Points of Light

The World Wakes Up to Climate Change

There are 60,000 square feet of solar panels on San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center, enough to power 675 houses, and all new municipal buildings in the city by the bay must comply with U.S. Green Building Council standards. In Portland, Oregon, transportation activists and the "Green Team" (made up of city employee volunteers) sponsor Car Free and Care Free (CFCF) weeks that encourage employees to get out of their cars by telecommuting or by using alternative transportation. In 2005, 1,900 commuters took part, avoiding: 37,630 auto trips, 317,000 vehicle miles traveled and the emission of 317,974 pounds of the major global warming gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). And in Buffalo, New York, General Motors" Tonawanda Engine Plant has drastically reduced emissions and gone "landfill free," a feat it achieved by reducing waste generation, recycling and converting waste to energy.

The notorious gridlock and smog in Los Angeles has spurred groundbreaking clean car rules in California.© Getty Images

Welcome to a new world, where the debate over the science of global warming is over, but the hard work of combating it—with only a very limited window of opportunity—is only just beginning. We have to act quickly. According to new studies published last March in the respected journal Science, warming temperatures are likely to cause a catastrophic, long-term meltdown on the roof of the world in Greenland and in Antarctica. Scientists say we have a decade at most to reduce our emissions and avoid a nightmare scenario that would flood not only below-sea-level New Orleans, but also much of south Florida and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as well as the California coast.

The average global temperature, according to the international climate scientists banded together in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will rise by three to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

The public is only beginning to wake up to the reality of climate change. A record 57 percent of Americans, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, now believe that climate change is underway, but only 36 percent say they worry about it "a great deal." Worse, an ABC/Time/Stanford University poll reveals that 64 percent think there’s "a lot of disagreement" among climate scientists on the reality of global warming, when there’s actually a near total consensus. According to a Science essay by Naomi Oreskes, 935 peer-reviewed papers on global warming appeared from 1993 to 2005 and, of 700 that dealt with modern climate change, none challenged the consensus that humans were causing global warming. Another 54 percent of poll respondents think climate change is "a problem for the future," versus only 44 percent who think it’s already a serious problem.

A team of researchers reported in the journal Nature that, unless the world is getting half its energy from non-carbon sources by 2018, we will see an inevitable doubling—and possible tripling—of atmospheric carbon levels later this century. Another study, published in Science, called for a Manhattan-type crash project to develop renewable energy. Using conservative estimates, they found that within 50 years, humanity will need to be generating at least three times more energy from non-carbon sources than the world currently produces from fossil fuels to avoid climate disaster.

Despite the refusal by Australia and the U.S. to ratify the international Kyoto Accords, they have gone into effect, adopted by 55 industrialized nations (responsible for 55 percent of global emissions). The Kyoto signatories have pledged to cut six key greenhouse gases to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. It probably won’t be enough, since some climate scientists say that a far more dramatic 60 percent cut is needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

It is unclear how many countries can actually meet their Kyoto commitments. In the environmentally oriented European Union, for instance, only England and Sweden are on track to meet their targets. Among the leading countries with emission problems are Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Austria and Belgium.

But it’s far too early to give in to despair, since important carbon-saving programs are being launched below the radar, often by local governments, private companies and even ambitious individuals. The best initiatives use novel approaches and innovative thinking to achieve real emission reductions, tapping into and modifying consumer habits and ingrained business practices.

Countries worldwide have already begun making major changes in the way they do business, creating "cap and trade" CO2 emissions schemes; writing global warming reduction into procurement policies; mandating clean-fuel municipal fleets; and subsidizing clean energy projects. London, England now has its own Climate Change Agency, and is committed to a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. Denmark has also announced a switch to clean energy; it is already 20 percent wind powered, and the Danish Wind Energy Association’s goal is to produce 35 percent of national energy needs by 2015.

But those are only a few of the many ambitious projects that are acting to fill the void caused by official U.S. inaction on the issue. Here’s a country-by-country survey, compiled mostly by local writers, that is by no means complete but representative of a world waking up to the realities of climate change:North America

The California Law: High-Stakes on Emissions

"Ten states have adopted California’s clean car emission rules," says a clearly energized Dan Becker, the Sierra Club’s climate change coordinator. "This is about the most exciting thing out there to fight global warming, and it shows that the U.S. doesn’t have to have its head in the sand. Governors and mayors get it even if the President doesn"t."

