Just a few hours ago, Europe’s first underground carbon dioxide storage site was opened near Berlin in Ketzin, Germany. The test facility is aimed at finding out whether CO2 capturing and storing is a viable method to reduce CO2 emissions and to use this technology to make coal-fired power plants – which are build eagerly across Europe – be more climate friendly. Especially Germany which is the only country still opposing nuclear energy and is phasing out its efficient and safe nuclear power plants has become short of ideas how to meet the EU’s CO2 reduction targets and struggles to justify the shift towards coal-fired power plants. Wind turbines and solar panels are all fine, but some German politicians just don’t understand that it’s not possible to abandon all other energy sources in favor of renewables which account for only 7 % of the total energy consumption. 7% is quite a considerable share of alternative energies, however, Germany depends on nuclear energy and fossil fuels to cover the remaining 93% of its power demand. Besides, renewable energies are at the moment a few times more expensive than the competing energy sources and which politician would dare asking the people to pay more than twice their electricity bill in order to reduce our carbon footprint?
Whether pumping carbon dioxide below the surface and storing it in porous sandstone deposits is economic and safe is to be seen. However, when this test phase is finished after 2009, 60,000 tonnes of CO2 gas will be stored at 800 meters below the surface. Even if the test is successful, the technology will not be applicable until 2020 on a grand scale and saving energy as well as embracing alternative energies is much cheaper and environmentally friendly than this sophisticated and energy-consuming technology.
There are two major obstacles for grand-scale carbon capture and storage. First, collecting CO2 from power plant exit air and pumping it beneath the earth reduces the efficiency of the power plant considerably. Second, storing CO2 underground bears a lot of risk. If CO2 gas could escape through a leak, it could settle in low-lying areas as it is heavier than air and thus threaten to suffocate the people living there.
Check out Various forms of CO2 storage – and unforeseeable consequences for more information on CO2 storage.
Earlier this month, the Lisbon Treaty which was aimed at streamlining decision-making in the EU, making the EU more democratic and manageable and to make it work more efficiently was rejected by Irish voters. As it can only come into effect with approval from all member states, the reform treaty might be killed as was the EU constitution in 2005. While the European heads of government are still unsure what to do in order to salvage the Treaty of Lisbon and thus delayed a decision until their summit in October, I doubt that it would be sensible to force a second referendum in Ireland. Who of those who had voted “no” would vote “yes” for the same treaty with slightly different footnotes? Furthermore it’s ridiculous to let people go to the polls as often until the outcome suits politicians. That’d be neither democratic nor beneficial to the EU as the urgently needed reform would be further delayed.
The French president Nicolas Sarkozy who will have the EU presidency from July 1st on said that “without the Lisbon treaty there will be no enlargement”. He got backup from the German chancellor Angela Merkel who also rules out any expansion of the EU without passing a new governing treaty as the European Union is unable to accommodate yet another lesser-developed economy without a more streamlined organization and decisions by majority vote rather than by unanimity. Both, Sarkozy and Merkel refer to the Nice Treaty which limits the European Union to 27 members. These current rules will be valid until a new treaty is to replace it. Thus, the entry prospects of Balkan states, most notably Croatia, have deteriorated considerably as the future of the the Treaty of Lisbon is unsure and it’s to be doubt that all EU member states can agree in a timely manner on yet another treaty dealing with the fundamental concerns of the 27 nation bloc. Despite the Irish rejection, those member states which haven’t yet pursued the ratification of the treaty are likely to do so.
What impact a delay of the entry talks has on the further development of the Balkan states is to be seen. However, European politicians should take the concerns of the European people more seriously. Most Europeans are less enthusiastic about further expansion and have a feeling of unease with having almost no influence on the direction the EU takes. Thus, it is not surprising that the latest referendums were used to express the people’s discontentment rather with the European policy of acting on behalf of the poeple without giving them a voice than with the treaties themselves. Though the Treaty of Lisbon was aimed at making the EU more democratic, the European Union is anything but a democracy. The main problem is that even the European institution which should give the people power – the European Parliament – is not democratic as Europeans from different countries are represented unequally. For example Malta has one Member of the European Parliament per 80 citizens while Germany has one Member of the European Parliament representing 828 citizens. Consequently, one Maltese has more than 10 times the political influence than a German. And without equal representation in the European Parliament there is no chance for a European federal state as nobody is willing to give up one’s own sovereignty to an unfair majority decision.
