Today Dr. Aitken runs his own consulting company in the USA, Donald Aitken Associates, aiming at renewable energy resources and finding ways to realise a sustainable development. He is also senior member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organisation of over 10000 scientists working towards a sustainable use of energy resources. Originally he worked in the field of astrophysics at Stanford University when he founded "Friends of the Earth" and created a department of environmental studies which today has become one of the most renowned faculties in the States.
His professional life which has led to international acknowledgement and many most highly regarded awards should not be described as a career though: Dr. Aitken talks of his mission which he follows with passion and joy - and this joy was transferred to the audience which followed his lecture most attentively.
The term sustainability - defining the use of resources which allows future generations to fulfil their needs as well - has not been realised in the energy sector at all. More than 70% of the US energy demand is met by fossil fuels. It will only take a very short period of time until the natural resources will be used up, nothing will be left in about 40-50 years. Hence sustainability becomes nothing more then an empty word. And it is not only the natural resources that are being exploited, by-products like green house gases, especially carbon dioxide lead to climate changes which have started already and the consequences of which are impossible to determine. The transition to renewable energy sources together with a drastic reduction of our energy demand should therefore not just be a "good idea" but a fundamental goal for mankind. Solar energy, geothermal, wind power and hydroelectric power are renewable resources of energy, their technology is known well enough to allow a use on a wider scale.
Two main areas of every day life use up most of our energy: housing and transportation. Dr. Aitken explained that it was far too expensive to simply stick some solar panels on the roof of a normal house in order to directly generate part of the electricity required by the household. Much cheaper and even more efficient would be the use of "passive" solar energy, heat and light directly provided by the sun. A house especially designed for daylight and heated by the sun reduces the energy demand significantly and hence allows the remaining electricity to be provided by solar panels. The sensible arrangement of windows, walls and open spaces also avoids the use of air conditioning which again reduces the energy demand dramatically. If a house is being designed to meet all these requirements the bigger investment in the new technology is averaged out by the energy savings. This concept is actually applied to some low budget apartment houses in the USA which shows that in the long run this must be the less expensive and more sustainable alternative.
Even if the USA used to lead the rest of the world in renewable energy research, some European countries, mainly Denmark and Germany have long since overtaken the States - and that is why many of the examples given by Dr. Aitken were actually built in Freiburg, Frankfurt or on the North Sea coast.
Dr. Aitken sums it all up: "Renewable Energy: we have to keep it in our minds - and in our hearts!"
Dr. Aitken clearly showed that he really cared for what he taught: with enthusiasm and passion he explained the delicate equilibrium which allows our home planet to support life and thus he not only reached the minds but also the feelings of his audience: it is up to the young generation to learn and maintain their care for the Earth!
"It was great - Dr. Aitken really managed to address us all personally and to get his message across!" - this is what many students later on commented on the lecture which showed that once again Earth Day had become far more than just a little environmental education ...
|Dr. Aitken's lecture on renewable energy - Report in German|
|Discussion on various issues around renewable energy - Report in English|
Poster zum Earth Day 2002