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Solutions and Sustainability

Group Slams the “Iron Triangle” of US Food Aid

Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
WASHINGTON – U.S. food aid is inefficient, wasteful and designed in most cases to benefit domestic constituencies, particularly U.S.-based agribusiness firms, shipping companies and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), more than needy people in developing countries, according to a new report released this week by the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

The 47-page report, ”U.S. Food Aid: Time to Get It Right (.pdf),” calls for a major overhaul of food aid programs, including ”untying” the assistance from U.S.-origin and shipping requirements, as well as the practice of monetization — that is, providing food to NGOs or local governments for sale so that the proceeds can be used for aid work or other purposes.

It also calls on Washington to do more to encourage local food production in poor countries, particularly in Africa, to ensure long-term food security by investing more in agriculture, establishing a system of emergency food reserves, and encouraging multilateral agencies, in consultation with recipient countries, to adopt uniform rules on food aid.

”Food aid is about saving lives — often in desperate situations,” said IATP program director Sophia Murphy, who co-authored the report with Kathleen McAfee, a geographer at the University of California in Berkeley.

”But food aid also has to be part of a much larger strategy to build and protect food security. We have to make sure we are not feeding people now who will still be food aid recipients in 20 years,” she noted. ”The U.S. food aid program today fails this critical test.”
(29 July 2005)

When Hybrids Turn NASCAR
The Monitor’s View

Editors, Christian Science Monitor
Hybrid gas-electric cars conjure up images of a sober citizen happily, if cautiously, easing a fuel-sipping but underpowered compact car down a slow traffic lane.

That image is exaggerated, of course. But when the first generation of hybrids hit the streets at the turn of this century, the idea was to get great mileage and create less pollution. The two-seat Honda Insight, for example, is rated by the EPA at a miserly 61 to 66 miles per gallon. The much larger Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid, still rates above 50 m.p.g.

But some new hybrids, which like the two above employ both a gasoline engine and an electric motor, are taking their inspiration more from NASCAR than the Sierra Club. Their electric motors are like turbochargers, adding tire-squealing power with little fuel savings.

…The point? Hybrids can be used either to save fuel or to boost power. A tax credit that blindly gives a break to all hybrids doesn’t necessarily reward fuel saving.

Congress is expected to pass an energy bill by Friday that apparently will address this flaw. It will base its tax credit on how much better gas mileage the hybrid achieves compared with a comparable non-hybrid model.

If designed for fuel conservation, hybrid vehicles can play a role in helping to break America’s gasoline addiction. As an Environmental Protection Agency report leaked to The New York Times Thursday shows, US cars and trucks are getting bigger, heavier, faster – and less fuel efficient.

Car buyers who want to buy “green” should be sure that the hybrid they’re considering really saves fuel. And federal policy should reward hybrids that cut demand for foreign oil – not subsidize faster muscle cars.
(29 July 2005)

The Cuba Diet
What will you be eating when the revolution comes?

Bill McKibben, Harpers Magazine
… Such was communism. But then I turned a corner and the pictures changed. The sharply focused shots of combines and Olympians now were muddied, as if Cubans had forgotten how to print photos or, as was more likely the case, had run short of darkroom chemicals. I had reached the gallery of the “Special Period.” That is to say, I had reached the point in Cuban history where everything came undone. With the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba fell off a cliff of its own. All those carts and combines had been the products of an insane “economics” underwritten by the Eastern bloc for ideological purposes. Castro spent three decades growing sugar and shipping it to Russia and East Germany, both of which paid a price well above the world level, and both of which sent the ships back to Havana filled with wheat, rice, and more tractors. When all that disappeared, literally almost overnight,

Cuba had nowhere to turn. The United States, Cuba’s closest neighbor, enforced a strict trade embargo (which it strengthened in 1992, and again in 1996) and Cuba had next to no foreign exchange with anyone else-certainly the new Russia no longer wanted to pay a premium on Cuban sugar for the simple glory of supporting a tropical version of its Leninist past.

In other words, Cuba became an island. Not just a real island, surrounded by water, but something much rarer: an island outside the international economic system, a moon base whose supply ships had suddenly stopped coming. There were other deeply isolated places on the planet-North Korea, say, or Burma-but not many. And so most observers waited impatiently for the country to collapse. No island is an island, after all, not in a global world. The New York Times ran a story in its Sunday magazine titled “The Last Days of Castro’s Cuba”; in its editorial column, the paper opined that “the Cuban dictator has painted himself into his own corner. Fidel Castro’s reign deserves to end in home-grown failure.” Without oil, even public transportation shut down-for many, going to work meant a two-hour bike trip. Television shut off early in the evening to save electricity; movie theaters went dark. People tried to improvise their ways around shortages. “For drinking glasses we’d get beer bottles and cut the necks off with wire,” one professor told me. “We didn’t have razor blades, till someone in the city came up with a way to resharpen old ones.”
(6 June 2005, from the April hardcopy edition of Harpers)
An excellent even-handed analysis of how Cuba adapted its agriculture to the end of cheap oil. McKibben is both critical and respectful of the Cuban effort. -BA

Tipperary eco-village gets planning permission

Iva Pocock, Sustainable Projects Ireland.
North Tipperary county council today gave the green light to Ireland’s leading eco-village development company by awarding a decision to grant planning permission for the group’s innovative plans in Cloughjordan.

The news comes hot on the heels of the company’s purchase this week of a 67-acre farm adjoining the village, where the eco-housing project will take place.

“North Tipp county council’s decision is fantastic and marks the second major milestone in the project’s development this week as we have just closed the land deal for the farm in Cloughjordan,” said Johnny Connolly, chairperson of the group, Sustainable Projects Ireland Ltd. “The local authority are showing great foresight in facilitating the development of the country’s first eco-village.”