The European Commission decided to cap airline emissions from 2012 on which will cost the industry and passengers billions of dollars. European and foreign airlines will be added to the European emissions-trading system which imposes fix CO2 quotas on businesses and forces them to buy emission permits in auctions for those emissions exceeding the quotas. CO2 emissions for European aviation will be limited to 97% of their levels in 2005 and to 95% in 2020. Thus, from 2012 on all airlines taking off and landing at European airports – be they from EU countries or from overseas – will have to buy 15% of their emission permits from the EU.
That this foolish idea is not really aimed at reducing carbon emissions but should just generate billions of dollars for the EU budget is obvious. European politicians have discovered green taxes as a new tool to get Europeans to pay more and more. If saving the environment were the target of the European Commission, they’d rather try to push forward the Single European Sky initiative which would trim emissions twice as much immediately and even save the airlines money by harmonising the European air space and making it more manageable and efficient. The main mess with European aviation is the patchwork of national air spaces across Europe which makes planes burn extra fuel and cause more emissions by waiting in unnecessary holding patterns and flying detours. There are 58 air traffic control centers using 22 different operating systems in 30 programming languages in Europe. The US have just 21 control centers using one operating system. There are 47 air navigation providers in Europe handling about 9 million flights annually while there’s only one in the US handling more than 18 million flights. Therefore it is not surprising that the cost of traffic control per flight is as expensive as 742 euros in Europe while in the US the cost is 386 euros per flight.
The Single European Sky project would be the largest and cheapest climate protection project of the EU. Besides, an exclusive EU attempt to curb aviation carbon emissions – which only account for 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions while supporting up to 8% of world GDP, generating hundreds of thousands of new jobs every year and connecting people around the world – would be a distortion of competition harming the competitiveness of European airlines and airports as well as hurting European travellers who will have to pay more to travel around the united Europe. Furthermore, more regulation does always more harm than good by tying up money by bureaucracy and leaving the airlines less money to spend on more fuel-efficient aircraft and technologies. Another point is that the aviation industry is suffering right now from the enormous increase in operating costs due to the sky-high price for kerosene which already forces them to cut their fuel consumption. The new EU rules on carbon dioxide emissions will cost the airlines 4.8 billion euros which is definitely over the top compared with the European airlines’ 3.7 billion euros profit in 2007 which was a very good year for the European airlines. Facing the challenges of soaring oil prices and a possible economic downturn, the outlook is worse for the years to come and most airlines might not survive the negative impacts of the oil price explosion and foolish EU regulation. Eliminating the European air space mess – a measure which would bring immediate relief for both, the aviation industry and the environment - seems to be out of reach with national governments maintaining their egoistic attitudes and unwillingness to give up sovereignty of their skies.
On June 24th 1948 the Soviet Union closed off all roads and supply roads to West Berlin to get power over the half of the city occupied by France, Britain and the United States. Only 2 days later the United States and Britain launched the Airlift in order to rescue the western sector and to supply the 2.5 million West Berliners with food, coal and other vital provisions. The airlift supplied Berlin for more than a year with over two million tonnes of supplies carried on more than 270,000 flights. On average, there was more than one plane every 3 minutes arriving at Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. The US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen started to drop out tiny bundles of sweets with handkerchief parachutes on aid delivery flights for the children who had to struggle with all the pain, starvation and devastation in the aftermath of WWII and especially while the Soviet Union blocked the western sector of Berlin. This idea made him famous and made people call him “the candy bomber”. Finally, the Soviet Union had to give up the blockade and the United States, Britain and all the pilots from other countries who flew aid flights to Berlin saved the city from falling into Soviet hands.
As the German Defence Minister said today on the occasion of the 60th anniversary ceremony, “the Airlift turned foes into friends, and occupiers became helpers”. There were many prominent guests at the ceremony today, including several Airlift veterans, the US ambassador to Germany, William Timken, and the commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, General Roger A. Brady.
