April 12, 2006

Thoughts about 'going green'

This week, Finland went green another notch. The state-owned oil refinery industry and gas station chain, Neste/Fortum, announced that there would be added about 5% of biologically sustainable fuel into the 98-octane gas sold at its stations. Interesting indeed, especially when this component is made out of South European wine. This is not the only new reform brought about by the inevitable realignment of fuel policies. The huge forest sector in Finland is starting to pay the forest owners for twigs and branches, which are turned into heating for housing. Also, sugar refineries that are forced to cease their production because of EU regulations cutting government subsidies have started to produce ethanol from domestic crops, mainly sugarbeets and barley. I prefer personally barley to be consumed as a bewerage, although that contains ethanol, too.

I think all of this is a bit problematic. To begin with, how environmentally friendly can it be to transport old wine from the south of Europe to our polar outpost? Other sources of ethanol envisaged by the Finnish petroleum companies are Brazilian sugar cane ethanol (allegedly a new slavery is coming into existance because of this industry) which would have to travel on fossile fuel driven boats over the whole of the Atlantic. My conscience would not be at ease. This all just seems like a way to get a good conscience. But hey, what difference does 5% ethanol in a tank of fuel really make? Especially if the petroleum input into it (harvest, process, transport) halves the benefit?

Sure I agree that we should be able to reduce our consumption of fossile fuels, it is not a very healthy addiction. Waiting for a miracle, we need to look at the options we have at the moment. Nuclear power. Peat. Forests. Reducing consumption. Paying for the damage we cause.

Nuclear power is a curse word for many, although it would not need to be. After Chernobyl, we have been in a very bizarre relationship with nuclear energy. Sweden held a referendum to abolish its nuclear plants – they shut down one and increased the output of the other ones. Now it is again supported by the majority. Less waste. Please, lets build our own instead of buying energy from Chernobyl-era plants in Russia. Oh, yeah, we are building a new one. We are the only ones in western Europe doing that. Risqué.

Peat is the dry stuff that is wet before you take it out of a bog and dry it. According to the Kyoto-treaty, it is not a renewable source of energy, although peat does regenerate, although with a very slow growth rate. Finland is filled with bogs. And lakes. Just step virtually anywhere and you will get your feet wet. If an amount representing the annual growth of peat would be harvested, all of Finlands cars could be driven with peat. Nice one. What is in the way then? Kyoto and European legistation. I think a re-evaluation is needed.

If you take a step anywhere in Finland, you get your feet wet. Or you can walk into a tree. Check the picture, it is very green. We have been making paper etc for years, now we are making trees into ethanol. Fair enough, but in order to provide all Finnish cars with wood ethanol, a third of the forests would be needed. Not nice, we would be barren like, eh, Iceland. We have a summer house and it is warmed with wood. Burning loads of it. In a small sale and for house heating, wood is best. I think pumping oil from a Shell car into the basement of a single detached house to be used for heating in this country is just trying to be special. Or spastic.

The best way to sort things out would be to exchange all cars for bicycles. No waste, clear air, everyone taking care of their health and the roads filled with loads of bums of steel. Would probably be the best alternative. Who made us so addicted to our cars? And why are there 4wds in the city? Who has got a Tesco so far that you need to climb over a hill, drive through a creek and make your way through a gang of elk? This should be punished. I think you should be liable to pay for the plantig of x-amount of trees somewhere on the globe for all the gasoline you use. I think you should not be able to exceed a quota of fuel assigned to you (families get more, the kids need to get to their thingies). Driving and wasting energy is not a freedom we are entitled to, it is a liability we need to pay for.

If you are a neo-liberal, über capitalist piggie reading this, you will disagree. I think a control needs to be imposed. I think a nice neo-liberal, open market system is great, but I would not want to live on a barren Earth trading stones, which in my imagination is where this extravagant consumption and destruction of the environment will take us. Great, we can trade as much as we want, but there might not be anything to trade.

Drawing a parallel between neo-liberal capitalism and the destruction of the environment is of course a crude siplification. I do not think Stalin was a very pro-environment dictator. We just need to stop talking about freedos to do things with froth coming out from the sides of our mouths, and think instead about the damage we cause if we do not take into consideration the framework in which we live. And its frames and boundaries. I think all of this might go topsy-turvy (love that word), and a clean environment will become a commodity worthwhile producing. I am just quite afraid to see how far it needs to go in order for this to be reversed.

Back to beets. Lännen Tehtaat just came out with a notice telling they will start producing ethanol from beets, probably by next year. But is this beetery just to fulfil another goal set forth by a watered-down compromise at an international summit? In whose interest is it? BP does not stand for Beyond petroleum. Shell is not a cute thing that lives in the sea. In this world, we cannot either stive towards an autharcy energywise. But how far should be we able to produce our own energy? The same question prevails in how much of the food we consume should be produced domestically. Let us just burn what we have, make it as environmentally friendly as possible by being innovative and curious, let us discourage the use of oil and give tax breaks and other benefits to whomever uses reneable energy.

But how far should be we able to produce our own energy? The same question prevails in how much of the food we consume should be produced domestically. We should make the best out of what we have and be sure to have good friends. When things go well, we do not bother. When things go bad, we are in a deep pool of peat.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. You only need read about the nuclear spillage at the nuclear power plant in Japan today(/yesterday?) to see that nuclear power isn't 100% safe. Also, harvesting peat might be renewable, but it will often destroy the habitats of wildlife. Not saying this is necessarily an enormous problem, but peat harvesting isn't problem-free.

    12 Apr 2006, 12:52

  2. I completely recognise both of your arguments – it don't argue them at all. I try to be pragmatic, minimising the detrimental effects. Of course peat harvesting is has its problems, but the clue imo is to minimise the destruction. The destruction caused by peat harvesting can be much more easily undone, for example by replanting the fields with either natural crops or then rape seeds which produce vegetable oil to be used as fuel. The detrimental effects of oil drilling and usage are much more difficult to control and global. Nuclear is never problem-free either, but a well-managed modern installation is much better than a Chernobyl-era reactor operating below EU standards of safety and environmental hazards, such as Sosnovy Bor by the Finnish border. We can't live without energy, therefore we just need to minimise the harm caused.

    12 Apr 2006, 13:46

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