Pull Power from Pollution

Coastline with industry, Spotlight Europe
Convert pollution into new energy. (Flickr: Kees de Voss/licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Never had a phone call made such an impact on her. It was like an electroshock. After a restless night, she still felt dizzy from the news she had heard. She pinched herself and smiled; « This is not a dream » she thought, « this is for real! ». She still hadn’t swallowed the fact that she, Helena Stavriokis, had won the Nobel Prize.

Helena felt uneasy as she climbed the stairs to her plane for Stockholm: a plane all to herself. Never had she been indulged in such a luxury; « Am I that important? » she wondered. She sat at the window of her plane, watching the clouds invade the view as the hum of the reactors was soothing her. She could picture herself five years ago, the 5th of May 2025, doubtful and uncertain at the launching of her project; an invention called « Pull Power from Pollution ». The PPP was a small-scale device that was placed on buildings to convert the CO2 sucked from the common air into energy.

“The PPP was definitely overshadowing all the other sustainable energy industries.”

The PPP was definitely overshadowing all the other sustainable energy industries. Beyond the fuss that was generated by this new competitor, they could all sleep on both ears as they knew that it wasn’t going to be a long lasting product. The use of the device would decline at the same rate as the pollution would. « In 50 years’ time, the PPP will eradicate any hint of pollution » had speculated a renowned German researcher.  Nobody was really concerned about the future disappearing of the PPP; new viable sources of energy would emerge as the competitiveness within Europe kept growing. Something more important stood out: pollution was not going to jeopardize the future of our children anymore.

With the smashing success of her invention after only five years’ time, she realized how silly it was of her for having been so doubtful at the beginning. Europe had reached, two years beforehand, the goals set for 2030: diminish by 40% the Green Gas Emission, and boost by 27% the Energy Efficiency and the Renewable Sources. Helena was lucid, she knew it wasn’t only by virtue of the PPP; Europe had made huge improvements on the energy field since the launching of the Energy Union in 2020. Eco-friendly energy technologies had developed massively and our dependence on mineral oil imports were steadily reduced. Energy became safer, more affordable and sustainable; Europe had become the world energy leader, Europe had become even more united!

“With the PPP, Greece had gained back its former recognition on the international level.”

The clamorous noise reminding her to fasten her belt shoved her out of her thoughts. The plane was landing in only twenty minutes. Helena glanced through the window and noticed the beauty of the city covered in snow. « This will change me from Greece » she told herself enthusiastically. But then, she felt a twinge of sadness thinking about her parents who had never witnessed a single snowfall. Her family got struck really hard by the crisis back in 2008, and as they put their daughter’s will to study before their own needs, they never got the chance to travel. The consequences of the crisis were such that after 6 years, Greece lost a quarter of its GDP. Greece was in debt to its ears and this situation started to build conflicts within Europe as nobody was willing to lend more money. It was dreadful to the point that, silently, Europe was struggling to know if it would end up with a”divorce”. But now, eleven and fifteen years after Helena’s parents’ death, things are different. The Energy Union had driven the creation of jobs across the continent and accordingly unemployment had lowered. Tourism in Greece has been strongly revaluated and the economy went inexorably, but slowly, on the rise. With the PPP, Greece had gained back its former recognition on the international level.

« The Nobel Prize of Physics for the invention that has enabled to transform pollution into energy goes out to Helena Stavrionikis ».  « Helena Stavrionikis », her name was resonating inside her head. There was a floating moment where no one moved, nothing happened. She was motionless. All the sacrifices that her parents had suffered from, that made it possible for her to be here, was the only thing she could think about. Helena couldn’t rely on the reassuring gaze of anyone in the audience: she had chosen sciences over the building of a family. Imagining the pride that her parents would have felt seeing her today gave her the strength to get up and receive the honors. How overjoyed they would have been to see a Europe that could rely on Greece, a unified Europe.

