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French towns swap rubbish trucks for horse-drawn carts

Jacqueline Karpm Guardian
Long before recycling became a household word, a Paris prefect called Eugene Poubelle, introduced three separate containers for household waste – glass and pottery, oyster and mussel shells, and the rest – and had horse-drawn carts empty them. Six years later, his surname entered the Academy dictionary as the word for "dustbin". Now, over a century later, a growing number of French towns are returning to horse-drawn kerbside waste collection, as a better way to recycle.

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. "You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips." He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: "It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses’ hooves."
(1 October 2010)


Swiss Solar boat heads on around-the-world voyage

Isobel Leybold-Johnson,
The first-ever round-the-world voyage by a boat powered only by solar panels – which is travelling under a Swiss flag – is now underway.

The MS TÛRANOR PlanetSolar left the port of Monaco on Monday. The project is aimed at raising awareness of solar mobility and renewable energies.

Swiss project founder and crew member, Raphaël Domjan, told from onboard the catamaran that the boat was making excellent progress.

“On the whole, after six years of work, it is hard to find words to explain the feeling of finally sailing. Let me point out it feels great to be sailing at night with the energy of the sun,” he said in email comments.

The boat is driven by a silent, pollution-free electrical engine, using only the sun’s energy.

“The idea is to prove that technology in the fields of renewable energy is advanced and reliable. The reason why we are on our way is to demonstrate that motorised shipping can work without fuel,” Domjan said.


The 50,000km-expedition is expected to last at least eight months, and will take in the east and west coasts of North America, as well as Cancun, Sydney, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

The crew will constantly have to optimise their route and speed in line with the available sunshine and the medium-range forecast. They hope to maintain an average speed of 7.5 knots.

The world’s largest vessel of its kind cost around €12.5 million (SFr16.6 million) to build. It is double-hulled, 31 metres long, 15 metres wide and weighs 85 tonnes.

On top are around 540m² of photovoltaic solar panels, connected to two motors in each hull. Special batteries mean the catamaran can travel for around three days, even if there is no fresh solar power
(29 September 2010)


Zero Emissions Race – 30 days around the world using renewables

Zero Race (website)
Jules Verne’s dream to go around the world in 80 days became a reality a long time ago, but is it possible to make a tour around the world in 80 days with emission-free vehicles? Five Teams from four continents are taking up the challenge. On 16 August they will start with their electric vehicles on the longest and greenest race of all time: the ZERO Race.
(September 2010)
WRS Audio interview: "It has been a month since Switzerland saw the launch of the Zero Emissions Race, a journey around the planet—attempted in 80 days. It features teams from four continents. Their vehicles are all electric and emissions-free. Over the weekend, the convoy crossed the mountains between Kazhakstan and China. Switzerland’s Louis Palmer is tour director"

Does (European) Social-Democracy Have a Future?

Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University
This past month, two important events marked the world of Social-Democratic parties. In Sweden, on September 19, the party lost the election badly. It received 30.9% of the vote, its worst showing since 1914. Since 1932, it has governed the country 80% of the time, and this is the first time since then that a center-right party won reelection. And to compound the bad showing, a far right, anti-immigrant party entered the Swedish parliament for the first time.

Why is this so dramatic? In 1936, Marquis Childs wrote a famous book, entitled Sweden: The Middle Way. Childs presented Sweden under its Social-Democratic regime as the virtuous middle way between the two extremes represented by the United States and the Soviet Union. Sweden was a country that effectively combined egalitarian redistribution with internal democratic politics. Sweden has been, at least since the 1930s, the world poster child of Social-Democracy, its true success story. And so it seemed to remain until rather recently. It is a poster child no more.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain on Sept. 25, Ed Miliband came from far behind to win the leadership of the Labour Party. The Labour Party under Tony Blair had engaged in a radical remaking of the party under the label "the new Labour." Blair had argued that the party should also be a middle way – one not between capitalism and communism but between what used to be the social-democratic program of nationalization of the key sectors of the economy and the unbridled dominance of the market. This was quite a different middle way than that of Sweden in the 1930s and afterwards.

