National Geographic Explorer Thomas Culhane is an urban planner whose German-Egyptian non-governmental organization, Solar CITIES, trains residents in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the world how to build and install rooftop food-waste-to-fuel-and-fertilizer biogas systems, solar water heaters and other renewable energy, water, and waste management systems, mostly built from local, recycled material and even "garbage." The Solar CITIES initiative now has created more than 100 solar tanks and kitchen-waste-to-cooking-gas biogas systems that provide hot water for cooking and bathing, from the rooftops of Coptic Christian and Islamic neighborhoods in Cairo, to schools in the slums of Nairobi and in the Maasai tribal lands, hospitals and homes in Nigeria, wildlife reserves in Botswana, community centers in the Himalayas, universities and Bedouin villages in Palestine and Israel, and low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Culhane grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., where he, like his parents before him, works part of each year as a professor at Mercy College. He graduated from Harvard University with honors, earning a bachelor's degree in biological anthropology.
After graduation, Culhane spent a year doing rainforest and orangutan research in Borneo as a Michael Rockefeller Fellow and later worked as a science writer. Culhane currently lives in Essen, Germany, and completed his PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the fall of 2010 after living and studying agroforestry in the rainforest villages of Guatemala and renewable energy in the slums of Egypt. He spends part of each year in Africa, the Middle East and California, working on environmental technology multimedia projects and traveling around the world to learn appropriate emerging technologies that he adapts in his own home so that he can share his lived experience with home scale solutions to our environmental challenges with colleagues in informal and marginalized communities. His belief is that everybody "can have the chance to live a dignified, healthy and sustainable life because it turns out that solving our energy and waste problems at the home scale isn't difficult at all!"