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Europe & UK - June 15

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Emerald Isle plots green revolution

Larry Elliot, Guardian
Ireland seems ready to lead the way as Europe gears up for the low-carbon future
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Of all the world's developed nations, ­Ireland is the one that is closest to a depression. The banking system is shot, the housing market has collapsed, unemployment is expected to rise to more than one in six of the population. The deterioration in the public finances – and this is saying something – has been even more acute than in Britain. The Irish economy is expected to contract this year by just under 10%.

... The good news is that Ireland's predicament makes it a prime candidate for a "green new deal" – policies aimed not just at helping the economy through a difficult time but also to make it better able to face the twin challenges of a world where fossil fuels are dwindling and the temperature is rising.

Even better news is that Ireland appears quite keen to act as Europe's guinea pig for the green new deal concept, and is likely to reap a considerable dividend as a result. While the short-term outlook for Ireland is dire, the longer term picture is much rosier. As Eamon Ryan, a Green party minister in the coalition government, put it: "The crisis makes it easier … The status quo is gone. This is a moment when you can recalibrate everything."

Policymakers in Dublin see it this way. As a country on the western edge of Europe, Ireland is particularly vulnerable to peak oil and peak gas.
(14 June 2009)



'Global warming is hoax' (but not peak oil): the world according to Nick Griffin

Leo Hickman, Guardian
BNP leader Nick Griffin launches into peak oil and climate change argument
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Here's something that we're presumably going to have to listen to a lot more of as a result of the BNP's success in the European elections – Nick Griffin's views on climate change.

I believe, along with the Czech politician [Vaclav Klaus] everyone is berating, that global warming is essentially a hoax. It is being exploited by the liberal elite as a means of taxing and controlling us and the real crisis is peak oil. We're running out of proper, real energy. And it is something with an immediate and catastrophic effect in a few years' time potentially — not worrying about floating polar bears in a 150 years.

My first reaction was: "As if there weren't already enough reasons not to vote BNP." But then another thought crossed my mind: isn't it interesting how he is convinced by the peak-oil argument, but still believes that global warming is a pinko conspiracy to squeeze yet more taxes out everybody?

Might it be that peak oil somehow fits into his far-right ideology (watch out everyone: let's burn our indigenous coal because we mustn't be slaves to the whims of those foreigners with big oil wells), whereas the regulatory politics of global warming rubs against his far-right libertarian instincts?
(9 June 2009)
The far-right BNP is one of the very few political parties in the world to emphasize peak oil in its programme. The others are mostly Green Parties on the left side of the political spectrum. I don't really see any connection between peak oil and either right or left.
-BA



Caroline Lucas: Forget the BNP. What about the planet?

Caroline Lucas, Independent
The real success story of the European and local elections belongs to the Greens, who forge the way on environmental issues
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There have been two big media stories of the 2009 elections: the demise of Labour and the rise of the BNP. Both were trailed heavily throughout the six weeks of the campaign. Both have received a good deal of attention since. But behind the headlines there's another story, a story that I would suggest offers Britain rather more hope than the other two: the rise of the Green Party.

... That we are on the brink of getting MPs into Westminster is good news, and not just for the Green Party. We are facing a triple crisis that the other parties still haven't quite got their heads round: the economic crisis, the climate crisis and the looming peak oil problem. According to a new report from a UN think tank, climate change is now reckoned to be killing 300,000 people, and damaging the world's economy to the tune of $125bn (£76bn), every year. So we urgently need to make prosperity sustainable in ecological terms. Who is going to do this?

Labour and the Conservatives are wedded to a neo-liberal ideology that insists market forces will solve problems that, for decades, market forces have demonstrably failed to address – not least the climate crisis. All around the world, people are calling for a Green New Deal. Gordon Brown gave us a so-called green stimulus package that on close inspection by the New Economics Foundation was only 0.6 per cent green. Far from selecting things that would create relatively large numbers of jobs quickly, like renewable energy and home insulation, Brown favoured things like nuclear and coal-fired power stations, which are not green and won't create jobs for many years, and even then will sustain far fewer jobs per megawatt than renewables would. This is what you get with a business-as-usual party.
(14 June 2009)
In the UK, only the Greens and the BNP are talking much about peak oil. -BA



Jobbik Rising

Jordan Stancil, The Nation
If you were Hungarian in this time of economic crisis, you might start listening to politicians who complain that "the notion of social service and the common good have faded out of the vocabulary" and who promise to stop the "compulsory private pension fund" and "cancel tax allowances provided for multinational companies." Those quotations come from the program of the extreme-right Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, which surprisingly won near 15 percent of the vote in the June 7 elections to the European Parliament.

This is unfortunate, because Jobbik also operates a paramilitary organization called the Hungarian Guard and proposes to abolish abortion, re-establish the death penalty and create a special police unit to deal with "gypsy delinquency." Jobbik denies accusations of racism or anti-Semitism, but if you're looking for a time machine back to the bad old days of virulent European nationalism, look no further than Jobbik's platform. The party wants to ban "unjustified sterilization" (to produce as many Hungarians as possible) and to establish a Memorial Day on June 4 to mourn the territories lost in the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon, signed on that day in 1920.

Jobbik appears to have profited not only from the worldwide recession, which has hit Hungary especially hard, but also from the international response to Hungary's problems.

... However, Jobbik's current numbers might not be the relevant factor to consider. Instead, we should turn to the economic historian Karl Polanyi (himself a Hungarian), whose 1944 classic, The Great Transformation, described how the social destruction wrought by market forces paved the way for fascism in Central Europe. Polanyi argued that a dysfunctional social situation created fascism, not the other way around. Fascism "was rooted in a market society that refused to function," he wrote. "To imagine that it was the strength of the movement which created situations such as these, and not to see that it was the situation that gave birth to the movement, is to miss the outstanding lesson of the past decades."

If we continue to pretend that an economy is working as long as "the people who hold the debt" are happy, then we might need to relearn that lesson.
(12 June 2009)
Far right party makes gains in Hungrary, showing a possible future if economic problems persist. -BA



City Known for Its Water Turns to Tap to Cut Trash

Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times
... Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.

But here in Venice, officials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.

... “There are so many advantages to Acqua Veritas,” said Riccardo Seccarello, a city official, whose office is adorned by an Acqua Veritas poster into which President Obama’s picture has been Photoshopped. “Tap water doesn’t require a bottle. Its quality is controlled more strictly than bottled water. It’s really cheap. And you don’t have to walk to a market to get it.”

He also leaked a little information that city officials have made sure everyone now knows: Venice’s tap water comes from deep underground in the same region as one of Italy’s most popular bottled waters, San Benedetto.
(11 June 2009)

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