‘Down To Earth with Zac Efron’ is a docuseries on Netflix where Zac Efron, along with wellness expert Darin Olien, visits various cities to explore some of the most innovative and sustainable technologies that are being adopted all over the world.
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While most episodes of the Netflix docuseries ‘Down To Earth with Zac Efron’ shed light on the advancement of the cities that they visit– like Paris’ unique tap water system that makes clean water accessible to all its citizens for free, or Iceland’s Ljosafoss Power Station which harnesses the power of moving water to generate electricity– Episode 6 differs from all the others as it focuses on a city that remains in shambles and the plight of its citizens.

 

Based in Puerto Rico, episode 6 shows the grueling effects that a series of hurricanes had on the lives of the citizens and how the island is still dealing with the ruins that are left behind. While all the other episodes leave us wonderstruck with the revolutionary technology, this episode got us thinking about how vulnerable communities around the world are suffering from our climate crisis.

 

Tiny home cabin in the woods

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a disaster-prone region. Each year, from July to November, a series of hurricanes pass through the Caribbean region that damage the island. Still recovering from Hurricane Erika, the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island in September 2017 that destroyed 90% of the island’s structures, crippled its economy, and forced the small country that did little to cause climate change to reckon with its consequences. According to US Census Bureau, around 130,000 Puerto Ricans left their homes as a direct result of Maria’s devastation. Even after 3 years since Maria, Puerto Rico still hasn’t recovered fully from the devastation and trauma. Increased rainfall, floods, violent hurricanes and severe droughts- all are consequences of human actions that have led to climate change. Anticipating future climatic challenges and building resilient houses to withstand them have become extremely important.

Transformation is Necessary

A very important point that Mayor Cruz mentions in the episode is, “let’s not change, lets transform.” Change means finding a temporary fix that is better, faster or cheaper than what currently exists. However, transformation means a deep enough, long enough and effective enough change that re-shapes values and desires for the better. It is a more permanent and long-lasting solution. As mentioned by Zac, Puerto Rico is a microcosm representing what can happen to all the other cities in the world if struck with a natural disaster. The traditional infrastructure that communities live in need to be reinvented to be made more self-sufficient and future-proof.

Sustainable and Conscious Living

Sustainable living is an important theme of the episode with some great examples like Casa Sol bed and breakfast, Frutos Del Guacabo and the pre-fabricated home built for Jose and his family. It means reducing our carbon-footprint by using Earth’s natural resources judiciously and minimally. Promoting sustainable livinhas become important as the economic growth that we can see around us is being achieved at the expense of natural resources. As the population and our consumption increase, the environment degrades at an unsustainable rate. This further ties-in to the idea of living consciously. Conscious living is about appreciating ourselves as well as everything around us through seeing and acting with greater clarity. It means becoming fully aware of the complete effect that all things consumed by our senses has on our well-being and on the world around us and consuming wisely based on that knowledge.

Resilience and Self-sufficiency 

Building resilient homes that are energy-efficient and eco-friendly are two important steps in future proofing. Using renewable energy can help achieve this.
The best part about renewable energy is that it not only helps in reducing air pollution but it is also the cheapest source of new power generation thus reducing the economic burden of energy bills, especially when coupled with energy-efficiency upgrades in our homes and businesses. 
Microgeneration helps in becoming self-sufficient and saving money on gas and electricity bills. Microgeneration means producing energy on a very small scale and close to home to meet one’s own needs. This helps to increase efficiency as transmission and distribution loss is virtually eliminated. It includes:

 

Heat Generation Technologies

  • Solar thermal hot water
  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Air source heat pumps
  • Biomass

Electricity Generation Technologies

  • Solar PV (photovoltaics)
  • Wind turbines
  • Small-scale hydropower systems

A great example of using domestic microgeneration technology can be seen at Casa Sol Bed and Breakfast where Eddie Ramirez, the owner of the BnB, used solar panels which not only helped in powering his daily operations but was also used to power his entire community’s energy needs during Hurricane Maria.

One might wonder that the power generated from renewable sources fluctuates depending on the amount of e.g. sunlight or wind thus generating less energy at times than the amount required. However, energy storage technologies, such as batteries, can overcome the inherent intermittency of energy supplied from renewable sources by storing the excess and delivering it on demand.

Final Thoughts

Puerto Rico teaches one of the most important lessons throughout the series. It is a testimony to what our mindless consumption can lead to and how it’s already affecting communities around the world. It highlights the importance of really thinking about each decision that we make and the repercussions it can have down the line. 
We consume energy in almost all activities that are part of our daily lives. A strong internet connection has become an essential to our modern lives especially now that much of the population is working from home and schools have closed, meaning home computers and mobiles are busier than ever which is why we can see our electricity bills shooting up. Now more than ever, it’s vital that countries put renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies at the fore to build back better after COVID-19.  
Human preparedness and appropriate response to natural hazards can minimize loss of life and property. Putting technology to pro-environment use and to make ourselves self-sufficient during uncertain times can help provide greater peace of mind.

 

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