bmtv118 Volt Test

Volt in DC

During my journeys in the United States over the past month, I found myself in the always educational and fun presence of Ryanne and Jay, pioneer video bloggers, world citizens, and curious minds. On one fine day in Washington DC we saw a test drive stand for the hybrid electric car by Chevrolet, the Volt. We decided to go check it out and of course, I was recording for the internets.

Note: None of us are shills for Chevy, but we are interested in alternative transport options and electric cars.

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Portugal’s Alternative Energy Revolution

Outside Lisbon, 2008

It isn’t hard to find things that don’t work correctly in Portugal.  It also isn’t hard to find people who will go on and on about how the prime minister is a bum and a crook. Indeed Portugal has plenty of problems as a nation with high unemployment, a disappearing rural population, and unsustainable metropolitan centers.

So it may come as a surprise after all this, to learn that Portugal is a global leader in alternative energy. More specifically, as of this year the country gets 45% of its total energy from renewable resources like wind, solar, wave and hydro.  Besides being an impressive number it is even more eye opening when you learn that this is a 28% increase from 5 years ago.  And just when you thought you’d already been impressed, you will find that -in fact- Portugal has become one of the largest (if not THE largest) wind energy producers in the United States!

How did this happen? What conditions and factors somehow led to this fairly small and less wealthy European nation become so active in alternative energy?  Here are a few reasons:

Despite a very low approval rating now, when his party was elected with a parliamentary majority in 2005, Prime Minister José Socrates and his cabinet set their sites on major investments in renewable energy, even under huge warnings that it would cost too much money.  5 years, many landmark projects,  and 13.6 billion euros later, Portugal has developed energy production and a smart grid that most of the world only talks about having one day.  The nation is now in a position to decommission 2 coal power plants and even sold energy to Spain this year. In the next few years they will roll out the world’s first nation wide electric car and charging station network. They also expect their percentage of electricity produced by renewable sources to be 60% by 2020.

Sure there are questions and a whole lot of concerns about what has happened in Portugal.  The biggest being the high price of electricity in the country.  Or what will happen if private investors and private energy companies get into financial problems, will the windmills, solar panels, tidal machines, and hydro-electric power plants still be run and maintained?

In the short term people may look at their energy bills and feel like they have been wronged.  The government may be accused or in fact involved in some scandal eventually resulting in it being voted out of office.  The achievements of Portugal may always be overshadowed by large nations like the US and China being unwilling and unable to take bold steps towards an efficient and environmentally sustainable energy system.   Yet despite all the criticism that has come and may come one day, especially in the political and economic realm, Portugal has accomplished an amazing feat in the quest to reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

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bm278 Radioactive Waste and Germany’s Nuclear Future

Germany plans to phase out nuclear energy by 2021. But there’s some question if the government will really do it. Now the news has gotten out that radioactive waste has been leaking in the storage area that was supposed to be secure for many years to come. Will this speed up the nuclear phase out? What can be done about the dangerous waste and who is to blame?

Michael Scott Moore writes for Der Spiegel and has covered this issue. He also blogs at radiofreemike.com and he is the author of Too Much of Nothing. He joins me to explain what is happening and how the German media are addressing this issue.

Music:

REM – Supernatural Superseriou
Roots – Lost Desire

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Culturally Inept

Whenever I come back to NJ, I expect to see changes. Not so much people, as of course there are always changes there, but I’m speaking more about changes to this place; suburban NJ, the suburbs of New York City and Newark.  I expect to see some new buildings, new construction projects, and generally speaking.. signs of a new era… new ideas… the future. Among those changes for the new era, I keep a close eye out for developments related to energy conservation, pollution, and sustainable living.

As is typical for much of the US, this region is especially a hub for car culture.  You can hardly do anything without an automobile, so while in Amsterdam it seems that everyone rides a bike, in New Jersey it seems that everyone drives a car.

Every year I return and end up, naturally, in a car on a highway.  This year it is no different, but considering the fact that global warming has finally reached the mass audience and seemingly has been accepted as a problem, I expected to see some changes.  Smaller cars perhaps.  More of those hybrids people talk about.  Less people driving or at the very least, less cars with only 1 person in them.  In each of these cases, besides the occasional hybrid, I’ve seen almost none of these things. Just like 7 years ago, back when I still lived here and global warming was a myth, there is nothing but cars  and traffic jams.  If anything they’ve gotten worse, more cars leading to traffic jams all over this state at any given time of day.

As I visit people’s houses and walk the streets, I look for signs of energy conservation.  Solar panels? I guess that was wishful thinking; there are none.  More people turning off lights and turning down the heat? No one seems to mention it or think about it.  Plenty of those little flourenscent bulbs, that is about the extent of the energy saving practices I see adopted.

At any shop you find lots of green labels and references to all-natural, clearly people want to feel better about their choices and actions.  But seeing the amount people here consume; whether its goods or energy, despite everything they know about their impact on the planet… none of it has slowed down. If anything, this state, like much of the world, seems to be marching even more quickly towards environmental holocaust.

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