random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: EU

Biofuels: Oil for Votes?

Where your next tankload is coming from?

Just where is the EU going with its agricultural policy? With the European Commission endorsing a plan to up the previous goal of a 5.75% market share for biofuels in the overall transport fuel supply by 2012, to 10% by 2020, one has to wonder which part of the EU’s goals is being pushed hardest. From the EU website:

The EU is supporting biofuels with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting the decarbonisation of transport fuels, diversifying fuel supply sources, offering new income opportunities in rural areas and developing long-term replacements for fossil fuel.

Certainly all of these goals would be furthered by such a move by the EU, but which has prompted this raising of targets despite the estimate that most member states will not even achieve the original goal. As a long-term replacement for fossil fuels, the biofuels movement would appear to be unsustainable. Whilst it does offer a new ‘energy farmer’ role to those particularly in the developing world, the biofuels movement will likely set back the move towards sustainable agriculture, and has the potential through furthering intensive farming and monoculture techniques of causing greater environmental damage than the potential harms of global warming. 1If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Technically the move may ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at least insofar as it prevents the further introduction of carbon deposits in fossil fuels from being added to the atmospheric carbon cycle, yet at the moment many biofuels in the market are so inefficient as to be net pollutants. 2And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.

All of which leaves the diversification of fuel supply sources. For the greatest efficiency, there is little doubt that biofuels should be burned in power stations rather than mobile internal combustion engines, yet that would appear to be only a secondary aim of this directive. Perhaps the recent EU spats with Russia offer a greater clue to the hasty attempts to diversify fuel supply sources, and leading the charge in this regard is Sweden. Their aim, to make Sweden an oil free society, and to break their dependence upon it by 2020, may seem outlandish. But it is not motivated by the fear that oil is running out.

In the earth’s interior there are very extensive coal-based energy resources, from methane hydrates deep in the oceans and in northerly permafrost areas to unexploited deposits of oil sands and shale oils. The superficial deposits of coal, oil and gas that man makes use of today are the tip of the planet’s enormous energy pyramid. Thus, oil will never run out, neither in a theoretical nor a practical sense.

Sweden’s aims are very similar to those of the EU:

  1. To reduce Sweden’s climate impact.
  2. To secure Sweden’s supply of energy in the long term.
  3. To become a leading nation in the development of new technology for sustainable use of energy and more efficient use of energy.
  4. To strengthen our international economic competitiveness.
  5. To use and develop the energy resources from forests and fields, “Sweden’s green gold”. 3Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.

It would appear then that the true aim of this EU directive has less to with cleaning up the economy through greater reliance on renewable energies, than an attempt to reduce the EU’s heavy reliance on the volatile world oil market. Burning (inefficient) biofuels in combustion engines is not an answer to carbon emissions, long or short term. Will logic intervene and see support for the use of biofuels as petroleum replacements decline? Or will the EU continue to intervene in the hopes that the big buzzwords climate change will allow them to push through seemingly popular policies, ultimately in the name of power politics?

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1. If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
2. And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.
3. Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.

Failte go dti an tAontas Eorpach

The EU

On January 1st of this year, under the continuing enlargement plans, Romania and Bulgaria acceded to the European Union. At the same time, the number of official EU languages was enlarged to 23, now including Romanian, Bulgarian – and Irish. The inclusion of the latter might seem to come at an odd time, given that the Republic of Ireland has been a member since January 1st, 1973, and Irish is its official language. Yet it was through English that the Republic handled its application to the Union.

To take some basic figures, Irish is spoken by less than half of the Republic’s population, whilst it is in daily use by only 5% 1A generous assessment, since this figure appears to include schoolchildren who use the language in class on a daily basis.. To put this in some perspective, there may be more than twice as many Welsh speakers, while both of these Celtic tongues pale in comparison to Catalan, for example, with more than 7 million speakers. Ireland’s European commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, insists that Irish is central to Irish cultural identity, and its acceptance into the European fold has prompted calls for the inclusion of other minority languages 2Spain has already requested semi-official status for Catalan, Galician and Basque..

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1. A generous assessment, since this figure appears to include schoolchildren who use the language in class on a daily basis.
2. Spain has already requested semi-official status for Catalan, Galician and Basque.

Ireland Avoids the Burdens of Public Transport

This weekend a radio talk show in Ireland was lamenting the state of the Irish road network, in particular focusing on the state of her road signs. Anyone that has driven through the country will understand how this seemingly trivial matter could be focus for an entire discussion. The cause of the problem was perceived to be the decentralised system of transport regulation, the result being a wide disparity between different parts of the country, and a generally poor system compared to European standards. The show received numerous SMS messages and emails highlighting more extreme examples, from road signs incorrectly directing traffic, through long stretches of road with nary a road-sign or indication of turnings, to the example of sections of road with conflicting speed limits, no doubt compounded by some complications in the changeover from miles to kilometres per hour.

Yet what was only mentioned in passing was that government initiatives to improve the transport network in the country can only be spent once, and ultimately further improvements to the road network must necessarily mean public transport receives less funding. One of the interesting statistics cited was that in Dublin, the only large urban centre, around 70% of commuters travel to work by private transport. Although unduly unfair, for the sake of comparison just consider the figures for the centre of London, which show the figure to be as low as 10%. Is Ireland’s public transport system underperforming?

Travels in the Shadow of the Curtain

Despite it feeling like almost yesterday, a fortnight has already passed since I returned from this year’s travels. With the jet-set revolution in full swing, and RyanAir’s European footprint under continuous eastward expansion, I took the opportunity this year to expand my own carbon footprint and head to the east. Armed with a smattering of Russian, an able German companion and a small roll of banknotes, this year’s travels took me to Riga, third largest industrial city of Imperial Russia, and capital of one of the more vibrant economies in Europe today. After five days in a bed & breakfast there, it was followed by a stay in probably the most famous cultural and historical city in Poland: Krakow.

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