In 2004, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) approved regulations that would result in a dramatic 22 percent reduction in global warming emissions from vehicles by 2012, and a 30 percent reduction by 2016. That’s coupled with California’s existing regulations (far more stringent than those put in place by the federal government) to cut the tailpipe emissions that cause local smog. States have the option of following California’s tough standards or the feds" relaxed ones, and an increasing number of legislatures are siding with Sacramento.

Becker and other campaigners talk about a "tipping point" at which automakers will finally want to relieve themselves of the burden of producing two versions of their cars and trucks—a super-clean one for California states and a dirtier one for everyone else. That point will be reached when states all around the country sign on to the California program, creating a shipping nightmare for Detroit. One or two more states may force the automakers" hands.

To comply with California’s global warming provisions, the automakers would have to make their vehicles more fuel efficient, and with most of their profits coming from SUVs they’ve been loathe to do that. Through the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), the carmakers filed suit in 2004 against the California law, claiming it would cost consumers an extra $3,000 for a compliant car, and that only the federal government is empowered to set fuel economy standards.

"What the auto companies should be doing is letting their engineers figure out how to work wi

th these standards," says Bill Magavern, the Sierra Club’s senior representative in Sacramento. "Instead, they’re letting their lawyers loose." Magavern dismisses as "ridiculous" the automakers" argument about jurisdiction. "The California law is about global warming emissions, not fuel economy," he says. "And the federal law was drafted in the 1970s, before climate change was even an issue."

Meanwhile, California, 11 other states and a coalition of cities (including Baltimore, Washington and New York), environmental groups and the island of American Samoa (which is threatened by sea-level rise) are fighting a court battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which said in 2003 that it had no authority to regulate CO2 or three other global warming gasses produced by vehicles. The EPA ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court last year, but the states are determined to carry the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. CONTACT: California Air Resources Board, (800)242-4450, www.arb.ca.gov; Sierra Club, (415)977-5500, www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming. —Jim Motavalli

Hull, Massachusetts: Winds of Change

John MacLeod, operations manager of Hull, Massachusetts" Municipal Light Plant, gestured out past Windmill Point across the bay, with the city of Boston visible in the distance. "We intend to have 100 percent renewably generated power in Hull," he says. "By 2009 or 2010, we want to install four offshore turbines totaling up to 15 megawatts."

MacLeod was standing next to the tower of Hull Wind I, a Danish-made 660-kilowatt Vestas turbine that has the distinction of being the first commercial-scale windmill to go online on the eastern coastline of the U.S. It’s also, if you want to get technical, the first commercial-scale turbine in suburbia.

Last April, Hull had a brand-new distinction: It now has not one but two wind turbines. Hull Wind II, a much larger Vestas turbine (1.8 megawatts) was installed at the town’s landfill. According to Malcolm Brown, vice chairman of the Hull Light Board, the new turbine is expected to produce three times the electricity of the first one and will enable the city to get 10 percent of its energy from wind.

Unlike Cape Cod, where vociferous NIMBY opposition threatens to doom the larger offshore Cape Wind project, Hull’s efforts have drawn only token "viewshed" opposition.

Hull remains distinctly wind-friendly. And there are 40 towns in Massachusetts that have municipally owned electric utilities, a situation that is ideal for public wind power. Towns like Hull can generate a kilowatt of electricity for 3.4 cents, but because of production tax credits and tradable renewable energy certificates (RECs), it takes in 6.3 cents. "We get the financial benefit, plus because it’s a green source of energy the turbine becomes a focus of goodwill for the town," says Hull selectwoman Joan Meschino.

Around the U.S., wind power generates less than one percent of energy needs, so Hull is running at 10 times the national average. "I think we could probably sign the Kyoto Protocol on our own," says Brown. "The Hull experience shows it is easier to win approval for wind projects if the benefits are enjoyed close to home, flowing to the local residents transparently and directly. We’re the investors and we’re the beneficiaries." Currently, Massachusetts towns Arlington and Ipswitch are looking into following Hull’s lead. CONTACT: The American Wind Energy Association, (202)383-2500, www.awea.org; Hull Wind, www.hullwind.org. —J.M.

