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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ctrp345 Cyber Armageddon and Other Myths

Ninjacon 2010There is no shortage of poorly written stories scattered throughout the internet, about cyber attacks leading to near apocalyptic situations involving power stations or other key infrastructure sites. And for every story, there is someone who believes it, and not many who take the time to critically examine and verify that anything ever really took place.

My guest, Anchises De Paula, is an exception to the rule. Based in São Paulo, Brazil, he has taken the time to check on these stories and speak out about them. The result is something most politicians don’t want you to hear. They prefer to keep the public in fear; believing half-truths and myths.

Follow Anchises on Twitter or via his Blog

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ctrp342 Elected and Still Waiting

Amelia Andersdotter was elected to European Parliament in 2009. More than 6 months since the elections, she finds herself living in Brussels but still not allowed to do her job.  How can an elected member of paliament be kept from taking her seat? In this podcast this dynamic young representative from the Swedish Pirate Party explains how it happened. She also tells the story of the campaign that got her into office, and the issues and concerns she has once she is finally allowed to get to work.

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Dutch Municipal Elections Article

The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote this past week for the Guardian CiF, to read the full text, click the link below:

The media have recycled the same headlines following Dutch elections for about a decade now, and similar observations are regularly trumpeted in international newspapers. Part of me thinks they actually just run the same articles, updating the picture, changing a few names, and maybe touching up a few percentage points. The political landscape is changing in the Netherlands, it is true. “How could this happen in this bastion of a liberal democracy?” commentators ask in an accusing tone.

I shall go against the international headlines and some of the Dutch media when I say to you, please remain calm. This sudden explosion of intolerance and fragmented politics is nothing new; we have been reading about it for decades. The myth maintained by international media outlets and perhaps the Dutch bureau of tourism, which parrots the Netherlands as an open-minded leftwing paradise, has long kept a smoke screen over the well-established and not always tolerant tradition of smaller parties, extremist or moderate, left or right, which rise up suddenly, gain power and occasionally disappear into obscurity as fast as they came.

The international press summed up the results of yesterday’s Dutch legislative elections as a major victory for the far-right, anti-Islam and ironically named Freedom Party (PVV). They are also quick to point to the two cities (out of the entire country!) where the PVV managed to top the polls in local elections. But while The Hague, where the PVV is now the second-largest party, is certainly a city of international and national importance, gaining control of it, along with the little-known city of Almere, does not equal an electoral sweep.

The PVV’s sporadic success is significant not so much because of the small number of votes they won, but because of the xenophobic, nationalist rhetoric that has managed to get them votes. While this development grabs the headlines, several Dutch political parties on both the centre and the left have made just as many – if not more – gains. In the cities of Utrecht and Nijmegen, the Green-Left party (GroenLinks) gained enough to become the largest party. The more moderate D66 party made the biggest gains nationwide, becoming the largest party in Leiden, Haarlem, and Hilversum. The socially progressive and fiscally conservative party’s success was far greater than that of the PVV, but since they don’t say controversial things about the Muslim faith or try to convince people that the country is being taken over, they’re just not as fun for the front page.

[read full text]

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