Solar panels began filling a parking lot outside a children’s hospital this week as Elon Musk’s first major solar-plus-storage project in Puerto Rico took shape, demonstrating how quickly solar microgrids can be established for long-term clean, resilient power.
It’s one small but telling step in a U.S. territory of 3.4 million people still largely in the dark five weeks after Hurricane Maria struck.
Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SolarCity, launched a conversation about bringing solar microgrids to the island a little over two weeks ago in a Twitter exchange with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
Musk suggested that pairing solar panels with battery systems had worked for other islands and could help Puerto Rico rebuild from the hurricane, too. Rossello’s quick response: Let’s talk.
Since Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico have been without easy access to electricity, clean drinking water, or food. Many are still staying in shelters; some are living in the ruins of their homes. The once-lush green trees were stripped bare and uprooted.
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But all is not lost.
There are two quintessential Puerto Rican sounds that survived: One is the plaintive song of the tiny coqui frog. The other is the improvised Afro-Puerto Rican call-and-response musical tradition known as Plena.
Last Sunday, a group of musicians gathered in Calle Loiza, a San Juan neighborhood known for African-inspired folklore. The annual Calle Loiza festival had been canceled because of the hurricane, but they didn’t let that stop them from parading through the streets, playing hand drums and singing plenas.
“It’s very, very Puerto Rican,” says Emanuel Santana, a singer with the bands Plena Libre and Viento de Agua. “Every time a Puerto Rican hears the drums called panderos, you can have them come down in tears in a time like this. Of course, there’s no electricity to even hear music. You don’t have no MP3s right now. So we’re back to basics.”
The musicians traveled down the sidewalk, stopping at the few bars that have managed to open and are operating on generators. Along the way, they attracted followers who sang along.
Leading the group was Hector Matos — known as “Tito” Matos — a Grammy nominee born in Santurce, and one of Puerto Rico’s best known pleneros. He drums and sings plenas about the love he has for the island.
Singing about resilience
Even as Puerto Ricans continue to struggle to recover from the storm, Matos says he and his pleneros want to bring them a little joy with the music.
Winding through the neighborhood streets, they sing about resilience: “Our plena, our song, our music, is stronger – our community is stronger than Maria.”
The word ‘Disaster’ comes from French (désastre) and Italian (disastro), which combined the Greek prefix dis- (“bad” or “ill”) with the noun astro (“star”) and gave us a new way to describe calamity on a cosmic scale — disasters, in other words, resulted from the lining up of our unlucky stars.
In 2017 we’ve been counting a lot of unlucky stars, and based on most of the world’s agreement that our climate is changing, we should all be expecting more successive extreme weather events like we saw with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Factor in rising sea levels and the dangerous storm surge that all hurricanes cause, and communities that used to be safe are now highly vulnerable.
Lessons learned from many hurricanes in many countries
Of course, in every storm cloud there’s supposed to be a silver lining and we’ve already seen firsthand in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean how this has been true: an unprecedented deployment of formal and informal disaster responders and resources gave us a very public view of how communities can help other communities in meaningful ways. Despite the widespread destruction, the hurricanes have claimed just over 200 lives, and a lot of that, we believe, has to do with the effectiveness of emergency response carried out at the community level.
The purpose of this post is to share a few of the biggest and most basic lessons we’ve learned about designing, deploying and managing community-based response networks before, during and after a hurricane strikes. As you can imagine, everything depends on good communications.
BEFORE THE HURRICANE HITS
1. Act Like The Hurricane’s Going To Hit Your Community Head On
We’re not saying panic — just be prepared for the worst case scenario. No matter how many warnings or mandatory evacuations are issued, people are going to play their chances and not leave when they probably should, so understanding a little about your community’s vulnerabilities and resources will go a long way in making sure you’re best prepared to give help when and where it’s needed. A few things to consider:
1. WHERE’S DAMAGE AND FLOODING EXPECTED TO BE WORST?
Check your local community’s risk assessment maps (hopefully accessible from the municipal/county/state website)
2. WHERE DO THE MOST VULNERABLE POPULATIONS LIVE?
Are there skilled nursing facilities? Special needs communities? Populations living near high-risk industrial areas?
