From the category archives:


5 Minutes through the Middle East

by Keith on December 29, 2009 · 4 comments

As Amy and I have wrapped up 2 months in the Middle East we put together a 5 minute slide show of some of our favorite pictures and added witty captions.  We posted this to our Facebook Fan page more than a week ago, so if you are on Facebook be sure to become a fan so you get the latest updates.  If you are not on Facebook be sure to sign up for email alerts or the RSS feed in the side bar to the right.

Enjoy the video and let us know what you think.  We will try and do one of these every couple of months, especially if we get a good response to this one…


Choosing to Use the Sun

by Keith on December 24, 2009 · 2 comments

Solar Hot Water - Turkey

Upon arriving in Turkey or Israel, you quickly realize there is something different about nearly every roof in these countries: they all have solar hot water units.  Most amazing is that it does not seem to matter if the building is a small two-room house in a remote area or a massive apartment complex in downtown Istanbul.  Once I started to notice solar hot water units in Turkey, I began looking for them as we traveled throughout the Middle East. I found that the nearly universal presence of solar hot water units in Turkey and Israel contrasts strikingly with other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, where I saw almost no solar hot water units.  Digging into the matter more, two overriding and linked factors seem to drive the difference between universal use of solar hot water and the complete absence of the technology:

  • Policies that create financial incentives for households to invest in energy efficient technologies; and
  • Wide availability of affordable, energy efficient technologies for consumers.

The lack of meaningful policies and financial incentives is at the root of the lack of the utilization of solar technologies in Egypt.  When I asked Ahmed Abdelrehim of CEDARE in Cairo about the absence of solar hot water units in Egypt, he answered without hesitation that the reason there is almost no solar hot water in Egypt, despite laws in the Mediterranean resort areas requiring it, is that electricity is subsidized.  This removes the financial incentive for households to invest in solar hot water systems because they have higher upfront costs.  The Egyptian electricity subsides are a way to help create a social safety net for the 32.4 million poor people in Egypt*.  And despite recent pressure from the World Bank to reduce the subsidy and increase peak-hour electricity costs, the political will is lacking for swift action.  As a result, more buildings are built without integrated solar technologies and Egyptian consumers continue to purchase inefficient electric hot water heaters.

Solar Hot Water - Israel

Widespread availability of low-cost consumer solar systems is a major factor leading to increased use of solar hot water in Turkey and Israel.  In talking with people in both countries, I learned that high-end consumer solar systems were available for less than 800 Euros ($1,150).  And there are many solar options that cost even less.  After searching, and for “solar hot water” and returning zero relevant results, I am not surprised that the American consumer would think that installing a personal solar hot water system is a complicated and expensive proposition, and, even with the availability of a federal tax credit, for most Americans it is much more expensive.  I did a search for the cost of a residential unit in the US and found that units “… cost only $6,000 to $8,000 installed depending on the area.”  This was according to  Even with the tax credit, the low-end cost estimate is still $4,500 for a US household, significantly more than what Turkish consumers are paying for a high end system.  Low cost consumer units are available in the rest of the world, and with a change in the US energy policy to increase demand (and thus lower prices even further), I am confident that retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes would begin selling millions of them to US consumers.

So why is this such a critical issue for the US?  In Adam Werbach’s A Strategy for Sustainability, he illustrates the potential impact of “green” products such as TIDE® COLDWATER® Detergent.  He states, “…if every American changed to cold-water laundry, it would go a long way toward reaching the CO2 reduction commitment that the U.S. negotiators made (although never ratified by the Senate) in the Kyoto Protocol, the first global compact on climate change.”

While the efforts of companies like P&G are admirable and are making a significant difference, I take a different view from Werbach that is more consistent with a recent article in the Washington Post by Mike Tidwell.  Recently, I’ve come to believe that we cannot simply “small step” or consume enough “green” products to drive the quick and significant change we need to limit the impacts of catastrophic climate change.  We need meaningful policies that will quickly create the personal financial incentives for US households to change behavior and increase their own energy efficiency.  With the right incentives in place, the creativity of green entrepreneurs all over the world would be unleashed to meet the new demand for more sustainable and energy efficient technologies.  And if we do not have the political will at the national level, I am hopeful that there seems to be progress at the local level, as evidenced by the Conference of Mayors 77th Annual Meeting in Providence (RI).

