Pierre Le Hir
May 29, 2015
SAMSO — The Vikings, masters of wind, once turned this small island lost in the middle of Denmark into a strategic place. They dug a channel and built a castle, from which they could control the courses of their longships towards faraway lands. And their descendants have planted the masts of their wind turbines on the land and in the seas. Samso is raising the flag of green energies, drawing all of its electricity from the unceasing wind, from the heat of the sun, wood or straw. It now wants to go even further by eliminating fossil fuels from its means of transport.
Reaching Samso isn't easy. From the Copenhagen airport, you must take the train to reach the coastline, before boarding one of the two daily ferries that stop at this tiny piece of land shaped like a spit-curl. It's 28 kilometers long (17 miles) and, at its widest part, barely seven kilometers wide (four miles). Approaching the shore at sunset, you can first see an alignment of 10 turbines in the water. Then you see the blades of 11 windmills dispersed above thatched low-roofed houses.
This is how Samso changed the course of its destiny. "It all started in 1997," says Michael Kristensen, a former carpenter-roofer who reinvented himself in alternative energies. "The Danish government made five islands compete with each other to become self-sufficient within the next 10 years thanks to 100% renewable resources. Our project won."
At the time, the island was slowly dying out. Cattle breeding, pig farming, potato and strawberry cultivation, renowned across the entire kingdom, were no longer enough for all the workers. The slaughterhouse, a major employer, had just shut down. The young people were leaving to study on the continent and weren't returning. The population — 3,700 residents today — was inexorably declining.
"Convincing the inhabitants to get into the adventure wasn't easy," recalls Soren Hermansen, whose parents were farmers. A nature lover who left to bat around on the sea before teaching ecology, he was the kingpin of Samso's green revolution. He now runs the Academy of Energy, a resource, conference and training center that receives several thousand visitors every year. "Where will we be in 10 years if we don't take our future in hand?"
A fawn in Samso — David Huang
There have been countless meetings, inflamed discussions and a fierce opposition. A test of "direct democracy," where each person was heard. The wind turbines were set up where there is the most wind, where the construction cost less and also where they disturbed locals the least.
"Anyway, when you have financial interests in a wind turbine, you don't hear it anymore and you find it pretty!" says Jesper-Roug Kristensen, a former executive sales representative who is working on ecologically renovating an old priory.
These islanders have put money into the project. Almost one-fourth of all households — 450 families — have shares in the wind turbines. The minimum investment amount was 3,000 Danish krones (about $441), but some put in much more. With different motives.
Jorgen Tranberg, who owns a herd of highland cattle — mountain cows with long horns and thick fleece — has a stunning view of his own private wind turbine, which captures wind as well as profits, in the middle of his rapeseed field. He bought it for 800,000 euros and spent double that to acquire half of a sea turbine. "When you spend so much money, it's not just for love of nature," he says. "By selling my electricity, I repaid my costs in seven years. It's a good business. And it's better to produce our energy ourselves than to depend on Russia for gas or the Middle East for petrol."
Inge-Dorthe Larsen, who manages an estate agency in the largest village of Tranebjerg, took three shares in a cooperative and has a different motivation. "If my goal was to earn money, I could have made better investments," she says. "What counts for me is to pragmatically contribute to our energy independence and to the development of renewables."
Jorgen Tranberg — Photo: Energi Akademiet
Samso lived up to its promise, and sooner than scheduled. The land wind farms have been active since 2011, and the sea farm since 2003. This allowed the island, which used to import its electricity from the Jutland peninsula through an undersea cable, to be the first in the world to become self-sufficient. Further, 60% of the current generated by the offshore farm returns to the continent. There are only 10 to 20 days per year, when the wind is too weak, where the electrons go the other way round.
A high price
This way, the small island territory has a positive "carbon footprint," because the green electricity it exports does more than simply compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions of the gas and diesel it still imports, by boat, for its cars. While the average Dane generates more than 10 tons of CO2 each year, a resident of Samso actually spares the planet three.
And that's not all. Over the years, four community boiler rooms have been built, fueled by straw, branches and wood chips from pine woods and oak groves, and even through the batteries of thermal solar panels. In addition to this, more than half of the households have already replaced their oil-fueled boilers with wood-burning stoves, solar equipment or heat pumps, while new construction has been built according to low-energy standards.
This transformation has a price. And it's high. In total, the island's sustainable makeover cost 55 million euros, financed by the residents and their cooperatives, the local council, and 8 million euros in aid from the European Union. It's an investment that has, until now, been profitable, thanks to both energy savings and attractive electricity resale rates, which were guaranteed by the government during the first decade. But the tide is turning. The current injected into the network is now bought at market prices, which are much lower. "We're vulnerable to political changes," says Soren Hermansen. "We need long-term stability."
This hasn't stopped Samso from setting another ambitious goal — to cease using fossil resources by 2030. It will have to replace its automobile park with electric vehicles. Already, 40 equip the public fleet and the postal service, with their small orange vans displaying a "zero emissions" mention, combined with photovoltaic recharge stations. For trucks, tractors and the new ferry the local council just acquired, a factory that produces biogas from agricultural and household waste is being built.
With the island going green, more than 120 qualified jobs have already been created. This will not be enough to reverse the pyramid of an aging population, says Mayor Marcel Meijer, who was elected a year ago. He's also counting on Samso's "brand image" with tourists, a new port and more frequent maritime connections, to revitalize it. But, he adds, “We must take our share in the fight against global warming and the rise of waters that threatens us, even if it's a small part."
As an experimental laboratory for Denmark, which aims for "zero fossils" by 2050, Samso has become an example for positive energy territories. New possibilities are being explored: fewer but more powerful wind turbines, energy storage systems, more energy-efficient ways of consuming. "The future is unwritten," Hermansen says. "What makes us proud and optimistic is showing that, far from the big climate summits where states refuse to take responsibilities, we can act in concrete terms, to our standards."
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
October 26, 2021
Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.
[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]
Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine
The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:
Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?
In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.
This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.
Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."
Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.
No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.
According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.
Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.
Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.
— Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos
• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.
• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.
• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.
• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.
• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.
• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.
• Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.
"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.
After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.
What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia
While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.
👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.
🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.
⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."
— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."
An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!