Inflammation and stories on energy consumption

Hidden Cost of Energy Fuel Subsidies
Nobody wants to pay more for gas.

Fossil fuels account for the vast majority of energy production, and, as non-renewable resources, the price has steadily increased for energy as supply dwindles and demand has surged.  Throughout most of the world, especially the richest nations, the true cost of energy is not seen due to a wide array of fuel subsidies and energy “support.”

There is not much agreement on what exactly constitutes a fuel subsidy but, all seem to agree that a lot of money is being spent on supporting various energy industries by artificially reducing the direct cost of production and consumption. So, while many tactics are employed in reducing energy costs, very few countries accurately report what they spend. Further, assessing the fiscal damage to the environment as well as the lack of funds generated by not imposing taxes (such as those on carbon emissions) become even trickier to estimate.

The International Monetary Fund estimates global fuel subsidies at 1.9 trillion USD, or 8 percent of all governments’ revenue. These estimates are extremely conservative, though, considering the dollar amount they use for the social cost of carbon, $25 per ton, is less than a third of what the UK and independent analysts have found. Also, the estimate does not include the vast majority of energy producer subsidies, only looking at consumer subsidies for oil and coal.

The impact of fuel subsidies is far-ranging. Pre-tax subsidies, or those that are direct cost reductions from the government to consumers, come at a global cost of 480 billion USD according to IMF’s report on 2011’s data. These are funds that are being deprived from social programs for urgencies such as roads, water distribution and poverty alleviation.

Subsidies are often unequally distributed. In developing countries, the IMF found the top fifth of societies in household income reap six times the subsidies of anyone else. The cost of these subsidies is offset by increased prices of other goods and services –resulting in a 6 percent decrease in income for every $0.25 cost decrease per liter.

Artificially increasing demand and consumption for fossil fuels reduces investment and growth in alternative fuel sources as much as the growth of many other markets — especially, exports.

Though developing countries appear to receive the most negative impact, developed nations such as the US and Russia spend the most through post-tax subsidies. Estimates on US subsidies range from $10 billion to $52 billion and do not include any of the associated health or environmental costs.

So, what can be done?

Various countries have successfully phased out tax reduction programs in the coal industry such as Poland, Germany and most developed nations do not offer pre-tax subsidies.  Unfortunately, little progress has been made on oil subsidies, which account for over 2/3 of the total. Developed countries will have to continue to lead the charge in reforming these harmful economic policies.  Transparency to the accurate amounts of what is actually being spent and to whom the money is going to may very well be the first step toward achieving more effective means of viable economic stability and sustainable progress in the use of depleting resources.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: IMFIEA, Oil Change International, Grist, BBC News, Climate Progress

Energy is tantamount to the development of poor nations. Several sectors rely on energy — from lighting schools and hospitals, powering farms, manufacturing facilities, maintaining water sanitation plants to keeping emerging businesses afloat. Mobile telecommunications has become a fundamental part of successful business — especially, the business of global development.

IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, plans to invest $7 million to the clean energy company, Fluidic Energy, which is a company for the research and development of new climate-smart batteries that power cellular phone networks in developing countries. The rechargeable energy sources are promised to be a solution that is both cost-effective and power-efficient. As the technology will reduce costs of powering mobile networks in rural areas, the battery is also a cleaner alternative to diesel generators and lead-acid batteries. In result, it is less damaging to the environment for it leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

The technology is currently used in Indonesia and other South East Asian countries. The hope is that the technology will branch out into the rest of Asia and South America. Fluidic Energy, the Arizona-based company, is a fine example of private businesses working in tandem with The World Bank Group for the common goal of global development.

Providing sustainable energy to telecommunications is a development that is promised to open new frontiers in other sectors where sustainable energy can be a progressive alternative.

Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: IFCPressRoom, thegef
Photo: Panos

There are many aspects of sustainable development methods that are required to evaluate. In the developing world such as Zambia, few regard the issue of the environment seriously. On average, lead concentrations in children are five to 10 times the permissible United States Environmental Protection Agency levels, and can even be high enough to kill.

It has over the years left huge effects that can now be felt for many years to come. One of the most prominent environmental issues was the discovery of high levels of lead in the town of Kabwe. The Canadian oil sands provide another example of the need to make sure development is anchored by principles that are sustainable. Politicians mostly see votes and with little focus on effects of unregulated massive development such as pollution in the rivers as the case in Alberta, Canada. According to investment for this region of Canada oil companies will spend nearly $200 billion over the next decades.

In this regard it is important to know what is required to balance needs and realities of the effects on the activities of development. Sustainable development methods are plans that meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs (WCED, 1987:43.)

This way small economic focus approach has several unwanted side effects. For example, the solution to one problem may make another problem worse. Moreover it tends to focus on short-term benefits without monitoring long-term effects. GDP only reflects the amount of economic activity and can rise when the overall community health is being impaired.