About the author:
Alexandra Cogels, Spotlight Europe
Alexandra – Author at Spotlight Europe

Alexandra (17) participated at our workshop in Brussels in February 2015. She is a student at the Collège Saint-Michel in Brussels, Belgium.

Paris, 2030

Paris Sundowner, Spotlight Europe
Will Paris be the same in the future? (Flickr:Moyan Brann/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

I hitch my bag higher up my shoulder and start down the stairs. The 13 flights would have been too much for my mother when she was 81, but for me it’s no problem.

It’s all this new technology keeping me in shape. I wear sensors all over my body so the doctors can monitor me. Sometimes I’ll get a text from my GP advising me to take painkillers, because he’s seen from the sensors that my back’s going to be hurting tomorrow when I wake up. It really is amazing.

When I reach the bottom of the stairs and pull the lever to open the doors of the high rise flat I live in, the heat hits me instantly. I’m all for warm weather, but a 40 degree Parisian summer is nothing to smile about, though it is something we’re used to after about 20 years of global warming. I pull on my jacket and set out into the sun, instantly feeling the relief as the nano-technology cools me down.

Heading to work, Spotlight Europe
Heading to work (Flickr:Stephane Mignon/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

I head down the street towards the synagogue. It’s a bit of a walk, because there aren’t a lot left. Most have been replaced by industrial buildings and high density housing. I hear a call of “Bonjour!” from behind me and turn, knowing who it is. Rachel is the only one who still talks to me in French. I’m not sure anyone other than us still knows how to speak it.

Rachel is my only Jewish friend left in France. Many of our old friends left for Israel back in the early 2000s to escape anti-Semitism. Personally, I’m willing to stay until the last synagogue has been demolished. Paris is my home.

I can still contact all my old friends through Facebook. Even they have stopped speaking French though. English is the big one to know now. “The language of business” as they say. My English is quite good. It was easy for most people to pick up as we learned a lot in school. It was more a case of remembering than learning.

As we get closer to the synagogue the population begins to increase. This is a poorer part of town than we are from, so more people here have to get up early to do the jobs no one else wants to do. Not that we’re well off. Far from it. If I was well off I certainly wouldn’t live here. I’d live in the other end of Paris, with proper housing and gardens, and with the 4 families that literally own most of the city. But that’s wealth distribution for you, I guess.

“We arrive at the synagogue, dirty and in disrepair”

We arrive at the synagogue, dirty and in disrepair, tucked in at the back of an alley and quickly say our daily prayers before leaving again. I remember when I was a lot younger having set prayer times, definitely more than once a day. Now I just pray when I can.

I say goodbye to Rachel and she heads off towards the train station. Thankfully I have a car, so I make my way to the underground car park where I left it. I used to be a teacher when I was young. I had to retrain though, there’s not as much demand for teachers as there once was, what with the ageing population. I worked in various offices for a while, then retired. After the collapse of the pension funds I went back to work. I’m the secretary of a software firm now. I have to keep myself going for about the next 30 years according to recent studies, after all.

I get into my car and set it to the destination “work” then sit back and let it drive me there. There’s no need to stop for petrol, since everything runs on electricity. It’s a shame almost, I used to enjoy driving.

“I order dinner on my mobile phone”

I arrive at work and set myself up at my desk, ready to start the day. Jianming is at the desk with me today, as every day. He greets me in Chinese and we talk for a while. Chinese is another language that’s been coming into a lot of use lately. I learned it mainly so I could speak to Jianming, but it’s actually turned out to be quite useful.

I order dinner on my mobile phone on the way home – thank god the euro is still in use, I don’t think I’d be able to get used to a new currency on top of everything else – then jump into my car, which takes me yet another new route home, since it’s programmed to avoid traffic congestion. I get back to my apartment and take the stairs back to my room. I eat my dinner and phone my sister, before going to bed.

About the author
Bronagh Scanlon, Spotlight Europe
Bronagh – author at Spotlight Europe

Bronagh (16) participated in the Dublin edition of the “My Europe” workshop. She´s a student in Mount Temple Comprehensive School.