Seattle: The Mayors" Initiative

© Getty Images

As of May 4, 230 U.S. mayors representing 45 million Americans had signed on to be part of the solution. The document they signed was the Mayors" Climate Protection Agreement, which commits its signatories to acting locally to address global warming. The agreement launched by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels started small, with 10 municipal leaders signing their names in March 2005. But it has been expanding daily.

The mayors aren’t getting involved with climate change because it’s a "feel good" issue; they have real concerns. "Small, localized flooding of the Potomac River in Old Town is a regular occurrence," says Alexandria, Virginia Mayor William Euille. "With the impact of global climate change, flooding will become a significant issue." Adds Mayor Carolyn Peterson of Ithaca, New York, "I chose April 24, the day Ithaca celebrated Earth Day, to announce the city’s participation in this agreement, and we made the announcement next to our wastewater plant, where methane is recovered for energy production."

Seattle is not only spearheading a national campaign, it is acting locally. The municipal government has already reduced its own emissions from car fleets, buildings and other sources by more than 60 percent below 1990 levels. It boasts a mostly hydro-powered municipal utility, City Light, with zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year, Mayor Nickels created the Green Ribbon Commission on Climate Protection, chaired by Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, and Orin Smith, former president and CEO of Starbucks. The group’s report calls for a wide variety of highly specific reforms, including reducing Seattle’s auto dependence and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 170,000 tons annually through increased use of public transit (already likely, as the city’s light rail system is finally under construction), doubling the number of striped bike lanes and bike trails, as well as increasing pedestrian access, imposing a commercial parking tax for downtown to discourage car-based commuting, charging drivers progressively priced "user fees" (also known as tolls) with revenues going to transit projects, and using zoning policy to expand walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods.

Seattle has 400,000 vehicles, and the Green Ribbon Commission wants to see them running on bio-fuels or electricity, if not left at home entirely in favor of walking, biking and car-sharing. The commission also recommended reducing diesel emissions by the cruise and freight industries (partly by providing clean electricity at the docks and rerouting truck corridors) and increasing the use of natural gas.

The mayor’s office of sustainability created its own "action agenda," which calls for the city to reduce its paper use at the end of 2006 by 30 percent, and to purchase only 100 percent recycled copy paper. It calls for development of a Bicycle Master Plan, which theoretically could echo the reforms that have been put in place in Portland, Oregon (mandatory bike racks on buildings, bikes on buses and trains, free showers downtown for bikers, and more).

Can Seattle actually do all this? Politically, it appears that Mayor Nickels can’t be stopped. In 2005, he spent $500,000 to get re-elected, steamrolling over opponents who together managed to raise only $24,000.

"What we want to do is difficult but not impossible," says mayoral spokesperson Marty McOmber. "Obviously, there are a lot of challenges, and Seattle can’t do it alone. We need partners, including county governments, the state and the regional transportation agencies. But Seattle is a very environmentally conscious city, and it’s very concerned about global warming. So if we ca

n’t do it here, it’s hard to imagine doing it elsewhere." CONTACT: U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, (206)684-4000, www.ci.seattle.wa.us/mayor/climate. —J.M.

Chicago: Following the Green Plan

Last June, when 45 American mayors heeded actor Robert Redford’s invitation and showed up in Utah to describe steps they were taking to respond to global warming, the unquestioned star of the conference was Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Since taking office in 1989, Daley has steadfastly pursued an increasingly sophisticated economic development strategy based on making America’s third-largest city greener, more energy-efficient, more environmentally sensitive and more prosperous. At the Sundance Summit, Daley framed his environmental agenda around the steps he’s taken to reduce emissions of global warming gases. But in other venues, he’s marketed Chicago’s green initiative around improvements to public transit, water and wetland conservation, energy efficiency, park restoration, open space protection, green building design and construction, and encouraging workers and residents to walk instead of drive.

Chicago, in the mayor’s parlance, is not only determined to be the "greenest city in America," it probably already is. Though Daley’s environmental program started as a vigorous effort to replace the urban forest of his youth that was lost to various blights—his administration has planted more than 500,000 trees—it has blossomed into something much bigger.

