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  1. Air pollution in Europe cost society up to €189 billion (about US $235 billion) in 2012 alone, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said in a new assessment report. Over the period 2008-2012 the estimated cost was at least €329 billion and possibly up to €1053 billion. The greenhouse gases and air pollution from Europe’s industry mainly comes from coal-fired power plants located predominately in Germany and Eastern Europe. The majority of the damage costs between 2008 and 2012 were caused by just 1 percent of Europe’s industrial facilities. The EEA research show that 26 of the top 30 industrial facilities that are polluting the worst and causing the highest damage are power-generating facilities which are primarily fuelled by dirty coal and lignite. Eight of the top 30 facilities are located in Germany and six are in Poland – two countries that rely heavily on coal. Germany and Poland are followed by Romania which has four of the dirtiest facilities; three are located in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, two are in Greece; and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia all have one each. The combined cost for air pollution in Europe is equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Finland or half the GDP of Poland – a country which has opposed tougher EU and IPCC climate targets. The EEA calculated the costs of air pollution on health costs, damage to buildings, reduced agricultural yields, lost working days from sickness caused by air pollution, among other things. “While we all benefit from industry and power generation, this analysis shows that the technologies used by these plants impose hidden costs on our health and the environment,” Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said. “Industry is also only part of the picture – it is important to recognise that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality."” Another EEA report released earlier this month calculates the human costs of air pollution in European cities. The study show that while various policies have indeed improved air quality overall, air pollution continues to be a major environmental health hazard in Europe. EEA calculates that air pollution is responsible for causing workers to go sick, resulting in higher costs for health care systems. According to the environmental agency, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2011. "Air pollution is still high in Europe," EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said. "It leads to high costs: for our natural systems, our economy, the productivity of Europe’s workforce, and most seriously, the general health of Europeans." The two reports from EEA will come in handy for EU policymakers who are currently reconsidering proposals to tighten air pollution laws put forward last year by the former European Commission. According to documents obtained by Reuters, the new conservative European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, is considering to weaken or even scrap these proposed new air quality laws.
  2. E.ON, which is one of Europe’s largest utility firms, has issued a “new corporate strategy” in which the energy giant lay out its plans to focus on renewable energy while spinning off its fossil fuel assets in a separate company. “We are convinced that it’s necessary to respond to dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations with a bold new beginning,” said E.ON Supervisory Board Chairman Werner Wenning in a statement. This move by E.ON is largely due to Germany’s Energiewende – the country’s transition away from nuclear and fossil fuels and towards clean, sustainable and renewable energy. E.ON is Germany’s largest utility and the company has done massive investments in fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, but also renewable energy, from generally hydro and offshore wind farms, in Germany and across Europe. Energiewende therefore plays a huge role for E.ON’s decision, and is part of this “dramatically altered energy market” that Wenning is talking about in his statement. “E.ON’s existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges,” Wenning said. While E.ON will focus on renewable energy technologies and solutions, the new separate and independent company will take over E.ON’s former fossil fuel assets, energy trading, exploration and production globally. They have not yet named this new fossil fuel company but said that the spin-off will take place after 2016. E.ON has around 60.000 employees and has said that there will be no job cuts following this decision. About 40.000 employees will remain with E.ON while the other 20.000 will transition to the new company. “We firmly believe that creating two independent companies, each with a distinct profile and mission, is the best way to secure our employees’ jobs, E.ON SE CEO Johannes Teyssen said. This decision by E.ON will clearly add credibility to Energiewende and boost Germany’s renewable energy sector while encouraging further investments in renewables. But will it give E.ON customers access to clean energy and, more importantly maybe, will it be a blow to the fossil fuel industry? Damian Kahya who is the editor of Energydesk, Greenpeace's energy and climate blog, says no. “Even when the deal goes through, the power you get will come from coal or gas because EON will still buy power from the open market. Indeed, it will probably buy power from the 'new company' and then sell it to you,” Kahya writes. “EON has set up a really good deal for new, fossil fuel-heavy, company, which it will hold a minority stake in (for a while at least). What it's done is keep all of the debt with the parent firm, the EON that does renewables and the like - and left the new company, which owns the gas and coal plants, almost entirely debt-free. Because the new firm also holds EON’s existing hydro and nuclear stakes it may actually generate more money from renewables than the parent company.” E.ON currently has €31 billion in net debt and this split makes sense economically as it will make it easier for both the new E.ON and the new fossil fuel company to attract investors. Kahya explains: “Investors who like to put their money somewhere safe didn’t necessarily see EON as a safe bet (the share price has fallen over the past five years) but the company wanted their money to build power grids and offshore wind turbines, safe investments backed by the government. On the other hand the fossil fuel bit of the firm was essentially competing against itself in an effort to stave off competition from clean energy. EON is part of a EU lobby group which has actively campaigned against subsidies for renewables. In splitting the company EON’s created a firm which your pension fund can buy into — an outfit which owns regulated power grids and subsidy-funded offshore wind farms and dominant positions supplying power to consumers.” This move by E.ON – to dump nuclear and fossil fuels in favour of renewables – might not dramatically change either the renewable or fossil fuel industry. But it’s still good news and it might point towards a new trend where large national energy companies starts to divest, or at least separate themselves away, from fossil fuels.
