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Cuba and Vermont Perspectives on Energy and Culture, Part 1

“C’mon, Mario! Let’s get to the car!” I shouted through the collar of my coat as the winter winds picked up. The temperature was already in the single digits.

I turned around to see him just standing there, frozen still, looking down at the ground.  What is he doing?  I thought. My fingers were numb and I was feeling a bit impatient.

“Is this ice?!” He called out to me. I stopped and smiled, laughing at my impatience in the face of his childlike wonder.

“Yes, that’s ice!” He tested the frozen puddle with his foot, sliding it carefully over the unfamiliar glassy surface and handed me his camera so I could take a photo of him standing on solidified water. Then we both ran to the car to get out of the cold.

It was January 7, 2015. Mario had just arrived in Burlington, Vermont, from Cuba, and he had never experienced temperatures below freezing. I met him almost four years prior to this visit when I traveled to Cuba on a tour with other energy efficiency and renewable energy professionals. The tour was organized by Solar Energy International, a renewable energy school for which I taught a week long sustainability class, with travel logistics provided by Global Exchange. Mario is a specialist in Technology and Environmental Information at the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment in Havana. He was one of our professional connections and guide for the Havana portion of our delegation, where he helped us to understand how Cuba responded to the economic collapse of their best trade ally, the old Soviet Union. Their ruin quickly led to Cuba’s own economic collapse in 1989, a time they euphemistically refer to as The Special Period (it was essentially a depression). Things were hard enough already with the U.S. embargo in place since 1960, and now Cuba had lost over three-quarters of its oil imports. Over the next four years, energy use in the country dropped by half.

This is the first in a series of weekly postings about my visit to Cuba with a delegation of energy industry professionals, and a Cuban colleague’s visit to Vermont for a similar tour. Along the way we learned about efficiency and renewables, and some striking contrasts between ourselves and our countries were revealed.

Paul Scheckel is the author of The Homeowner’s Energy Handbook.

Next Up: Visit to Cuba

Click here to read Part 2 in this series.

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