Energy Observer, the first hydrogen vessel around the world, started its Mediterranean tour, in March of last year. At the midway point in its Mediterranean Odyssey, the assessment of meetings with the stakeholders committed to preserving the planet is encouraging. The environmental state of the Mediterranean is much less so. But Jérôme Delafosse, the expedition leader, wants to keep hope alive.
With Energy Observer, you can’t pass unnoticed. The 30-meter experimental vessel is covered with solar panels and has a futuristic look that attracts curiosity at every stop. The catamaran will spend six months of this year in the Mediterranean to assess the condition of this enclosed sea, bordered by three continents and shared by 23 countries.
A fragile sea that must face a multitude of inter-connected, environmental threats in a complicated geopolitical and human context. Since leaving Marseille at the end of March, Energy Observer has already covered 3,500 nautical miles (around 6,500 km).
The vessel, France’s ambassador of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, has already visited a dozen countries over the course of some twenty stopovers. Midway, in Venice, the experimental vessel has discovered some encouraging projects, but has often encountered environmental damage. “It’s a closed sea, with waters that are renewed about every hundred years,” says Jerome Delafosse, the expedition leader. “We have chosen to seek out people who are innovating for the planet. It’s a positive step that aims to motivate the people who follow our Odyssey to act at their own level, on problems that affect all of our planet’s inhabitants. ”
The explorer thinks that, faced with environmental problems, “we are all developing countries in terms of sustainability.”
“Learning to leave the old system behind”
Because of its geographical situation, the Mediterranean allows for easy measurement of human impact on its environment, with very concrete examples. “We don’t want to stigmatize anyone,” continued Jerome Delafosse. “But, in some countries, the environmental damage we’ve witnessed has caused moments of despair. Ecological damage, like the open cast phosogypsum mines in Gabes, on the other side of the Mediterranean, that have sometimes supplied our intensive agriculture. “
It's ecology that will save capitalism
The crew has also met pioneers, whose initiatives give us reasons to hope. “In contrast, in Greece, industries that were completely off track have been able to reinvent themselves thanks to local initiatives that rely on ecological agriculture, in a new economic model where employees recover control of the tools of their trade. Everything is connected. We will fix the environmental problems when we are able to reinvent the entire system. When we hit an impasse, we have to learn to let go. This is the case for energy. ”
“Welcoming refugees simply and normally”
Another excellent example is Tilos island in Greece, where the wake of the laboratory vessel crossed paths with the painful reality of refugees. An island that chose energy autonomy, unlike most of the Greek islands, which are powered by diesel plants. The 700 inhabitants of Tilos have installed 2000 m2 of solar panels and a wind turbine, which will allow them to produce a surplus of energy starting in 2019. And above all, Tilos has welcomed around forty migrant families, most of them from Syria.
“That represents 10% of the island’s population, the head of the expedition said excitedly. All of the children attend school. The father’s of these families are offered jobs. The island’s population welcomed the refugees simply, normally. We met people who live in decent conditions, with dignity. Right now, we need this kind of solidarity. What has really stuck out most for me in this Mediterranean Odyssey, is that everything is connected. ”
The first stages of this exploration have already brought to light some elements of major questions. The energy transition depends on a mandatory transformation of the system. In times of energetic, social, or geopolitical crisis, we only arrive at progress through a process of re-thinking, in which solidarity is key, in an environmental context. We will only be able to build and live in a more optimistic future through a shared will to do so.