The Alberta Oil Sands is the largest energy project on the planet, lying beneath 140,200 square kilometers of northern Alberta forest, an area almost as large as the state of Florida. With estimated $20 billion revenue coming to Canada each year from this project in Alberta, sustainable development with a broad focus is not a huge priority. Even the currently developed portion of the Oil Sands region is already experiencing severe fragmentation effects on the ecology of the boreal forest.

Remarkably one respected scientist from Canada did a report about this dilemma instead the government went on the defensive despite obvious problems in many areas. These include pollution in the Athabasca River affecting aquatic, plant, human and wildlife. This study was conducted by Dr. David Schindler a renowned academician with impressive pedigree such as the acid rain discovery. According to his report, white fish was caught in Lake Athabasca, near Fort Chipewyan, higher cancers than usual (including rare forms of cancer) in adjacent populations to the project.

It now well known that there many methods to sustain development. These are designed to measure and communicate progress towards of human endeavours across the world.

Alan Chanda

Sources: Time 1, 2, CBC, Green Party of Canada
Photo: Wikimedia

We need greenhouse gases. Without them, the Earth would be a cold, lifeless lump of dirt hurtling through space. Greenhouse gases allow the sun’s rays to pass through the atmosphere and warm the earth. They also prevent the warmth from escaping back into space. The problem with greenhouse gases, however, is that the more heat-trapping gases there are, such as carbon dioxide and methane, the warmer earth gets. This consequently increases the “greenhouse effect” and is what is causing a steady increase in the global temperature. The consequences are enormous.

Humans have been simultaneously burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. Forests, which produce the oxygen needed to balance out carbon dioxide production, can be compared to a planet sized pair of lungs for Earth. The occurrence of fossil fuel burning and deforestation has increased the amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere by 42 percent.

Carbon dioxide is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Though it is a byproduct of many actions, one of the main producers of carbon dioxide is the burning of coal. Coal, a fossil fuel created from the remains of dead plants from millions of years ago, produces enormous amounts of COwhen burned.

It also took center stage in a global warming debate on Monday in Warsaw, Poland during a U.N. climate conference. Environmental activists there said that the coal industry needs to be part of the climate discourse, because many countries continue to rely on coal as their primary energy source. Coal has been heavily used since the 19th century English Industrial Revolution. While it provides quick energy, it also results in smog, acid rain, and air pollution. In 2011, 44% of emissions came from coal compared to only 35% from oil.

“Leave the coal in the ground,” says UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres. However, the likelihood that countries who rely on coal will abandon it is low. Instead, many countries are aiming to increase the efficiency of coal-powered plants. Economically, many countries refuse to “give up” using coal because the demand for energy never ceases, and as populations increases, coal quickly meets these needs.

China, for example, is the world’s largest carbon polluter, and while it is investing in renewable energy, its coal consumption continues to rise. Coal was 68% of Chinese energy consumption in 2012 and it continues to be the largest producer. As it’s population and energy needs increase, it must meet these demands.

The amount of greenhouse gases is at an annual record high – 39 million tons this year. However, in a study published by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the level at which people are polluting is leveling off. The good news even presents itself in the West, where emissions have dropped. The U.S. produced 3.7% less carbon dioxide in 2012 than the previous year, and Europe, 1.8%. However, individual emissions per person in the US is still 16 tons, compared to people in India who produce only about 1.8 tons.

Nevertheless, the 2.1% rise projected for 2013 means that global emissions from burning fossil fuels are 61% above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement developed in Japan on December 11, 1997, was a commitment made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels from 2013 to 2020.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia led the Global Carbon Budget report. She said: “Governments meeting in Warsaw this week need to agree on how to reverse this trend. Emissions must fall substantially and rapidly if we are to limit global climate change to below two degrees. Additional emissions every year cause further warming and climate change.”

The problem remains that while many countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol to decrease emissions, China and the United States have not.

The world, if it continues with it’s current emission levels, will see a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the worst climate change scenario predicted by the U.N. panel on climate change.

– Chloe Nevitt

Sources: David Suzuki Foundation, Fox News, United Nations, University of East Anglia, CNN
Photo: Energy.Gov

1.)  GoEco:

GoEco is a good place to head if you’re interested in doing volunteer work that has a sustainability aspect. They are particularly focused on “ecological tourism,” that allows for tourism that promotes sustainable development. GoEco also conducts further research in the field of ecological tourism, such as the ‘Ecological Footprint’ as a tool for sustainable tourism development.

They send people all over the world for a variety of volunteer program categories. You can apply by going to GoEco and clicking “apply now” after deciding which project category is the one for you.

2.) World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms:

There is no one official organization for WWOOF’ing, but rather a network of organizations that help volunteers find a host. WWOOF allows volunteers to live and work, for 4-6 hours a day, on organic farms in exchange for a day’s room and board. There is no real standard for stay-length, and where you go in the world is up to you.

To apply, go to WWOoOF and pick the country that you would most like to work in.