The choice by the Labour Party of Ed Miliband over his older brother David Miliband, a key associate of Tony Blair, was interpreted in Great Britain and elsewhere as a repudiation of Blair and a return to a somewhat more "social-democratic" (more Swedish?) Labour Party. Still, in his first speech to the Labour conference a few days later, Ed Miliband went out of his way to reassert a "centrist" position. He did however lace his statements with allusions to the importance of "fairness" and "solidarity." And he said: "We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line."

What do these two elections tell us about the future of social-democracy? Social-democracy – as a movement and an ideology – is conventionally (and probably correctly) traced to the "revisionism" of Eduard Bernstein in late nineteenth-century Germany. Bernstein argued essentially that, once they obtained universal suffrage (by which he meant male suffrage), the "workers" could use elections to win office for their party, the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), and take over the government. Once they won parliamentary power, the SPD could then "enact" socialism. And therefore, he concluded, talk of insurrection as the road to power was unnecessary and indeed foolish.

What Bernstein was defining as socialism was in many ways unclear but still seemed at the time to include the nationalization of the key sectors of the economy. The history of Social-Democracy as a movement since then has been that of a slow but continuous shift away from a radical politics to a very centrist orientation.
(1 October 2010)


The Soot Road: Travelling along one of most polluted energy corridors on Earth

Eric Enno Tamm, Reuters via Ottawa Citizen
… “Folklore. We have a lot of oral stories. If you travel in the Inner Mongolia countryside you can hear a lot of stories of Genghis Khan,” Buhchulu said. “Mongols remember very clearly about Genghis Khan just like it was yesterday. It was 800 years ago, though. The tales aren’t necessarily true, but they are oral stories.” A book titled Genghis Khan’s Word, he said, was still wildly popular among Mongols. It is a compendium of sayings that have been passed down from generation to generation.

“For example,” Buhchulu said. “ ‘Don’t wash clothes in rivers and lakes.’ That’s a rule of Genghis Khan.”

The folklorist then paused and leaned back pensively.

“ ‘Don’t cut the trees freely. It’s not good.’ That’s another saying of Genghis Khan.”

“He sounds like an environmentalist,” I said.

That prompted Buhchulu to quote yet another saying of this medieval eco-crusader: “ ‘Don’t freely dig up the earth!’ ”

Freely digging up the earth is exactly what I saw during a long, numbingly cold bus ride the next day to Genghis Khan’s mausoleum in the heart of the Ordos prefecture.

… China burns 42 per cent of the world’s coal and is adding the equivalent of nearly the entire U.K. power grid each year in new coal-fired plants. Northern China’s smokestacks spew a noxious cloud so gargantuan that satellites have tracked it floating over the Pacific. Mountaintop sensors in Washington, Oregon and California have detected sulphur compounds, carbon and other toxic byproducts from China’s smokestacks. The country’s coal plants have become the main cause of the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Coal will remain king in the foreseeable future too: it represents 60 per cent of the world’s remaining recoverable hydrocarbon reserves.

As I watched carbon streaming from the towering funnels, I realized that the route I had trekked was a veritable “Soot Road,” the newest iteration of that storied trade route of yore. A World Bank environmental report on China later confirmed my suspicion: my route retracing the journey of a Russian secret agent from a century ago traversed what are now the most polluted areas of China, perhaps even the world.

The Soot Road is the greatest energy corridor on Earth in terms of the production, distribution and consumption of fossil fuels. The region holds 33 per cent of the world’s proven gas reserves and 36 per cent of the world’s coal, plus almost nine per cent of the world’s oil. One hundred and eight thousand kilometres of pipeline in Central Asia and China now replace the old caravan routes.
(29 September 2010)