One way to combat global warming, says Daley, is to erect the most energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive buildings in the country. Buildings use a third of the country’s energy, after all. Daley ordered all of Chicago’s new police and fire stations, schools and libraries to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, an initiative that spurred duplicate programs in New York, Salt Lake City and elsewhere. Since 2001, when the mayor installed an energy-conserving, heat-reducing green roof on City Hall, some 200 other green roofs covering 2.5 million square feet have been constructed in the Windy City.

The city also isn’t afraid of using market forces to encourage greenhouse gas reductions. Developers are provided much faster permitting if they construct "green" buildings. The mayor also promised to secure 20 percent of the electricity used by the city from renewable sources, though the date for achieving that goal is not yet clear.

How much all this is helping to reduce the effects of climate change is difficult to quantify. But Chicago is gradually developing measurements of performance. City-owned buildings, for example, are undergoing energy-efficiency retrofits. The modernization of old fire stations alone this year will save $250,000 in electricity costs and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 3,515 tons, according to the city’s Department of Environment. CONTACT: City of Chicago, www.cityofchica go.org. —Keith Schneider

Thompsonville, Michigan: Where’s the Snow?

Jim MacInnes, the president and general manager of Crystal Mountain, this region’s largest private employer, says he "hates waste."

That’s why the 56-year-old executive, an electrical engineer by training, buys high-efficiency motors and energy-saving appliances, insists on conserving water, and pursues environmentally sensitive design and construction practices to save money and reduce pollution at his successful northern Michigan ski resort.

MacInnes" Scottish values also are designed to do his part in combating the warming winter temperatures that are steadily reducing the length of the ski season, and putting Crystal Mountain’s business plan at risk. Ski resort operators in northern Michigan report that the average length of the winter season has shrunk from 127 days in the 1980s to 115 to 120 days in this decade.

"When I first came here we had more natural snow earlier in the season," says MacInnes. "It got cold earlier in the season. Normally we’d be open in the first week of December. Now it’s usually a week or two later."

According to a Colorado College report published in April, the potential effects of global warming on the snow sports industry are even more severe in the eight Rocky Mountain states. The climate-trend model used by the college showed that by mid-century, in every region, springtime snowpack is likely to decrease by at least 37 percent. In Taos, New Mexico, and in the mountains near Salt Lake City, the spring snowpack could drop by 80 percent, more than enough to have "devastating effects on ski areas in the region," says the study.

Crystal Mountain is among the most active resorts on global warming issues in the Midwest. Alone among its peers in Michigan, Crystal Mountain joined 70 ski resorts in 20 other states in signing a letter last year supporting the Climate Stewardship Act, a Congressional proposal to begin limiting greenhouse gases.

MacInnes" company buys low-wattage lights and air-conditions in the summer with cold water drawn from wells that also is recycled for use on its golf courses.

These and other environmental measures, including offering guests menu items prepared with locally grown organic fruits, vegetables, grains and meats, will not solve global climate change. But because of Crystal Mountain’s size and influence—it employs 600 people in the winter—the resort’s environmental focus is stimulating other regional employers to follow suit. CONTACT: Crystal Mountain, (800)968-7686, www.crystalmountain.com. —K.S.

New Mexico: The World’s Biggest "Solar Farm"

New Mexico is stepping up to the climate change challenge by lassoing its most abundant resource: the sun. In April, state officials signed a lease allowing construction of a massive, $1.6 billion solar facility on state lands near the town of New Deming, in the southern part of the state. The 300-megawatt solar farm, which will generate enough juice to power 240,000 homes, will be the largest solar operation in the world.

New Solar Ventures and Solar Torx, which will jointly operate the facility, also plan to build a factory nearby to make photovoltaic panels for the farm.

The new solar giant, which will take advantage of New Deming’s 350 days of sunshine a year, is part of Governor Bill Richardson’s push to make the desert state the "Saudi Arabia of renewable energy" and slash its greenhouse gas emissions. Richardson, a Democrat who served as Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton, has pledged to reduce the state’s output of global warming gases to 2000 levels by 2012 and 75 percent below those levels by 2050—one of the first oil- and gas-producing states to commit to such a target. "The federal government has been inactive on climate change, so states and cities are taking action on their own," says Richardson.