…“This decision is of national importance for two reasons. Firstly it’ll change the way planners look at expanding villages and small towns from now on,” said Brian O’Brien of Solearth, eco-architects for the project. “Secondly it marks a major step forward in terms of sustainable settlement design and will finally bring us up to where exemplar countries like Denmark and the Netherlands are.”
(28 July 2005)
Although this move is a step in the right direction, one wonder: when will it be EASY to build ecologically responsible settlements and HARD to build ecologically devastating ones? -BA


Climate pact: For good or bad? (analysis)

Richard Black, BBC
On the surface, there’s no conflict between the new Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate and the United Nations process which led to the Kyoto Protocol.

So said Australia’s Environment Minister Ian Campbell on Wednesday; so said US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick as he unveiled the pact in the Laotian capital, Vientiane.

But as the principal architects of this new agreement, the US and Australia would say that, wouldn’t they?

Support has come, though, from other quarters, including Britain’s environment minister Elliot Morley, who said: “I very much welcome the fact that we are seeing co-operation between some countries which are not signatories to Kyoto; I believe that all countries should sign up to Kyoto, but the fact that people are working together… I think that’s a welcome step forward.”

The issue is whether those European governments have enough solidarity to make tough decisions when their own positions may be rather weak
Philip Clapp, National Environmental Trust
In public at least, G8 leaders can say little else.

The final communiqué from the G8 summit held in Scotland earlier this month made clear that clean technologies, and the transfer of these technologies to developing countries, would be key to controlling the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions – so, agreements like the Asia-Pacific deal can be seen simply as a route to achieving the Kyoto goals.

Why, then, are environmental groups so down on the pact – and are they right?
(29 July 2005)

Six-country pact on clean energy ‘not meant to undermine Kyoto’

Paul Brown, Guardian
A US-led, six-nation pact to develop clean energy technologies and combat global warming was launched yesterday with its members denying it was designed to undermine the Kyoto protocol.

The new agreement, announced by the US deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, at an Asia-Pacific security forum in Laos, was to provide practical solutions to excess carbon emissions, he said.

The six club members – China, Australia, Japan, India, the US and South Korea – will cooperate on the development, transfer and sale of clean technologies, to promote the efficient use of fuels.

Technology that enables coal to be burned more efficiently and captures carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere is top of the agenda. The US, Australia and China are all big coal users and exporters.

Alongside wind, solar, hydropower and geothermal power sources, new nuclear power facilities get equal billing, which will further dismay the environmental lobby.

There are no targets and timetables for the delivery of any of the pledges and no carbon dioxide reduction targets. There is a hope that other nations will join the new club, which represents 45% of the world’s population and nearly half of its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The US alone accounts for 25% of the world’s emissions.

Japan, which has a binding 6% greenhouse gas reduction target under the Kyoto protocol, and China and India all emphasised yesterday their continued commitment to the treaty. A Chinese foreign ministry statement said the new pact complemented the Kyoto treaty and did not replace it.

Talks on the pact have been going on in secret for 12 months but it was only at the last minute that Japan was approached and decided to join. Suspicion of US motives was fuelled by the fact that the EU and Tony Blair were not informed of the plan, even though climate change was a big item on the agenda of last month’s G8 meeting.

Across the world, reaction to the new pact from governments, UN bodies and environment groups, included the need to preserve and also strengthen the legally binding emission reduction targets in the Kyoto protocol.

While many welcomed the pact for bringing the US into a form of international action to combat climate change, others were suspicious of White House motives
(29 July 2005)

Statement by UNEP Head in Response to United States-Led Climate Initiative

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP via ENN
NAIROBI – Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), today welcomed a plan by the United States to work with Australia and Asian countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Rapidly developing economies like China and India need new and more efficient energy technologies if they are to lift their populations out of poverty without compromising the environment or destabilising the global economy,” Mr. Toepfer said.

“Countries like the United States are now equally aware that being dependent on fossil fuels is and will be an increasing burden in the future. They now recognise that a more diversified fuel supply that includes technologies like cleaner coal and renewables alongside greater energy efficiency makes economic as well as environmental sense,” Mr. Toepfer said.

“It is important to mention that this new initiative is not a substitute for the Kyoto Protocol, its legally binding emission reductions and its various flexible mechanisms including emission trading and the Clean Development Mechanism. We also urgently need more investment in climate-vulnerable developing countries to help them adapt to the climate change that is already underway,” he said.

“However, all countries must look to how we tackle climate change beyond 2012. We need numerous imaginative and diverse initiatives if we are to put the planet on track for the up to 60 percent emission reductions deemed necessary by scientists. These need to involve not only governments but industry sectors up to climate alliances between cities in the developed and developing world,” he added.

“Technological change, the key element in this new U.S.-led initiative, is among these. It also offers the chance of growing new industries and stimulating research and development that may in turn lead to ever cleaner and more efficient energy supply and energy savings systems. If it leads to real and meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases and a decrease in the kinds of energy shocks which damage, in particular, the fragile economies of poor countries, then it is a welcome step forward and a clear signal that we now have a truly global consensus on the need to fight climate change,” Mr. Toepfer said.
(29 July 2005)

Global Warming: How Hot? How Soon?

Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News
A broad scientific census says that Earth is already experiencing significant global warming. So how hot will it get, how soon, and to what effect?

Some climate scientists warn that the pace of global warming could be much more rapid than that predicted even a few years ago.

“Any time you get into projections, you get into a lot of uncertainties. But the [climate] models are getting a lot stronger,” said Jay Gulledge, a senior research at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia.
(27 July 2005)