  3. Will Germany really ban fracking?

    The German government says it will soon move to ban fracking in the country until 2021, which would make it the latest nation (after France and Bulgaria) to eliminate the destructive natural gas drilling process. In a press briefing, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks noted that legislation will be drawn up and approved in the final half of the year. "There won't be fracking of shale gas or coal gas for economic reasons in the foreseeable future," confirmed Hendricks. However, one can read in between the lines and see that there is still room for exploitation by natural gas corporations. Case in point: there are a number of "special circumstances" which would allow fracking to circumvent the legislation. An example is that the law's language states that "unconventional" fracking cannot take place more than 3,000 meters below the surface - but "conventional" fracking can. While this will still effectively prevent fracking from, in most cases, contaminating groundwater, it will not prevent it from triggering small earthquakes. Political parties including the Green Party have reacted with strong criticism; the chairman of the Greens' parliamentary group, Oliver Krischer, went as far as to call it a "fracking-enabling law," recognizing the distinction between this potentially deceptive proposal and an actual fracking ban - "a regulation that does not allow fracking in Germany and without loopholes that are as big as a barn door." Hubertus Zdebel of the Left party agreed, noting, "Fracking must be banned in Germany without any exceptions. To say that there is a fracking ban in the paper is window dressing. They want to enforce a regulation which mostly allows fracking under the guise of an alleged ban." Citing estimates obtained from the Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources, he added, "The planned restrictions will still allow the exploitation of half of all unconventional natural gas deposits in Germany." He also said there are other potential risks associated with allowing deep fracking, including uncontrolled methane gas emissions. Francisco Szekely, writer for EnergyBiz, remarked that the legislation is likely a play to quell environmentalists' fears while also reducing Germany's dependency upon Russia for gas imports. He said, however, "This decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case" with this fracking issue. "With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever," he added, Germany should be "thinking carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Moreover, whatever short-term promise fracking offers is also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power." So in short, one might conclude, Germany's "fracking ban" may be little more than a smoke-and-mirror tactic. Said Szekely: "To quote Albert Einstein, 'We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'"
  4. Increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a heat-trapping gas, are pushing the world into dangerous territory, closing the window of time to avert the worst consequences of higher temperatures, such as melting ice and rising seas. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have grown exponentially. Despite wide agreement by governments on the need to limit emissions, the rate of increase ratcheted up from less than 1 percent each year in the 1990s to almost 3 percent annually in the first decade of this century. After a short dip in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, emissions from fossil fuels rebounded in 2010 and have since grown 2.6 percent each year, hitting an all-time high of 9.7 billion tons of carbon in 2012. Carbon emissions would have risen even faster were it not for the 7 percent drop among industrial countries since 2007 - a group that includes the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The United States, long the world's largest emitter until it was eclipsed by China in 2006, cut carbon emissions by 11 percent over the past five years to 1.4 billion tons. The biggest drop was in emissions from coal - which is primarily used to generate electricity - as power plants switched to cheaper natural gas and as the use of carbon-free wind energy more than quadrupled. U.S. emissions from oil, mostly used for transportation, also dipped. (See data.) Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning in Europe, as a whole the third largest emitter, fell 9 percent from 2007 to 2012. Emissions in Italy and Spain shrank by 17 and 18 percent, respectively. The United Kingdom's emissions dropped by 11 percent to 126 million tons. Germany's emissions fell by 4 percent to 200 million tons. These countries have been leaders in either wind or solar energy or both. Russia and Japan are two industrial countries that did not see an overall decline in carbon emissions over the past five years. Russia had an uptick in oil use, increasing its emissions by 2 percent to 449 million tons. And in Japan, the quick suspension of nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster led to more natural gas and oil use, pushing emissions up 1 percent to 336 million tons in 2012. CO2 emissions in developing countries surpassed those from industrial countries in 