3.) Cross-Cultural Solutions:

Cross-Cultural Solutions says its mission is to “operate volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustabible community initiatives.” They provide volunteers with the opportunity to work side-by-side and share cultural understanding through their programs. Through Cross-Cultural Solutions, a volunteer can take a look at each destination and field in order to find a perfect match.

Their programs run through a range of experiences: working with the elderly, teaching children, supporting people with disabilities, or working with those impacted by HIV/AIDS. To apply, go to Enroll @ Cross Cultural Solutions to pick your destination and stay length and find out how much the experience will require from you.

4.) Volunteers for Peace:

Volunteers for Peace has opportunities in more than 100 countries around the world, including locations in the U.S. They are part of an “international voluntary service movement,” where people from multiple cultures live together while working with local communities to improve their conditions. VFP offers an extremely affordable experience, costing only $500 for “food, accommodation and work materials for the duration of the project.”

To sign up, go to Register @ VFP and follow the steps toward your next multi-cultural experience.

5.) International Volunteer HQ:

Travelers who volunteer through International Volunteer HQ are provided with a “quality, flexible, safe and highly affordable” placement system. Volunteers provide aid and assistance to developing countries around the world, by increasing education and awareness through skills they bring to a host community. In turn, IVHQ says volunteers take back even more lessons to their own countries and cultures.

Depending on the length of your stay, IVHQ can provide you with one of the most affordable volunteer experiences. To see what prices are like per country and by length of visit, see VolunteerHQ and follow the links to apply online.

– Alycia Rock

Sources: VolunteerHQ, VFP, Cross Cultural Solutions, WWOoOF, GoEco
Photo: Study Abroad Domain

China is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. With that being said, it can be safe to say that it has one of the fastest growing industries in the world. These industries require a lot more labor and resources. Recently, it has been reported that in order to “meet its growing energy needs, China is planning to build hundreds of coal fired power plants in the next few years.” However, developing the coal industry could have a devastating effect on China’s freshwater resources. The development of these plants threatens other areas such as drinking water supplies, industry, farming, and the environment.

In 2011, the Associated Press reported that around 68.4 percent of China’s energy came from coal. China’s coal industry is the fastest and most dominant in the country. Other nations such as the United States and Germany reported that around 30-37 percent of their energy came from coal. Moreover, China is the world’s largest consumer of coal. Around 50 percent of the world’s coal is consumed by China. This number is expected to grow.

According to the Washington Times, the Chinese government recently announced its plans to build 363 new coal-fired plants. The new power plants would increase the country’s coal-powered generating capacity from 68.4 percent to 75 percent. As a result, China’s coal consumption would significantly increase.

Although China’s industries depend on cheap, easy-to-use resources to keep the economy going, the cheap energy sources are considered dangerous and detrimental to society. One example is coal. Coal is considered to be the less costly and more effective way to address China’s energy problem. However, coal is extremely labor and water intensive. This creates a problem for people and for areas where water is scarce. In these areas, water resources can diminish further. The problem is that China does have enough water resources, however, these resources are not evenly distributed between communities. According to the Washington Times, “demographics, population, geography and politics make water a complicated issue.”

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: Washington Times, Reuters

People living in poverty have little access to food, clean water, and electricity. Just like initiatives to provide food security, there are programs aimed toward bringing lighting, energy efficiency, and other green forms of electricity to those in need.

According to Barefoot Power, they are “a business that assists people in developing countries to access affordable renewable energy [which] reduce[s] poverty and create[s] new markets.” Barefoot Power focuses on phone charging and lighting products to those who cannot access or afford them.

Renewable energy has been seen to have a lasting impact on communities. Villages in Indonesia have shown great improvement after receiving solar-powered water pumps. “Previously, we had to count on the rain for our water supply,” said one man. The pumps have also raised incomes and reduced the costs associated with clean water. In past, drier seasons, one 4,000-liter tank of clean water cost Rp 150,000. The pump is only a monthly charge of Rp 15,000 (US$1.54).

Barefoot Power has also created Firefly, a group of phone-charging and lighting solutions that use LED efficiency with batteries that are built to last for 1000 cycles. The series is made up of the Firefly Mini, the Firefly Mobile Lamp, the Firefly Family, the Firefly Mobile Ultra Torch and the Firefly Fast Phone Charge.

Less expensive doesn’t mean less powerful. Firefly lamps that use solar energy have garnered much praise from those who’ve experienced it – even outside of the poverty setting- according to the World Bank. From acting as a nightlight during power outages to helping people study in the dark, Firefly has proved to be an effective product that translates its use across the global scale.

Barefoot Power’s products reflect many of the changes that have already been made in Western countries. Enabling people to see the difference renewable energy makes generates awareness and brings attention to those who are in need and will also benefit from renewable energy.

Brandy Burgess

Sources: Barefoot Power, The World Bank, The Jakarta Post
Sources: Strawberry Communications