Posts Tagged ‘carbon dioxide emissions’

Wind power? Not in my backyard.

August 26, 2009


Turns out, Swedes may not be as green as I thought. Or perhaps they’re simply no different than the rest of us gasoline-guzzling, environmentally ignorant consumers who care more about our immediate comfort and convenience than the future of coming generations.

Overheard in the kitchen of immediate Swedish family members just the other day:

“I was so angry hearing this farmer on the island talk about the profits he was making from the wind power he was producing,” my mother bristled. “He had gotten together with some neighbors to construct and operate a wind mill in his back yard, and was making a small fortune. I told him, ‘Don’t you realize that you’re profiting from Swedish tax dollars? You’re making money off the backs of all the rest of us who must pay for this expensive wind power!’

“But he just looked at me and said, ‘But the money I make comes from the wind!'” she continued. “It made me so mad that people don’t understand who’s paying for all this construction of wind mills left and right. We are!”

According to the Swedish Energy Agency, wind power cooperatives such as the one formed by this ignorant Swedish farmer will add another 70 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid during fiscal year 2009-2010. In all, 24,000 people will be members in such cooperatives and boost their share of Swedish wind power production by 20 percent, the agency estimates

The Swedish government wants to grow total wind power production to 30 terrawatt hours annually – up from 2 tWh today. Wind currently accounts for just 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, compared with neighboring Denmark, which gets 20 percent of its power from wind power. (The U.S., the world’s leading wind power nation in terms of capacity, is at close to 2 percent.)

The Swedish government is using energy certificates subsidized by tax dollars to support the wind energy build-out, investments it says must be made to meet tough European Union carbon-dioxide reduction goals.

But some Swedes believe the cost of wind is just too high, especially when the machines pop up along pristine coast lines and in pastoral landscapes where Swedes want to enjoy their lengthy vacations away from the troubles of global warming and energy crises.

Indeed, in my family, the bad-mouthing of wind power stations began when news broke that the spinning turbine blades would soon obscure views from an island in the Baltic that, in my mom’s opinion, was too beautiful and unique for wind mills. (A section of it was, after all, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.)

A movement is afoot to stop the build-out of wind power in the country praised, over and and over again, for being one of the world’s greenest. Grassroots organizations with names such as “Fair Wind” and “Save the Coast” are sprouting up to protest plans by property owners to take advantage of government incentives and erect new wind turbines.

What does all this mean? That people are people, plain and simple. And that nobody is more green than the other when it comes to their own backyard.



It’s summer – bundle up!

June 30, 2009

It’s 90 degrees outside and we’re freezing.

coldhandsThere’s my co-worker J., shuffling past my office door draped in a heavy red wool blanket. Down the hallway sits B., wrapped in her blue poncho. Both brave the chilly office temperatures and wear summer dresses to work. (It’s June, after all.) But they also drink hot tea and coffee to warm their stiff fingers.

Even our tanned 20-something intern is cold. Every morning I watch her pull a cardigan from her bag before she even turns on her computer.

Air conditioning opened up the American South to northerners half a century ago and turned backward, sleepy cities such as Atlanta into metropolitan boom towns. 171-0609104401-phoenix_postcardIt transformed Singapore into an international business hub, made Phoenix livable, and millions of workers worldwide more productive.

Air conditioning also gobbles up 5 percent of all electricity produced in the United States, accounting for as much as 15 percent of energy consumption in homes and one-fifth or more of energy used in commercial buildings, depending on latitude. And here’s the sobering part: The commercial sector – schools, office buildings, malls, movie theaters and so on – are accountable for an ever-growing share of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions as their consumption of energy from dirty power plants continues to grow.

coal plant_0In the United States, 87 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions are related to our energy consumption, with the commercial sector’s emissions growing faster than any other sector’s. So you’d think that somebody would suggest that we cancel the warm sweaters and blankets and turn up the thermostat a few degrees.

It’s not only about saving the Earth, by the way. Raising the indoor temperature from 73 to 76 degrees can shave nearly one-third off your air-conditioning bill during the summer months, according to Duke Energy, the Charlotte-based energy giant.

But, oh, no. When our office air conditioning system malfunctioned a few weeks ago, some people – mostly men in suits – complained that it was “sooo hot.” The truth is, as a society, we’ve become addicted to cool spaces.

Today, more than half of all home owners in the United States run their air conditioner all summer long, up from one-third of homes in 1981.

Even in Minnesota, they’ve gone crazy with air conditioning. Twenty years ago, one-quarter of homes in this northern state had no AC. Today, fewer than 10 percent do and peak energy demand has shifted from winter to summer. Hear Minnesota Public Radio’s report from the North Star State!

Sounds to me like we need to look to China for some leadership. Fshanghaiaced with energy shortages a few years ago, the city of Shanghai ordered office buildings not to set their thermostat below 26 degrees Celcius, or 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Of course, in a democracy like ours where everybody has a say and very little gets accomplished policy-wise, you can forget 79 degrees.