Last updateFri, 18 Jan 2019 11am

Climate change expert preps for annual lecture

Donald Aitken is a recognized scientist and educator who wants people to be informed about climate change, a subject that’s long been a keen interest of his. 

pg9As a lakeside resident for the past 11 years, his yearly Open Circle PowerPoint lecture draws large crowds, and it’s easy to see why.

In order to stay on top of what’s happening with climate change and global warming, Aitken continues to attend conferences, read technical papers and articles, and follow the monthly global and ocean temperature readings.

Aitken spent nine years working as a research physicist at Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. Also an environmental activist and speaker, he co-founded the international organization, Friends of the Earth, along with environmentalist David Brower.

Says Aitken, “Because of my growing national visibility in environmental matters, San Jose State University invited me to create one of the first six environmental studies departments in the United States. I gave up my tenured professorship at Stanford to become a full time professor at San Jose State.”

At San Jose State, where he taught for 21 years, he was chairman of his own Environmental Studies Department, and was named “Professor of the Year.”

In 1991, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) invited Aitken to become a member of their staff. For 11 years, he worked full-time for this 100,000-member science advocacy membership organization, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He took on the role of Senior Staff Scientist for Renewable Energy Policies and Economics.

“My position at UCS required that I stay up-to-date technically,” he says. “Not only in renewable energy policy, but also in the related fields of global warming and climate change. I ended up speaking extensively on the subject, both publicly and at conferences.”

Aitken became the official policy representative for all of California’s 18,000 UCS members. Every two weeks, he traveled to Cambridge to attend coordinating meetings. “I also spent a significant amount of time meeting with state legislators and business groups to develop renewable energy policy.”

Aitken and his late wife, Pia, came from the San Francisco Bay Area to lakeside to retire in 2007. Wanting to find a place they could afford, they thought Mexico could be the answer. They had spotted an ad for a home for rent near Ajijic, contacted the owner and rented the place for six months.

At the end of their trial, they found the house they wanted to buy and moved in during the summer of 2007. Soon after, they got to work creating the first all-solar home at lakeside.

“On a per capita basis, lakeside has become the solar capital of Mexico,” says Aitken. “I’m proud of the fact that ours was the first lakeside home to become all solar. My wife and I get joint credit for our vision to convert our home and spread the word by giving tours and public talks. Locals refer to us as ‘the parents of lakeside’s solar boom.’”

After Aitken and his wife moved to lakeside, he continued working, including his governmental policy work. He developed the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) – a widely adopted policy basis, which has driven solar policy throughout the United States and in other countries.

In April, Aitken will repeat his Open Circle talk in Northern California to the Solar Circle, a gathering of internationally recognized scientists. He and his wife were named as members of the organization early on, and Aitken is the group’s educational resource for climate change and global warming, where he gives yearly updates.

On how climate change is impacting Mexico, Aitken says: “The most affected area in Mexico is the northern part where a massive drought is taking place. Here at lakeside we’re fortunate because of an unusual atmospheric phenomenon: a finger of moisture that comes from the equator and brings on our summer rainy season. This phenomenon keeps our climate rather consistent and hasn’t changed … yet.”

During his Open Circle talk, Aitken will discuss the growth of solar energy in Mexico, and how it’s significantly taking off on an industrial and utility scale. He will also bring up wind power, another considerably less expensive form of energy that’s gaining momentum in Mexico.

Says Aitken, “Although great strides are taking place in Mexico with solar energy and wind power, solar rooftops are another story. Lakeside clearly has the greatest concentration of solar rooftops in all of Mexico, with the current number of solar homes at well over 2,000. The other areas of the country still have some catching up to do.”

Aitken will present his 11th annual PowerPoint update on “Global Warming, Climate Change and Renewable Energy in Mexico,” Sunday, February 4, at 10:30 a.m. at Club Exotica, in the Ajijic Plaza.

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