claim that our town had zero unemployment at all times.

In this retrofit process, we were very careful to make the process FUN for the participants- lots of good food, music, companionship and sharing.

FOOD- Here we found a great gain in low carbon food production by way of new crops we hadn’t even thought about before.  New vegetables, well known in their own countries, but unknown here,  edible insects, tasty, nutritious and easy to grow, and from thousands year old Asian highly feed-efficient,  multi layer fish ponds , a truly outstanding new source of protein and delicious new flavors quite suitable to the local climate.  And many others.

EDUCATION- It was clear from our visits to other countries that the one most successful methods of education was an ancient one, very well proven- apprenticeships- in which each child works directly with an adult for a fraction of each school year, learning first hand what is needed to be a productive citizen- and what is most congenial to that child.

One important emphasis in education was the advantage of reuse, recycle, repurpose, and the benefits of putting a first priority, in the case of a need, to look for it in those areas.

A favorite student assignment was a challenge to go to any town dump and from its contents, make something useful, in one day.

GOVERNMENT-Examples all over the planet show one form of town government to be by far the best- a committee of elders, each one already having proven through their own life that they possess the essentials - absolute integrity, intelligence, empathy and wisdom. Each serves but one limited term, and each new one is chosen by the others by consensus. As many over the ages, not just Plato, have noted, one essential qualification for the position is - they do not wish to have it.

BUSINESS-  One very productive new business, initiated in response to the challenge of climate change, was Athens Innovations, a loosely constructed grouping of innovators, funded by locals, each doing what they desired in the way of energy conservation, carbon reduction and related matters, all roughly patterned on the famous building 20 phenomenon at MIT after the war, in which space and some tools and equipment and a little office support- bookkeeping, house maintenance, etc, were made available to assist almost any such activity, freely chosen by individuals and small groups without management restraint, resulting in an enormous outpouring of both good and bad ideas, some of which later became world famous.

A sample list of some ideas from Athens Innovations is appended.


ENERGY EFFICIENCY CATALOG- Records details about concepts, designs, recorded performance of world-wide compilation of proven energy-saving devices, processes, policies.  Continually updated.

BIOMASS PYROLYSIS- Takes any material made by sunlight and atmospheric carbon by way of photosynthesis and heats it to make gas/liquid fuels- electricity, and carbon from air to ground.  Carbon-negative energy!  Can use weeds, any woody trash, paper, sawdust, algae, duckweed etc, etc.

Can in fact be extended to city solid wastes, using clean techniques now used in Europe to burn trash from USA!

Scalable to any size from small water heater to multiple housing heating and power system.

ENERGY STORAGE APPLIANCES - Fridge, freezer, AC, heat pump, using stored heat/cool when sun available, storage when not - coasts thru periods of no sun/wind.  Think of the absurdity of using coal-derived electricity to keep a fridge at 40 F when outside it is near zero and your house is barely warm enough!

A very useful component of any such heat device is a heat pipe, which is able to transfer large amounts of heat by way of a small pipe.  Such a pipe could for example, unobtrusively transfer the fridge heat thru a wall to the colder outside.

INSTANT EV BATTERY BOOST- self driving trailer snaps on to any EV in seconds for full range boost.  Allows all EV transportation with never any range worry.

CARBON POTTY - Replaces highly wasteful flush toilet with smell-free, simple system producing highly valuable sterile, antibiotic free fertilizer.  Saves huge amounts of energy, eliminates highly expensive sewage treatment. A sprinkle of carbon/humus over each offering keeps everything totally smell-free.  The contents dump out into the collector truck as a single quite rigid lump, eliminating need for any bag.

The carbon comes from the atmosphere by way of the biomass pyrolyzer.

Also highly convenient, since potty is so easy to move and site.

COVERED BED/MINI LIVING ROOM.  A room of your own inside an existing bigger one, small but perfect for you year around, uses very little energy to make the exact right conditions for you in all circumstances.  What kept kings comfy in the frigid castles where lesser folk shivered all year.

REFLECTOR FOR HIRE- any south facing hillside could house highly accurate solar reflectors, which could deliver, on phone order, as much heat at any spot below as customer wants - dry clothes, heat water, grow pot, etc etc.

HEAT DRIVEN WATER PUMP- for any home hot water heating system.  Replaces electric pump with very simple bit of plumbing which circulates water as soon as it is heated,  no electricity, no noise, no maintenance, very low cost.

RIVER FLOOD PLANE- arranged as multiple string of ponds, with islands holding PV panels, fish hatcheries, vacation cabins, and adjacent uphill ponds for hydrostorage of any excess solar power.