2005 and have since continued to soar. China's carbon emissions grew by 44 percent since 2007 to 2.4 billion tons in 2012. Together the United States and China account for more than 40 percent of worldwide emissions. Emissions in India, home to more than a billion people, overtook those in Russia for the first time in 2008. From 2007 to 2012, India's emissions grew 43 percent to reach 596 million tons of carbon. Carbon emissions in Indonesia, another fast-growing economy, have exploded, growing 52 percent to hit 146 million tons in 2012. Although emissions from developing countries now dominate, the industrial countries set the world on its global warming path with over a century's worth of CO2 emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere. Furthermore, emissions estimates discussed here include only those from fossil fuels burned within a country's borders, meaning that the tallies do not account for international trade. For example, emissions generated from producing goods in China destined for use in the United States are added to China's books. When emissions are counted in terms of the final destination of the product, the industrial countries' carbon bill increases. On a per person basis, the United States emits 4.4 tons of carbon pollution - twice as much as in China. The highest per capita carbon emissions are in several small oil and gas producing countries. In 2012, Qatar spewed out 11 tons of carbon per person. Trinidad and Tobago is next with 9 tons of carbon per person, and Kuwait follows at 7.5 tons. Fossil fuels are not the only source of CO2 emissions. Changing the landscape, for example by burning forests, releases roughly 1 billion tons of carbon globally each year. Brazil and Indonesia have high levels of deforestation and are responsible for much of the current carbon emissions from the land. About half of the CO2 that is released through fossil fuel burning or land use changes stays in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by the oceans or by plants. As more CO2 is absorbed by the world's oceans, the water becomes more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry can strip away the building blocks of coral reefs, weakening an important link in the oceanic food chain. Scientists warn that the oceans could eventually become saturated with CO2, compromising their capacity to absorb our carbon emissions, with serious consequences for the global thermostat. For some 800,000 years, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere did not go above 300 parts per million (ppm). But in the 250 years following the start of the Industrial Revolution, enough CO2 built up to bring the average concentration to nearly 394 ppm in 2012. Throughout each year, the concentration of the gas fluctuates, reaching its annual peak in the spring. In May 2013, the CO2 concentration briefly hit 400 ppm, a grim new milestone on the path of climate disruption. Never in human history has the atmosphere been so full of this odorless and colorless yet powerfully disruptive gas. CO2 acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping heat. Since humans began burning fossil fuels on a large scale, the global average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius), with most of the increase occurring since 1970. The effects of higher temperatures include rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic sea ice, more heat waves, and declining yields of food crops. More warming is in the pipeline as the climate system slowly responds to the higher CO2 concentrations. Reports from international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, based on work by thousands of scientists emphasize that little time remains to cut emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. The World Bank notes that absent any policy changes, the global average temperature could be 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of this century, well above what human civilization has ever witnessed. But a different future - one based on a clean energy economy - is within our reach. Germany, not a particularly sunny country, has harnessed enough of the sun's rays to power some 8 million homes, for example. The United States has enough wind turbines installed to power more than 15 million homes. Kenya generates roughly a quarter of its electricity from geothermal energy. This is but a glimpse of the enormous potential of renewable energy. The question is not whether we can build a carbon-free economy, but whether we can do it before climate change spirals out of control. By Emily E. Adams. For a plan to stabilize the Earth's climate, see "Time for Plan B" and more at