Despite the less than stellar progress in Copenhagen over the last two weeks, I am hopeful that the US will make the necessary policy changes to become the leader in sustainable and energy efficient technologies that we have the potential to become.  I would hate to see countries like Turkey, Israel, Germany and even China (a leader in consumer solar hot water) eclipse us.

*Nawar, Abdel-Hameed, “From Marina to Kom-Ombo: A Note on Poverty in Egypt,” Cairo University, manuscript, August 2007.


Two Takes on Jerusalem

by admin on December 1, 2009 · 5 comments

For this post we will each be sharing our unique perspectives on our four day visit to Jerusalem.

Amy’s Take – Then and Now
Amy Temple Mount Western WallSo Keith and I broke one of our travel “rules” about not going anywhere either of us had been before.  We took a quick four-night detour to Jerusalem, Israel, and I am glad we did.  Before we went to Jerusalem, I imagined that the trip would mostly be for Keith to see the sights that were of interest to him and for me to wonder around a somewhat familiar city.  His impressions of the city are below. However, it is amazing how different my experience was now than when I first went to Jerusalem nearly nine years ago.

It was four months into what is known in Israel as the Second Intifada.  The nightly news was constantly running stories about the violence in Israel, to the point that I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was scared to even go on the trip.  In fact, I didn’t fully commit to going until I arrived at the El Al terminal at JFK airport and met the rest of my tour group.  Once in Israel, I felt pretty safe.  Maybe I was naïve, or maybe it was the grueling pace of a ten-day tour, but I didn’t really feel like I was in the middle of anything dangerous, despite being escorted by armed military personnel and being whisked in and out and area around the Western Wall early one Friday morning, with the explanation that we needed to leave before the noon prayers and the rock-throwing from the Temple Mount began.

It wasn’t until this recent trip that I realized just how little of Jerusalem I’d been able to see on my previous tour.  Now, instead of cutting our time at the Western Wall short, Keith and I were able to go up to the Temple Mount (though not into the Al-Asqa Mosque or Dome of the Rock).  Instead of being limited to a quick visit of the Jewish Quarter, we were able to take our time exploring all four quarters of the Old City, enjoying the different religious sites throughout.  We could stroll along Ben Yehuda Street and enjoy dinner and a drink without the constant military presence that had been keeping an eye out for suicide bombers nine years earlier.

Even though I had been to Jerusalem before, this trip was like visiting a brand new city.  While some of the sights were the same, the feel of Jerusalem was completely different, granting me a new experience and a new perspective.  It was definitely worth breaking one of our rules.

Keith’s Take – Holy Sights & Positive People
Growing up Catholic in Ohio and going to St. Xavier, an all boys Jesuit High School in Cincinnati, my interactions with Muslims and Jews were somewhat limited early on in life.  As such, I could not pass up the chance to see some of the holiest sites for these religions packed into one city, Jerusalem.  And see holy sights we did.  Below is a picture collage of some of the highlights including: Jesus’s tomb, a Noah’s Ark Mosaic – Mt. Ararat is holy to the Armenian’s, and the top of Mt Golgatha – where Jesus was crucified.  All of these are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We also saw the upper room, where some Christians believe the last supper happened, Dome of the Rock, King David’s tomb and the Western Wall.
Holy Sights

However, beyond all of the religious sights, the city of Jerusalem struck me as a city full of enthusiastic and friendly people.  I came into Israel thinking that I would find the city that is so often portrayed in the evening news, Arab Qrt Restone where Jewish settlements anger everyone, where terrorists blow up buses and there is palpable tension among the Jews, Muslims and Christian groups.  As I have found often on this trip, the reality was much different.  On our Holy Cities tour we stopped and ate lunch at Abu Shukri, a delicious restaurant in the Arab quarter, and our Jewish tour guide and his Jewish friends mentioned that this is one of their favorite places to eat.  I would have to agree because for 35 shekels (~$10) we got unlimited falafel, hummus, pita bread and all the vegetable sides we could eat – it left me full until breakfast the next day.

What made Israel different from the other places we have been so far is that the people we met in Jerusalem seemed to be genuinely happy to have us there.  From our tour guide Divr who took a genuine interest in our trip, to the waitress at Kitchen and Beer that provided Amy and I each with two free shots of the house anise flavored liquor because our food was 5 minutes late coming from the kitchen, they all wanted to ensure that as visitors we had as much fun as they were having.  Maybe it is the difference between a positive outlook towards the future and one that is less so that makes a difference that you can sense as a visitor.

For more pictures from Israel, click here.