Bio fuels produced by converting food crops into ethanol are facing heavy criticism for fueling the global food crisis. But there are bio fuels that are both, friendly to the environment and no competition for food supplies. These biofuels are made of waste and leftovers of agricultural production such as straw, matured timber and orange peels.
Florida is the second largest producer next to Brazil of oranges in the world with more than 300,000 hectares of orange acreage. About 10 million tons of oranges are processed into juice in Florida alone annually. Until today, the leftovers have been used to make dry pallets as cattle feed, but this is an expensive and barely profitable process.
Karel Grohmann, a researcher and chemist at the State Department for Agriculture has found an alternative to making cattle feed or dumping the leftovers into landfills.
Grohmann’s team uses enzymes and a strain of bacterium to convert the sugars, of which the citrus waste consists mostly, to ethanol and essential oil amongst others. A pilot project has been running for two years now and it shows that converting 100 liters of orange peel waste mash into 4 liters of ethanol is profitable. It is estimated that the 5 million tons of annual waste from orange processing in Florida could be converted into some 230 million liters of ethanol.
This ethanol could be used to fuel the more than six million Flexible Fuel Cars which are on the road in the US today. Ethanol made from waste is the best alternative to ethanol made of food crops and the most sensible processing of the leftovers of orange juice production which would mostly be rotting in landfills otherwise.
Soaring oil prices have caused lots of trouble in the recent months. Motorists are forking out more and more money for gasoline and are struggling to afford their mobility, politicians around the world talk a lot about who to blame for this unstoppable development and the alleged culprits are speculators, the OPEC countries, oil companies… In Asia, several states had cut their fuel subsidies causing massive gasoline price hikes and heavy protests. Western politicians argue about how to control the market to stabilize the price.
Those who believe that legislation aimed at limiting market speculation would help reduce gasoline prices considerably should recognize that it’s not the speculators that set the price so that they can make a big profit but the high oil price is just a result of demand exceeding supply and fears that supply cannot be expanded or even is likely to decline. Experts from the Energy Watch Group say that oil production has already peaked in 2006 and will decline at a rate of several percent a year even as demand increases.
After an emergency meeting of oil producers and consumers, Saudi Arabia announced that it would boost its production by 200,000 barrels a day. Besides, Saudi Arabia maintains that its oil reserves are able to supply much more oil if there’s demand. However, many critics doubt that Saudi Arabia can even maintain its production capacity. Today, Saudi Arabia produces 9.5 million barrels a day and intends to expand its production capacity up to 15 million barrels a day in the future. The oil industry insider Matthew Simmons has predicted that Saudi Arabia’s most important oil fields are going down. A considerable number of oil traders believes that Saudi Arabia will not be able to boost its production and thus confirm the peak oil theory and fuel even further panic. The problem is that most of Saudi Arabia’s oil is from a few tremendous oil fields which have been in production for decades. In order to maintain their capacities, enormous amounts of water are pumped into these oil fields to build up a pressure which pushes the oil towards the surface. This practice is expensive and gives an insight on how overused these oil fields are. And even if Saudi Arabia can export more of its precious resource, this would only bring short-term relief. Instead of looking for people to blame and to ask for a boosted supply, the focus of our attention should be to save energy and to stop depleting it. In this regard, John McCain’s proposed $300,000 government price to anyone who develops an electric car battery is probably the best step that can be taken rather than having the state interfere in the market.
Walking along Boulevard Unter den Linden in Berlin towards the Pariser Platz square and the Brandenburg Gate is really impressive. Along the street there are luxury boutiques, tourist stores, the Humboldt University and the Berlin State Opera. At the Pariser Platz square is the famous Hotel Adlon, the British, French and now again the Embassy of the United States of America. The new embassy building is straight next to the Brandenburg Gate which is one of Berlin’s most famous sights as it witnessed Napoleon marching through it in 1806, the rise and demise of the Prussian empire, the direful times of the Nazi regime, the division of Berlin into East and West by the Berlin Wall which ran straight behind the gate, the fall of the Wall and the German reunification. As the new embassy is the only major U.S. embassy opened after 9/11 it is designed to be the safest and best protected, most expensive and best-located embassy in Berlin. The State Department has spent more than € 83 million to make the embassy, which had been on the same site before WWII, unique and adequate for representing the United States on this historic and symbolic site in the heart of Berlin. The architects Moore Ruble Yudell from Santa Barbara, California, have designed this prestigious building. Though the new embassy building received partly heavy criticism for being a kind of Fort Knox in Berlin and rather be suitable for Baghdad’s green zone than for Berlin with all the security measures taken, I think that the elegant and modern building is fitting perfectly into the unique setting of the Pariser Platz.