  5. At the time of the Arab oil export embargo in the 1970s, the importing countries were beginning to ask themselves if there were alternatives to oil. In a number of countries, particularly the United States, several in Europe, and Brazil, the idea of growing crops to produce fuel for cars was appealing. The modern biofuels industry was launched. This was the beginning of what would become one of the great tragedies of history. Brazil was able to create a thriving fuel ethanol program based on sugarcane, a tropical plant. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, however, in the United States the feedstock was corn. Between 1980 and 2005, the amount of grain used to produce fuel ethanol in the United States gradually expanded from 1 million to 41 million tons. Then came Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted Gulf-based oil refineries and gasoline supply lines in late August 2005. As gasoline prices in the United States quickly climbed to $3 a gallon, the conversion of a $2 bushel of corn, which can be distilled into 2.8 gallons of ethanol, became highly profitable. The result was a rush to raise capital and build distilleries. From November 2005 through June 2006, ground was broken for a new ethanol plant in the United States every nine days. From July through September, the construction pace accelerated to one every five days. And in October 2006, it was one every three days. Between 2005 and 2011, the grain used to produce fuel for cars climbed from 41 million to 127 million tons - nearly a third of the U.S. grain harvest. (See Figure 4-1.) The United States is trying to replace oil fields with corn fields to meet part of its automotive fuel needs. The massive diversion of grain to fuel cars has helped drive up food prices, leaving low-income consumers everywhere to suffer some of the most severe food price inflation in history. As of mid-2012, world wheat, corn, and soybean prices were roughly double their historical levels. The appetite for grain to fuel cars is seemingly insatiable. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon fuel tank of a sport utility vehicle with ethanol just once would feed one person for a whole year. The grain turned into ethanol in the United States in 2011 could have fed, at average world consumption levels, some 400 million people. But even if the entire U.S. grain harvest were turned into ethanol, it would only satisfy 18 percent of current gasoline demand. With its enormous growth in distilling capacity, the United States quickly overtook Brazil to become the new world leader in biofuels. In 2011, the United States produced 14 billion gallons of ethanol and Brazil produced under 6 billion gallons; together they accounted for 87 percent of world output. The 14 billion gallons of U.S. grain-based ethanol met roughly 6 percent of U.S. gasoline demand. Other countries producing ethanol from food crops, though in relatively small amounts, include China, Canada, France, and Germany. Most ethanol production growth has been concentrated in the last several years. In 1980, the world produced scarcely 1 billion gallons of fuel ethanol. By 2000, the figure was 4.5 billion gallons. It was still increasing, albeit slowly, expanding to 8.2 billion gallons in 2005. But between then and 2011, production jumped to 23 billion gallons. A number of countries, including the United States, are also producing biodiesel from oil-bearing crops. World biodiesel production grew from a mere 3 million gallons in 1991 to just under 1 billion gallons in 2005. During the next six years it jumped to nearly 6 billion gallons, increasing sixfold. Still, worldwide production of biodiesel is less than one fourth that of ethanol. The production of biodiesel is much more evenly distributed among countries than that of ethanol. The top five producers are the United States, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and France, with production ranging from 840 million gallons per year in the United States to 420 million gallons in France. A variety of crops can be used to produce biodiesel. In Europe, where sunflower seed oil, palm oil, and rapeseed oil are leading table oils, rapeseed is used most often for biodiesel. Similarly, in the United States the soybean is the leading table oil and biodiesel feedstock. Elsewhere, palm oil is widely used both for food and to produce biodiesel. Although production from oil palms is limited to tropical and subtropical regions, the crop yields much more biodiesel per acre than do temperate-zone oilseeds such as soybeans and rapeseed. However, one disturbing consequence of rising biofuel production is that new oil palm plantations are coming at the expense of tropical forests. And any land that is devoted to producing biofuel crops is not available to produce food. Not only are biofuels helping raise food prices, and thus increasing the number of hungry people, most make little sense from an energy efficiency perspective. Although ethanol can be produced from any plant, it is much more efficient and much less costly to use sugar- and starch-bearing crops. But even among these crops the efficiency varies widely. The ethanol yield per acre from sugarcane is nearly 600 gallons, a third higher than that from corn. This is partly because sugarcane is grown in tropical and subtropical regions and it grows year-round. Corn, in contrast, has a growing season of 120 days or so. In terms of energy efficiency, grain-based ethanol is a clear loser. For sugarcane, the energy yield - that is, the energy embodied in the ethanol - can be up to eight times the energy invested in producing the biofuel. In contrast, the energy return on energy invested in producing corn-based ethanol is only roughly 1.5 to 1, a dismal return. For biodiesel, oil palm is far and away the most energy-efficient crop, yielding roughly nine times as much