Richardson, who recently traded in his self-described "big SUV" for a hybrid Ford Escape, also joined with Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sponsor a region-wide "clean and diversified energy initiative." Adopted by the Western Governors Association,

the initiative calls for the development of 30,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2015 and a 20 percent boost in efficiency by 2020. CONTACT: Western Governors Association, (303)623-9378, www.westgov.org. —April Reese



Iceland: Pioneer of Sustainability

Iceland"s Shell fueling station is an early step on the road to a full-scale hydrogen economy for the small island nation.© Jim Motavalli

Iceland may well be the first nation in the world with a completely clean, zero-emission energy economy. This tiny volcanic island of just 300,000 people (descended from the Vikings) is already well on its way to achieving that national goal, with its entire home heating and electricity generation systems renewable today. The biggest remaining hurdles are Iceland’s 190,000 cars and trucks, plus its fishing fleet.

Iceland has an abundant resource in geothermal energy, which provided 7,608 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2005. Its geothermal plants often do double duty, supplying pipelined super-heated water for home heating, and using steam to turn turbines for electricity. Since the country is rich in rivers, hydro-electric power also provides electricity.

Indeed, Iceland is actually over-supplied with electrical generation capacity; it could generate as much as 50 trillion watt-hours annually. Currently, some of that excess goes into aluminum smelting, but the country wants to stop importing expensive, polluting gasoline (currently $7 a gallon at the pumps) and use its electricity to produce hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles. One Shell Hydrogen station is in place, and a total of 20 could meet the needs of 90 percent of Iceland’s drivers.

According to Jñn Bjñrn Skülason, vice president of Icelandic New Energy (INE), "We will gradually replace all our gasoline passenger cars, trucks and boats with hydrogen vehicles. Iceland is the perfect test bed for hydrogen activities."

Maria Maack, INE’s research director, notes that Iceland has been talking about hydrogen for 30 years, and that in that time the public has gotten solidly behind the concept of an all-renewable energy economy, with 93 percent approval ratings in polls. CONTACT: Icelandic New Energy, (011)354-588-03-10, www.newenergy.is.—J.M.

Sweden: Oil-Free by 2020

In late 2005, the Swedish government caused a mix of worldwide excitement and astonishment when it announced its ambition to break the country’s dependency of oil by 2020. As the second-most environmentally friendly country in the Environmental Performance Index (behind New Zealand), Sweden is now clearly aiming for the number one spot.

"Climate change is the greatest and most important environmental challenge of our time," says Mona Sahlin, Swedish Minister for Sustainable Development. Martina Krueger, energy expert at Greenpeace Sweden says, "The target might sound a bit ambitious, but considering that Sweden’s consumption of fossil fuels is already rather low compared to other countries, it can be achieved."

Environmentally friendly cars in Sweden already receive a package of tax reductions, free parking and exemption from environmental charges, such as Stockholm’s congestion fee. Further, beginning last April all major gas stations in Sweden are obligated by law to offer either sustainably produced ethanol or biogas.

Ethanol in the U.S. is a corn byproduct. In Europe, ethanol is produced from a wide variety of agricultural products, including forest residue, sugar beets and grains.

The Swedish car industry is embracing the current developments. Saab’s 9-5 BioPower vehicles run on E85 ethanol (which contains 15 percent gasoline). Volvo, meanwhile, has sold 7,500 bi-fuel cars that can run on either gasoline or methane (sourced from landfills and waste sludge). Because using it in vehicles avoids its release into the atmosphere, bio-gas is a zero net climate contributor.

"Right now, 350 gas stations in Sweden offer ethanol, and bio-gas is available at 70," says Matthias Goldman of Grñna Bilister (the Swedish Association for Motorists). "By the end of 2006 the number of gas stations offering ethanol will double."

"The Swedish companies have recognized that clean cars are important for future business, and the domestic market offers a perfect test for them," says Goldman, who believes that renewable fuels will be ready to take over by 2020.

Peter Hagstñm, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, is skeptical about such a quick transition to bio-fuels, but is optimistic about the long term. In a recent study, he found that waste products from Sweden’s forestry industry could provide enough bio-energy to cover 95 percent of the country’s vehicle fuel needs, or 39 percent of its electricity generation needs. The government is currently budgeting $110 million per year for the effort.