3. WHAT KIND OF PROBLEMS HAVE HAPPENED IN THE PAST?
This is the best way to prepare for whatever’s coming, so make a call to your local historian and ask them about the last time the 50- or 100-year storm hit town
4. KNOW YOUR OWN PREPAREDNESS
Making basic preparations to be able to leave rapidly or stay on your own for several days or more will be the difference between being a victim and being part of the solution. Have a plan, have a kit, have a go-bag, and if you are really into this, take a first aid course, build relationships with your neighbors and run some drills
BEFORE THE HURRICANE HITS
2. Familiarize Yourself With Available Emergency Resources
If you live in a highly populated area, it’s very possible you have a range of emergency responders and resources available, including emergency medical services (EMS) providers, fire and police departments, a department of public health, hospitals and community-based organizations, like the community emergency response team (CERT) or civil protection.
If any or all of these responders exist, they will have plans and protocols to follow so it’ll be helpful to know what they are as best you can ahead of time. But things can change, too, and all resources eventually meet their limit: As the flooding from Harvey spread, Houston and Harris County’s 9-1-1 call centers became overwhelmed by calls requesting assistance, many of which were for non-life-threatening situations which had the potential to keep true life-threatening calls from getting through. Knowing the limits of formal resources is good info to have, so here’s a list of questions to help you figure this out:
HELP THAT ACTUALLY HELPS
Help isn’t help unless it’s seen as help. Included here is a list of roles and responsibilities we’ve seen where community groups have successfully supplemented formal first responders in the event of a major hurricane:
If global warming continues at its current pace, growing the beans in coffee-proud Puerto Rico could be impossible in as little as 50 years, a new study says.
A century ago, Puerto Rico was a coffee-growing powerhouse that sent its finest beans across the Atlantic to satisfy the demands of the European market. Since then, the Caribbean island’s role in the global market has dimmed, but coffee remains an iconic product, recently boosted by a small resurgence in coffee cultivation.
Now, growers hope the island will make an artisanal comeback—but they first have to figure out how to keep their coffee plants thriving as the planet heats up around them.
Along with other countries in the “bean belt”—the latitudes between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn where coffee thrives in the mild climate—Puerto Rico is projected to get hotter and drier with climate change. Under current warming trajectories, growing beans on the coffee-proud island could be impossible in as little as 50 years, according to a new study.
“Puerto Rico is projected to heat up at almost twice the average global rate, which is something you see throughout the tropics,” said Josh Fain, the lead author of the study, which was published last month in the journal Climatic Change. “The projection for high-emissions scenarios, which is the track we’re on—it’s a very serious scenario for Puerto Rico.”
Coffee’s fate is jittery across the bean belt. A 2015 study found that climate change could reduce the area suitable for coffee growing by half, even under optimistic greenhouse gas emissions models.
“It’s the single most significant threat to the supply of coffee, and quality coffee in particular,” said Hanna Neuschwander, of World Coffee Research, an industry-funded organization that formed in 2012 to address cultivation challenges posed by climate change. “It’s not just because it’s harder for the plant to function in hotter temperatures. We’re also seeing increased prevalence of diseases and pests, which are happier in those hotter climates.”
“We think about half of all suitable land will no longer be suitable [for coffee] by 2050,” Neuschwander added, “and over the same time, demand is expected to double.”
Only about 2 percent of the land throughout the tropics that’s currently suitable for growing coffee is actually used. But warming temperatures could mean that the land is less productive, so as the coffee industry seeks new regions to satisfy demand, growers could push into new areas. A 2016 analysis found that 60 percent of the land where coffee could thrive is currently forested, putting intact, carbon-rich tropical forests at a high risk of deforestation.