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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 22nd, 2009

Samso Island Is Face of Danish Green Revolution

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This is a longish (two part) article in Der Spiegel (in English) . I used their sub-head for my title, just because I found theirs a little OTT “An Ecotopia for Climate Protection”. Yes you need to read it, but first bear with me while I explain why I decided to blog it.

First I am going to see “The Age of Stupid” tonight. Secondly we all need to have some positive information about initiatives in greenhouse gas reduction that actually work. Thirdly we need to compare what is happening in those places doing it properly, to BC where what is going on might be farce – or tragedy – but is certainly not an example to anyone. Up to now, on this blog, I have tried to stay away from the unpleasant spectacle of environmentalists fighting each other which has characterized debate on the energy issue in BC. I felt that there was quite enough coverage of that elsewhere, and I had no wish to take sides. “A plague on both your houses” was often my visceral reaction – which is not exactly helpful.

So what was done right on a small island in Denmark. First it was a demonstration project – or pilot. I am with Janette on this one too. I am very much in favour of pilot projects, for all kinds of things. Secondly everything they did was based on local control with the islanders investing their own money – and now reaping the rewards.

These are two very important things for us to take note of, for in BC it is the the big corporations who are investing and it is the provincial government who is driving the issues – with policies like increasing BC Hydro rates, which will hit every BC resident in the pocket no matter what they do. All the new power that is going to be generated is aimed at the California market – not at replacing current generation. Now since we are not using large amounts of fossil fuel in BC it worth thinking about this. We are not Samso. But we do need to replace diesel generators in remote, off grid communities and we should try to wean ourselves off importing cheap, off peak, fossil fuel generated electricity which we only “need” to allow us to export expensive peak power to California. When BC Hydro was operated as a public utility, and BCUC was allowed to operate as an effective guardian of the public interest, we had cheap power, and used it profligately – for example in home heating – but at least we had no incremental environmental impact. That had all happened when we flooded the valleys and dammed the salmon streams. So existing hydro is not exactly “green” but it is zero emissions. But because it was so cheap there was little incentive to conserve energy, and as we continued to expand our economy and population,  so there was demand for more power, although there were plenty of conservation ideas which were cheaper than new build per kWhr. The BC government of course has scrapped at least one of those.

I would like to see an approach to energy that returns control to local communities and gives individuals real incentives to do the right thing. That means they also get the returns when they invest in the solutions that they choose. Not as we do now, roll over so that corporations like GE can make a financial killing while making fast and loose with our habitat.

The Samsingers joined forces, erecting the wind turbines and attaching solar panels to their roofs. They built central straw burners, and they installed machines to harness geothermal energy and the heat from cow’s milk to heat houses, and to extract rapeseed oil from plants grown on the island to produce fuel for their tractors.

A Climate-Neutral Island

Eight years later, they were already producing more energy than they consumed, which made them climate-neutral, and today they produce 40 percent more energy than they consume. Only two questions remain. Can the approach used on the island, which comprises 22 villages, 4,000 residents and a small cannery, work elsewhere? And does the rest of the world even want to emulate the Samsingers?

The “carbon neutral” sub head has been left in deliberately. It is a very useful target. Not “how can we maximize profits from energy exports” which started here when BC Hydro joined the Enron revolution (and we know where that lead!). The islanders still need fossil fuels for their boats and cars, but the export of wind and solar power offsets that. That seems to me to be a good benchmark. We need to think like this since chasing after profits and trying to keep an exponential rate of growth of GDP going is suicidal.  We need to understand how much is enough, and stop taking more, just because we can.

But we also need to understand that people will be motivated not by – as is said in this piece – saving the polar bears [it is almost certainly too late anyway] but by doing what is in their own interests. We have been sold the notion that somehow we cannot afford to be environmentally aware because it is “too expensive”: that somehow the “economy” (read Business as Usual) trumps the need for survival of the species – and not just ours but most of the rest too! What happened in Samso is that leaders with vision were able to convince their neighbours that change was not just good for the earth but good for themselves too. They seem to have avoided the tragedy of the commons that we see played out here only too clearly.

Yes I want to emulate the Samsingers – with programs designed for us, by us, locally and financed by us too. But in the “best place on earth” there seems to be far too much government promoted greed and corporatism to even start a project like this. Don’t believe me? Look at the size of the Green vote in the last provincial election. Because this approach is pretty much what was in the Green Book. Which few read and fewer took to heart.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2009 at 4:40 pm