Friday, May 18, 2007

Himmel og hav / Sky and ocean

The current row between the EU and Russia over pipelines, gas dependencies, oil and Red Army monuments is a clear indication that EU should pursue a more independent energy policy. Learning from the mistakes of the USA, we know that energy is a vital part of national security, and dependency on foreign energy makes us all the more vulnerable. The EU, operating in a block, must therefore adopt a policy where self sufficiency in its energy needs is imperative.

At the same time, in a high school in the Arctic parts of Europe receives two visitor and their accompanying TV crew.

Pilt: John Arne Øxseth

Siri Kalvig (right) was the first weather woman on Norwegian TV2. Apart from being the most popular meteorologist for this reason, she has also turned into an environment activist. Together with Hilde Holdhus (left) and armed with graphs, animations and facts, she's touring Norway, telling "the next generation" to lay off the CO2.

I found only two major flaws in the presentation, but found that it might be a bit rude to bring them up in front of the cameras, as well as young, old and prominent people from the entire village. And I had forgotten to arm a student with these uneasy questions.

The two girls bring an important message, and not having thought the issues through as thoroughly ahead of time as I would like to, I decided to wait instead of turning the duo completely disillusioned about their own campaign. So I waited and, well, blogged about it. Which would be this blog.

Do you really need to be here?

The most immediately rude question was, of course, why they had to fly some 2000 km, dumping out massive amounts of CO2, when even the Arctic has sufficient Internet bandwidth to do the entire lecture by teleconferencing technologies. Indeed, because of the distances between each town, teleconferencing is used quite often. I used it myself just a couple of weeks ago, to save myself from having to drive 420 km to attend a three hour meeting, and then drive 420 km to come home. Instead, I just walked 20 metres to the video conferencing room and attended from there.

Granted, having a national celebrity go on a tour, meeting students who eagerly want their autographs, might have a deeper impact than a video conferencing lecture. Though I was not immediately impressed when Siri (not so) reluctantly revealed that according to an online carbon footprint calculator, she caused about 20 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, much of it caused by flying.

"My job requires me to fly, so I fly, and there is nothing that can be done about this." The same argument went for her sidekick, which "only" caused the "average" 11 tonnes CO2 per year that any average Norwegian causes. But when it comes to employers, I have a completely different opinion.

Particularly these girls who work in the weather / environment industry, should be able to leverage great power in their words, when they demand telecommuting. Do they really have to physically fly between Oslo and Bergen every week? How much of their work is truly location dependent? This is the 21st century for crying out loud.

Consumption metrics

The "solution" to the global heating problem is what we keep hearing all the time: Stop using fossil fuels. Use less automobiles. Use less energy. Everyone complies, but we still use too much. Why? Because for the ordinary consumer, there is no way to measure the impact of their reductions. And reductions in one area might cause an increase in a different area.

So you use only half the amount of gasoline as before, because you drive less. But exactly how much does this affect your carbon footprint? You just know it is less. Indeed, you're tempted to ditch your old car in favour of a new, more gas efficient car. But exactly how much CO2 is released in the production process of your brand new car? Or computer, for that matter? The last I heard, your off-the-shelf desktop computer costs the environment about two tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Then there's all the stuff you buy in the store. Which products caused more CO2 emissions during production? There's a combination here between the distance the item had to travel, plastics used in production and packaging, and energy. How about that plastic bag you used to get your food home? You have a closet full of them.

The problem is, the ordinary consumer is not told what the environmental cost of these items are. Just like we are able to keep track of our own personal economy, we also need to keep track of our personal carbon emissions, and we need an actual number for our target emissions. Without such controls, the only way to truly be certain we reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently, is to do all the production yourself. Which brings us to a third point:

Bio fuels and burning wood

For ages, I have heard how bad it is for the environment to burn wood, because it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. However, BioDiesel and similar fuels are thought of as "CO2 neutral" because they are based on biodegradables that would just rott and relase CO2 into the atmosphere whether we burn it or not. If so, we should be able to use the same argument for burning wood. And indeed, burning wood burns clean, as opposed to BioDiesel's non-CO2 environmental poisons.

Burning wood is not the only environmentally friendly technologies that need to be "rediscovered" by those who have turned gas/electricity for their everyday needs. How about building straw bale houses which are neearly completely biodegradable, nonpoisonous and can be built at only a fraction of the cost of "modern" houses, and the associated carbon footprint almost non-existant. And these houses are not bad, either. Indeed, just because it's "old technology" doesn't mean it's bad. It means it's well tested.

Now I just need a place to build my own. Sponsors are welcome.

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