If all goes according to plan, Sweden will be the first country in the world to become independent of oil. CONTACT: Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvãrdsverket), (011)46-8-698-10-00, www.naturvardsverket.se. —Martin Gleissner

Germany: Green Beacon of Alternative Power

One of the world’s foremost proponents of zero-emission energy, Germany is home to what is, at least for now, the world’s largest solar electric system, the Bavaria Solarpark. Further north, development has started on the country’s first wave energy system.When the Social Democrat/Green coalition took the helm under Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder in 1998, the push for renewable energy in Germany began to accelerate and it shows no sings of abating.

Spread over 62 acres and using 57,600 solar panels, the Bavaria Solarpark went live last year with 10 megawatts of power.Berkeley, California-based PowerLight constructed the park on three separate Bavarian sites. "During its anticipated lifetime of at least 20 years, Bavaria Solarpark will produce hundreds of millions of kilowatt hours of clean electricity," says PowerLight CEO Thomas Dinwoodie. "Our system uses solar tracking technology, which follows the sun." For the most part, the solar panels are not visible from the ground, avoiding the "eyesore" complaints that have bedeviled the country’s plentiful wind turbines.

Germany is also looking to harness the energy in the waves of the North Sea. The system proposed by Voith Siemens Hydro would be the world’s first commercial-scale, grid-connected wave power station, providing 250 kilowatts of energy to 120 households. It could generate 400 megawatt hours of zero-emission electricity annually.

While the proposed station isn’t breaking any records (for that, look to the new four-to-seven-megawatt station being built by Wave Dragon in Wales), it certainly shows that Germany wants to be a player in the field. CONTACT: PowerLight, (510)540-0550, www.powerlight.com; Voith Siemens Hydro Power Generation, (011)49-7321-37-6848, www. voith.com. —Rachel Anderson

Spain: Emissions Trading on the Agenda

Spain has very good reasons to be worried about global warming. Beach-based tourism at resorts like Torremolinos accounts for 11 percent of the national economy. According to the country&#39

;s environmental ministry, in the last 100 years Spain has warmed up 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to a European average of .95 degrees. Summer temperatures that currently reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit could rise by as much as seven degrees by 2100, threatening Spain’s ski industry.

Spain’s beaches also face a two-foot ocean rise by 2100. Rare species, including lynx, bears and migrating birds are also under threat from ecosystem changes.

Spain is a Kyoto signatory, but is not close to meeting its goals. In 2002, Spain was 40 percent over the 1990 baseline, despite the target of achieving 5.2 percent under 1990 levels by 2012. Today, the most recent report to the European Commission shows the Spanish government in excess by 47 percent. That means 8.5 million extra tons of CO2, mitigation of which could cost 80 million euros (more than $100 million).

Spain is hoping that emissions trading will reduce its global footprint. On May 5, in Barcelona, Spain’s Fundaciñ Fñrum Ambiental and Sendeco launched ExpoCO2 as the first point of contact between Spanish industrialists and the new stock market for CO2 emissions trading. The trading will help Spain comply with its Kyoto commitments, says Javier Tordable, manager of Sendeco. Companies that emit CO2 below established limits can sell their emission rights to companies that are out of compliance and profit from their good environmental performance. The plan uses dedicated software that tracks federally set emission levels for some 1,000 Spanish companies, and facilitates trades. CONTACT: ExpoCO2, (011)93-233-23-09, www.expoco2.org/angles/inicio.html. —Sonia Edith Parra


The Czech Republic: A New Energy Path

Czechoslovakia had a thriving business culture many years ago, before Vaclav Havel’s so-called "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 and before the Second World War. Generations of small companies operated by inventive craftsmen with good mechanical skills serviced heavy industries. In recent years, however, the dormant small business sector has only partly come back to life.

Local businessman Zdenek Lomecky hopes to give it a good try. Helped by the Renewable Energy and Energy-Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), he wants to jump-start an incubator called the sustainable energy accelerator, or e5-SEA.

"We are approaching a West European enterprise culture, but the old system is still very much in evidence," Lomecky explains. As a completely new industry, the renewable energy sector provides a welcome channel for introducing new business practices, and for keeping money in the domestic economy.

