When I first started working at the UN for Solar Cookers International (SCI), I was shocked by the extensive input of the powerful gas and oil industries focused on defeating the use of solar cookers. They perceive solar cooking as a threat to their well-being and spend a great deal of money and time countering solar cooking. Many who should know better are taken in and repeat the very words put forth in literature by the advocates of gas and oil interests. Educating them is a serious challenge.
The UN, while espousing goals similar to those of Solar Cookers International, has a complex path towards these ends. Additionally, the UN is constantly in flux in areas of leadership, personnel, priorities and alliances. Furthermore, lobbyists with various nationalist, economic, regional, and religious goals, compete for influence. Some indeed are exploiters of world resources. It is therefore essential for SCI to raise its voice within this milieu.
With this as the UN context, we engage in the process of getting our message out, heightening the awareness of individuals in power, gaining respect and access to officers, committees and representative organizations at the UN. Our goal is to gain consensus and placement in UN documents promoting resolve to introduce solar cooking along with other initiatives to their programs.
To be more effective at the UN we do need to create a support group in the New York area that can be called on to attend large multi-session meetings and speak up on our behalf; we should hold demonstrations of solar cooking, making connections and friends for SCI in the UN system. I have developed written materials and helped to organize advocacy over the past few years. Much remains to be done.
UN personnel are proud representatives of sovereign states and are sensitive to positioning, by US or other so called more “developed” groups, as less knowledgeable, less educated, less powerful or less effective. Diplomacy is essential when campaigning for support at the UN. The openly direct push of the US business community is greeted with strong, if discrete, negative reactions. The most effective strategies seem to be active participation with UN affiliated groups related to our goals. These include health, conservation, empowerment of women, education advocacy and promoters of income generation for all. Within them we need to continually explain the effectiveness of solar cooking as one answer towards reaching mutual objectives. Education as usual is often the most effective means.
I have spent a lifetime in advocacy for societal change. Many aspects have given me great satisfaction such as the success of the civil rights movement, women’s rights advocacy and the Vietnam war protests. I also have a love of teaching and a long interest in indigenous cultures. I find it a very worthwhile challenge to advocate for a better world on behalf of solar cooking and its potential for positive impact on the earth’s balance. I think the time is right for success.