“My grandfather, he was a very humble man,” David Ligouy says. “He was a farmer.”
Ligouy is an electrical engineer. Or, he was, before he quit his job four years ago to travel the world on his solar-powered e-bike.
Liguouy stopped in San Jose this month to seek partnerships for Bank on the Climate, a project that will create access to plans, materials and, eventually, the means to generate income from solar-powered bicycles. It is also a project for peace.
To understand Ligouy’s mission, history comes first, beginning with his grandfather.
Ligouy is part of Le Mouvement de la Paix (Movement for Peace), a French organization born out of the Le Mouvement de la Résistance—a group of French citizens who fought against Nazi occupation during the second world war. Ligouy’s grandfather was not explicitly part of the Resistance, but he assisted in their efforts.
“My grandfather helped two American pilots to not be captured and tortured by the Germans, by the Nazis.”
After the war, Ligouy’s grandfather helped put into place Les Jours Heureux (Happy Days), a vision of social democracy fostered by the National Council of the Resistance. Ligouy says its leaders “contributed, in 1945, with Eleanor Roosevelt, to the charter of the United Nations. That was how it started. It started from San Francisco in 1945.”
Happy Days responded to the devastation of the second world war, offering French citizens benefits such as free social security, access to land, banking, and stipends for mothers.
“We had two world wars in my country and both times it was a disaster. The second ended with a nuclear weapon.”
That memory was what set the first priority of the Movement for Peace: to ban nuclear weapons. In 2018, Ligouy set off on a world tour to support the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and its efforts to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, but needed 50 countries to sign on.
“My goal was to go around the world, to cross symbolically 50 countries that we need to ratify the treaty. But, fortunately, it happened faster than I thought. I had only done 26 countries when I arrived in Peru. [When I was] in Peru, the treaty was ratified.” The 50th nation—Honduras—signed in October of 2020. Put into force on January 22, 2021, the treaty prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. Like all the other countries in possession of nuclear weapons, the United States has not signed the treaty.
Now, Ligouy has pivoted toward another global threat. “The nuclear weapon was the first danger to the planet, in terms of peace. The second danger, it is called climate change,” he says.
“I met a world specialist on the IPCC—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—from Vietnam and he did his thesis on integrated risk. So, [I asked him] if you integrate all the risk, when is the deadline? He said the deadline is 2020. If we don’t do anything before then, after that point, it will be too unstable. That’s why I said: I have to do something.”
For Ligouy, climate change is not related only to environmental issues, but to social and economic factors as well. He references the set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, put out by the United Nations, as the set of solutions to these problems. These goals include ending poverty and hunger, promoting gender equity and access to healthcare, and supporting biodiversity and clean energy.
“If you want to fight climate change, you have to fight everything together.”
But to be most effective, it helps to focus. Ligouy has zeroed in on a project that tackles transportation, clean energy, and support for women in Latin America.
“The number one problem in the world, in terms of greenhouse gases, is transportation. The second is the production of electricity. And the third has to do with efficiency.”
Solar-powered e-bikes, to electrical-engineer Ligouy, are the perfect answer to the triumvirate issues of transportation, green energy, and efficiency. Ligouy has partnered with the National Institute of Electricity and Clean Energy (INEEL), based in Mexico, on the Bank on the Climate project. This project creates open access to the plans and materials for converting manual bikes into solar-powered bikes, and trains mechanics—women primarily—to do the conversions. The project will start with 8,000 bikes, but Ligouy holds that Mexico has a need for 50 million of these bicycles. These big numbers address big goals in terms of green energy. “They have a national plan to reach 35% green energy by 2024—in two years.”
The project is targeted specifically to support women.
“The problem is the solution. Or the problem gives you a guideline for the solution. So the biggest problem in Mexico—and in all the Americas, all the countries I’ve been through—has been violence against women. Climate change is just a consequence. The problem, or the cause, is discrimination against women. We are going to make equitable maker-spaces, open spaces for women where they can access the kits there.”
Equipped with skills in welding solar battery cells and wiring the bikes, women can then run their own electro-conversion businesses. INEEL has already successfully run a program that trains rural women to install solar panels in their villages.
“We are in proof of concept. We need the help of Silicon Valley. We need the financial responsibility, the economic responsibility, of Silicon Valley to start that project. To help us. [People who work in Silicon Valley] are innovative people. They are creative people. But sometimes they have no time.”
Time, and funding, is of the essence. “We need $5 million for this project. For 8,000 bikes—to pay for the research and to make everything patent free. For step one, we need $200,000.”
To create financial sustainability thereafter, Ligouy envisions an end-user carbon market for solar bike users. Much as nations with massive forests receive international funding to keep their carbon-sequestering forests intact, this project, and the individuals participating in the project, could receive green bonds for their carbon-reducing activities. Carbon savings would be tracked on a watch or other device.
“If we have a means, through this watch, to calculate how much CO2 you are saving by using your bike, you can get fit, but you also get some credit—carbon credit.”
When asked about the troubles associated with infrastructure for this scale of e-bike use—on the issues of bike paths, safety and weather—Ligouy first notes the relative cheapness of installing a bike path versus a public transportation system or a road for cars. He then notes that he put 26,000 kilometers on his solar bike, passing through the driest of deserts, high elevations and subzero temperatures. Even still, he admits to the vastness and seeming difficulty of an undertaking as large as 50 million solar e-bikes in Mexico. Beyond Mexico, he sees the need for hundreds of millions more solar bikes worldwide. He remains hopeful.
“In 1941, the German army was everywhere. They were the best army in the world. France had lost the war and the guys in the Resistance had no guns, had nothing. It was improbable to win the war. But, in two days, it all changed. In 1940, the Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor and so the Americans joined the war and they brought a lot of organization, a lot of material and a lot of men—it changed everything. And, at the same time, in Stalingrad, the Russians defeated the German army. Again, that was improbable.”
To support the Movement for Peace and its partnership with INEEL to create access to solar e-bikes, visit the website bankontheclimate.com. Ligouy again emphasizes that time is of the essence.
“We have 1,000 days. There is a tipping point, with CO2 emissions. We have to stop the curve of CO2 emissions in 1,000 days. If we don’t do it, nothing we do after will matter. After 2025, we have five years to reduce CO2 emissions by 50%, or 10% per year. The US has to reduce its CO2 emissions to a sixth of its current emissions by then. It is very improbable that we are going to make it. But I have to do everything I can because maybe there is a little, little chance that it will happen.”