Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Market of the Mad

by Herve Kempf

Le Monde (October 31 2009)

Capitalist ideology - according to which the market can resolve all problems - has, in these last few days, reached the apex of the absurd. We have learned, thanks to Green Euro-deputy Claude Turmes, that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has been blocking a proposed energy-efficiency action plan. This text is supposed to compel member states to reduce their energy consumption by twenty percent and to propose specific measures to attain that objective. Reducing energy consumption is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The reason for this obstruction by the Commission? The implementation of energy efficiency would bear on carbon market prices. Consequently, there would be fewer "emission rights" on the market. Consequently, their price would drop. Now the European Commission - with Member State approval - has based its fights against climate change on the emissions market.

So they have just rejected the most efficient solution in favor of ... a method that has not yet really proven itself. Implemented since 2005, it moves painfully forward, given the drop in prices evading VAT. At this time, the price for a ton of carbon dioxide is fifteen Euros - below the energy tax French consumers are going to pay. In fact, the rules of the emissions market's operation, the result of a compromise with the industries it affects, are too lax: in consequence, the price that develops remains too low to stimulate a rapid reduction in emissions.

Moreover, by means of another type of market, the so-called "mechanism for clean development", the European Union means to avoid realizing a big part of its reduction commitment. Indeed, I would need to write ten articles like this one to comprehensively explain how this whole system works. The carbon market is fractionally simpler than the derivatives market, if you see what I mean.

The basic problem is that it amounts to confiding management of the fight against climate change to the financial industry. The latter has, as we know, caused the current crisis and demonstrated its ability to escape all government control. Do you trust Goldman Sachs to act in the interests of humanity in the carbon market? In reality, as long as government - which in principle represents the public interest - has not resumed control over the financial system, we cannot hand over responsibility for the fight against climate change to the market.

In the short term, one thing is clear: the European Union must settle on true energy conservation objectives. If it gives that up, it will lose all credibility with respect to climate change, and, above all, the principal means to confront it.


In Spite of Strong Growth, the Country at Present Remains a Model of Energy Sobriety

by Herve Kempf

Le Monde (November 02 2009)

And what if India were a model of energy efficiency? Received wisdom has it that developing countries waste their energy in the absence of adequate technologies, while developed countries supposedly use energy more efficiently. A study by the Indian firm Prayas, presented during the conference of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (FIJE) in Delhi on October 28, shows that's not the case at all.

Entitled, "An Overview of Indian Energy Trends", it reveals that between 1990 and 2005 the country's GDP increased 2.3 times, but its energy consumption rose 1.9 times. Moreover, energy intensity (energy consumption related to production) is much less than China's, but also less than the United States' and comes close to the European level.

A good part of this performance may be explained by the price of electricity to industry - among the highest in the world. In transportation also, India demonstrates great efficiency: India's total consumption of gas and diesel in 2005 was less than the simple increase in consumption in China and the United States between 1990 and 2005. The high price of fuel plays a significant role, but so does the density of Indian cities, which limits the length of trips.

Vegetarian Diet

For domestic energy uses, there is better energy intensity by income level than in the United States. That may be explained by the significant use of biomass, but also by the very widespread vegetarian diet, which limits cooking needs: on average, an Indian consumes one twenty-fifth as much meat as an American.

However, India has not succeeded in eliminating poverty. Economic growth has benefited the upper and middle classes primarily, and forty percent of the population does not have access to electricity.

Solar energy and natural gas seem to be the way of the future, but also adoption of supercritical coal-combustion technology (which improves yield and reduces polluting emissions), as well as reduction of energy losses in the grids.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

Bill Totten


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