energy as is invested in producing biodiesel from it. The energy return for biodiesel produced from soybeans and rapeseed is about 2.5 to 1. In terms of land productivity, an acre of oil palms can produce over 500 gallons of fuel per year - more than six times that produced from soybeans or rapeseed. Growing even the most productive fuel crops, however, still means either diverting land from other crops or clearing more land. The capacity to convert enormous volumes of grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now more closely tied to the price of oil than ever before. If the price of fuel from grain drops below that from oil, then investment in converting grain into fuel will increase. Thus, if the price of oil were to reach, say, $200 a barrel, there would likely be an enormous additional investment in ethanol distilleries to convert grain into fuel. If the price of corn rises high enough, however, as it may well do, distilling grain to produce fuel may no longer be profitable. One of the consequences of integrating the world food and fuel economies is that the owners of the world's 1 billion motor vehicles are pitted against the world's poorest people in competition for grain. The winner of this competition will depend heavily on income levels. Whereas the average motorist has an annual income over $30,000, the incomes of the 2 billion poorest people in the world are well under $2,000. Rising food prices can quickly translate into social unrest. As grain prices were doubling from 2007 to mid-2008, food protests and riots broke out in many countries. Economic stresses in the form of rising food prices are translating into political stresses, putting governments in some countries under unmanageable pressures. The U.S. State Department reports food unrest in some 60 countries between 2007 and 2009. Among these were Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti. International food assistance programs are also hit hard by rising grain prices. Since the budgets of food aid agencies are set well in advance, a rise in prices shrinks food assistance precisely when more help is needed. The U.N. World Food Programme, which supplies emergency food aid to more than 60 countries, has to cut shipments as prices soar. Meanwhile, over 7,000 children are dying each day from hunger and related illnesses. When governments subsidize food-based biofuel production, they are in effect spending taxpayers' money to raise costs at the supermarket checkout counter. In the United States, the production of fuel ethanol was encouraged by a tax credit granted to fuel blenders for each gallon of ethanol they blended with gasoline. This tax credit expired at the end of 2011. Still in place, however, is the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is seen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a strategy to "help recharge the rural American economy." This mandate requires that biofuel use ramp up to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022. Of this total, 16 billion gallons are slated to come from cellulosic feedstocks, such as cornstalks, grass, or wood chips. Yet for the foreseeable future, production of those cellulose-based fuels has little chance of reaching such levels. Producing ethanol from sugars or starches like corn or sugarcane is a one-step process that converts the feedstock to ethanol. But producing ethanol from cellulosic materials is a two-step process: first the material must be broken down into sugar or starch, and then it is converted into ethanol. Furthermore, cellulosic feedstocks like corn stalks are much bulkier than feedstocks like corn kernels, so transporting them from distant fields to a distillery is much more costly. Removing agricultural residues such as corn stalks or wheat straw from the field to produce ethanol deprives the soil of needed organic matter. The unfortunate reality is that the road to this ambitious cellulosic biofuel goal is littered with bankrupt firms that tried and failed to develop a process that would produce an economically viable fuel. Despite having the advantage of not being directly part of the food supply, cellulosic ethanol has strong intrinsic characteristics that put it at a basic disadvantage compared with grain ethanol, so it may never become economically viable. The mandate from the European Union (EU) requiring that 10 percent of its transportation energy come from renewable sources, principally biofuels, by 2020 is similarly ambitious. Among international agribusiness firms, this is seen as a reason to acquire land, mostly in Africa, on which to produce fuel for export to Europe. Since Europe relies primarily on diesel fuel for its cars, the investors are looking at crops such as the oil palm and jatropha, a relatively low-yielding oil-bearing shrub, as a source of diesel fuel. There is growing opposition to this EU goal from environmental groups, the European Environment Agency, and many other stakeholders. They object to the deforestation and the displacement of the poor that often results from such "land grabbing." (See Chapter 10.) They are also concerned that, by and large, biofuels do not deliver the promised climate benefits. The biofuel industry and its proponents have argued that greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels are lower than those from gasoline, but this has been challenged by a number of scientific studies. Indeed, there is growing evidence that biofuel production may contribute to global warming rather than ameliorate it. A study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany reports that the nitrogen fertilizers used to produce biofuel crops release "nitrous oxide emissions large enough to cause climate warming instead of cooling." A report from Rice University that carefully examined the greenhouse gas emissions question concluded that "it is uncertain whether existing biofuels production provides any beneficial improvement over traditional gasoline, after taking into account land use changes and emissions of nitrous oxide. Legislation giving biofuels preferences on the basis of greenhouse gas benefits should be avoided." The U.S. National Academy of Sciences also voiced concern about biofuel production's negative effects on soils, water, and the climate. There is some good news on the issue of food or fuel. An April 2012 industry report notes that "the world ethanol engine continues to sputter." U.S. ethanol production likely peaked in 2011 and is projected to drop 2 percent in 2012. An even greater decline in U.S. ethanol production is likely in 2013 as oil prices weaken and as heat and drought in the U.S. Midwest drive corn prices upward. For many distillers, the profit margin disappeared in 2012. In early July 2012, Valero Energy Corporation, an oil company and major ethanol producer, reported it was idling the second of its 10 ethanol distilleries. Numerous other distilleries are on the verge of shutting down. If the ethanol mandate were phased out, U.S. distillers would have even less confidence in the future marketability of ethanol. In a world of widely fluctuating oil and grain prices, ethanol production would not always be profitable. Beyond this, the use of automotive fuel in the United States, which peaked in 2007, fell 11 percent by 2012. Young people living in cities are simply not as car-oriented as their parents were. They are not part of the car culture. This helps explain why the size of the U.S. motor vehicle fleet, after climbing for a century, peaked at 250 million in 2008. It now appears that the fleet size will continue to shrink through this decade. In addition, the introduction of more stringent U.S. auto fuel-efficiency standards means that gasoline use by new cars sold in 2025 will be half that of new cars sold in 2010. As older, less efficient cars are retired and fuel use declines, the demand for grain-based ethanol for blending will also decline. Within the automobile sector, a major move to plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars will further reduce the use of gasoline. If this shift is accompanied by investment in thousands of wind farms to feed cheap electricity into the grid, then cars could run largely on electricity for the equivalent cost of 80¢ per gallon of gasoline. There is also a growing public preference for walking, biking, and using public transportation wherever possible. This reduces not only the demand for cars and gasoline but also the paving of land for roads and parking lots. Whether viewed from an environmental or an economic vantage point, we would all benefit by shifting from liquid fuels to electrically driven vehicles. Using electricity from wind farms, solar cells, or geothermal power plants to power cars will dramatically reduce carbon emissions. We now have both the electricity-generating technologies and the automotive technologies to create a clean, carbon-free transportation system, one that does not rely on either the use of oil or the conversion of food crops into fuel. By Lester R. Brown. From Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown (New York: W.W. Norton & Co.). Supporting data, video, and slideshows are available for free download at
  6. Speaking at a climate conference in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that inaction on global warming is "not an option" and called on nations to redouble efforts to secure an internationally binding climate change treaty. After being invited by the governments of Poland and Germany, environment and climate ministers from 35 countries "“ who together are responsible for around 80% of world carbon emissions - gathered earlier this week at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue conference in Berlin for a round of dialogue and informal negotiations ahead of the UN climate summit (COP19) in Warzaw, Poland, later this year. While stressing that all countries need to act, Merkel demanded immediate and bold action on climate change so that a binding climate treaty that limits emissions that cause global warming can be reached by 2015. "I'm under no illusion that there is a long road ahead," Merkel said at the conference. But "doing nothing only means that it will get a whole lot more expensive." These are indeed strong words for global action against climate change. But while Germany's carbon emissions rose by two percent last year, Merkel has so far seemed uninterested in fixing Europe's severely broken cap-and-trade program and failed to push for tougher climate policies for the European Union.