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Advocates for a clean energy revolution


We no longer use whale oil to light our homes because Thomas Edison came along, developed the light bulb, and it was a better product, remarks James Redford, producer and narrator of a film to be shown in Brown Hall at East Tennessee State University on Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.

One hundred years later, though, we still largely rely on the electric system Edison invented, with fossil fuels driving it. But a new way to produce electric power is taking hold, and the nation’s young people are urging it on – the clean energy revolution.

Jessie Ackerman, about whom an exhibit is currently shown at the ETSU Reece Museum, was a Thomas Edison of her time. Although not directed at technological developments, her extraordinary work and engagement, over a 90-plus-year lifetime, addressed the pressing issues of her time.

An ambassador for peace, in 1904 she took a petition of the Universal Peace Union to the Czar of Russia, urging arbitration and “no use of deadly force in international difficulties [and] the reduction of armaments among all nations.”

On the International Day of Peace this month, the world could celebrate the adoption, last year, of the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition Nuclear Weapons. Of all military weapons, these inflict the most humanitarian and environmental harm.”

Ackerman planted trees wherever she went and among prized gifts from the countries she visited are a hard shelled, coconut-size seed with carvings of people dancing amid flowers and trees, and a Buddhist prayer book, its holy text inscribed on dried palm leaves.

She visited every inhabited continent, circling the globe eight times. The American flag going with her, floating “from 208 ships and sailing most of the waters of the earth.” In books and many articles from her travels she urged openness to and appreciation of other peoples’ culture and way of life.

She advocated for advancement on the issues of universal suffrage and education for all, among others, and improvement of conditions for the working class. One of her books, “What women have done with the vote,” then documented the swift progress that can result if such problems are earnestly addressed. In Australia, gaining the right to vote in the 1890s, women had moved to full political citizenship in less than a generation.

A revolution might happen sometimes, though, and be needed to hasten desired social change.

The film, titled “Happening: A clean energy revolution” shows such a revolution, in our time and country. It documents different, new methods of commercial power production and transfer, through renewable sources. Perhaps a giant solar-thermal plant whose mirrors capture infrared light, in the California desert, to a structure the size of a shed on a small, farm-irrigation canal – a micro-hydro facility in Oregon owned by the Apple company, and many others.

Like Jessie Ackerman on the “wave of women’s liberties” after suffrage, the great momentum now of renewable energy – in deployment, scale, cost, and public opinion – can give a sense of hope about solving our time’s urgent, climate change problem.

The film showing is free and the public is invited.