Backed by REEEP and the European Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the project has many challenges. Partly as a result of its former isolation, cronyism continues to damage the productivity and growth of a sustainable economy by creating unfair market conditions. But now the timing is excellent, because the Czech Republic passed a renewable energy law in 2005 introducing subsidies for wind, photovoltaics, geothermal, hydro, biomass, landfill- and bio-gas for 15 years.

Biomass is widely thought to provide the greatest potential for renewable energy, because its production can be both low-tech and decentralized. "Small businesses will benefit less from wind energy, because the technology is so expensive," says Lomecky. CONTACT: REEEP, (011)43-1-26026-3678, www.reeep.org. —John Bell

Estonian Energy at the Crossroads: Wind, Solar or Nuclear?

The small northern European country of Estonia has an estimated five billion tons of oil shale reserves, so it’s not surprising that this resource drives the country’s electricity production. But joining the European Union is forcing Estonia to abandon this somewhat antique (and dirty) habit and find a cleaner way to quench its fast-growing thirst for energy.

According to Greenpeace, shale oil production results in four times the greenhouse gas emissions of standard oil refining, as well as highly toxic dioxins. It’s also only 33 percent efficient, resulting in huge waste mountains. Nevertheless, the Bush administration is calling oil shale "a domestic resource with staggering potential."

According to EU’s directives, Estonia has to open its energy market 35 percent by 2008 and fully by 2012, when all EU companies will be allowed to sell energy in the country. Estonia is also directed to impose pollution taxes on oil shale by 2013. Expensive, polluting and ineffective oil shale power will be forced out of the market one way or another.

Eesti Energia, which favors centralized power, wants to join Latvia in buying a share in a new Lithuanian nuclear plant. This plan is supported by many politicians and scientists, and by 50 percent of the Estonian people in a recent poll. The plant is likely to begin construction next fall.

Meanwhile, Internet businessman and visionary Rainer Nñlvak is calling for 100 percent green energy. Marek Strandberg, chairperson of the Estonian Fund for Nature, supports the idea. "Estonia could be 100 percent sustainable, if we are talking about electricity and heat," he says. "We have adequate wind resources. We can combine wind power with a power link to Sweden, allowing us to buy energy on calm days and to sell on windy days. Next step would be hydrogen fuel cells to help through the highs and lows of wind energy. Then biogas, solar panels and micro-turbines."

Deputy Minister Tammemãe also prefers wind and biomass over nuclear, but is skeptical that Strandberg’s revolution could be easily achieved. He believes in environmental tax reform, which would give entrepreneurs a choice: pay environmental taxes that rise every year on dirty industries, or invest in a new and cleaner technology. The first phase of environmental taxation was put in place by the Estonian legislature last year. The next step, Tammemãe says, is taxation of energy products and transportation. CONTACT: Estonian Fund for Nature, (011) 3727-428-443, www.elfond.ee. —Aivar {21}epa

Russia: From Coal to Biomass

© Getty Images

Russia’s important role as one of the world’s major logging nations rarely makes headlines. But Russia is endowed with over a fifth of the planet’s forests, more than 177 million acres. "Forest biomass should be the main renewable energy source in the country," suggests A.N. Kosarikov, vice-chairman of the Committee on Ecology at the Russian Federation’s state parliament.

Why the sudden interest in wood-based biomass? One likely reason is that, having ratified the Kyoto protocol last year, Russia now wants to show that it can make a noticeable contribution to emissions reduction. "The transition from fossil fuel to wood would save between 10 and 20 million tons per year of fossil fuels, primarily coal, and reduce CO2 emissions dramatically," says Natalia Davydova, director of the Ecological Projects Consulting Institute (EPCI), which is exploring carbon-neutral biomass energy in collaboration with the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP). Lower Novgorod, a densely wooded region in central Russia, is to provide the setting for the first experimental biomass pilot plants.

Russia currently exports 50 percent of its oil and oil-based product

s and 43 percent of its natural gas, leaving many of its own regions hungry for fuel. "Renewables, including wood, can help make up for this deficit," says Kosarikov. Experts suggest heating costs could be halved with biomass.

Thus far, renewable energy (excluding large hydropower stations) accounts for one percent of heat production and about 0.5 percent of electricity generation in Russia. CONTACT: Cabri-Volga, (011) 7-095-133-0248, www.cabri-vol ga.org. —Svetlana Frenova

Points of Light (Part 2)