The weather is nice, it’s short after sunrise and I’m looking forward to another great day in Berlin. Though I’ve already been here several times, arriving at Berlin’s new ultramodern central railway station and having an amazing view on the German parliament – the Bundestag – is again and again a great experience.
Taking a ride on the metropolitan transport lines is a great opportunity to get a first impression of the numerous historic sights which give a first insight of the historic legacy of the city. Berlin has been the largest city in Germany for centuries and was the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, Eastern Germany and since 1999, Berlin is again the capital of the reunified Germany. There are architectural highlights from all periods – ranging from the Brandenburg Gate and the palace Schloss Charlottenburg to the TV Tower which used to be a landmark and symbol for Eastern Berlin and all the new buildings that were built after the Berlin Wall had fallen and a lot of space in the city center which had been border area became available for ambitious construction projects. The famous architect Sir Norman Foster led the reconstruction of the Reichstag building after the German parliament decided to make Berlin the German capital again. The dome at the top of the building makes to German Bundestag an interesting sight for tourists as a magnificent 360° view of central Berlin can be enjoyed for free. Especially at night it’s great to lie down on the seats at the to of the dome and to see the illuminated cityscape at night. On the very top of the dome there’s a hole. However, even when there are heavy rains, the interior of the dome is likely to remain dry as the hole is used to draw off the air from the main hall of the parliament below.
Another new sight is the square Potsdamer Platz which is within walking distance from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. The square had been left desolate after WWII as it was straight next to the Wall. After Berlin had become the German capital again, Potsdamer Platz was one of the most attractive locations in Berlin and became an impressive sight with modern office towers, the European headquarters of Sony and a major train station.
I’ve been to Greece more than a dozen times during the last 15 years and I’m full of admiration for the beautiful landscape and the great people there. Relaxed living is the Greek way. Healthy and tasty cuisine and a wonderful scenery.
However, the Greeks obviously lack of environmental awareness. Just remember the devastating forest fires which caused widespread destruction last summer and killed more than 80 people. These fires could have been put in part deliberately to get around Greek law that forbids property development on areas designated as forest land. Another spot where many of these fires could have sparked are the numerous illegal landfills. Both, illegal trash burning and methane explosions caused the fires to break out. Greece faces a serious garbage problem as landfills are cram-full and recycling appears to be unfamiliar to Greek authorities. Experts expect that there are between 800 and 3,000 makeshift landfills on the countryside and even more illegal dumps. Driving along the Greek countryside, you’ll soon see garbage bags dumped along the wayside and it seems as if nobody cared about that. However, when I was in Greece in 2004, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were community employees collecting the trash along the wayside in the heat. But soon I understood. It was just a few days for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games to begin. And as all around Greece, authorities were doing their best to amp up their region.
This year, there are again officials closing down makeshift dumps and pressing ahead with the construction of new landfills and recycling plants. This time, however, it’s not for the tourists’ sake but it’s the European Commission which prompted Greek authorities to act. If they should fail to close down all illegal landfills by the end of the year, Greece will fail hefty fines.
But it’s just not feasible to solve Greek’s trash crisis within a few months. The situation today is the result of short-sighted policy and the current government is far from turning the situation around. Greece recycles just 13% of its total waste which is pretty little compared with the European average of 41%.
India’s aviation industry has been growing fastest in the world for years. New low-cost carriers enabled more and more new middle-class Indians to afford flying and switch from trains to planes for a more comfortable journey. Safety is also an advantage of air travel in India as the overage railroad infrastructure in addition to overpacked trains are responsible for numerous accidents in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of first-time fliers contributed to an exuberant passenger growth. Furthermore, going by plane is saving time as enormous distances are to be covered while traveling across the country.
But the time of cheap fares might have come to an end as rising fuel costs, increased airport charges, giant losses for the airlines and high taxation hit the Indian airline sector hard. Fuel costs account for more than 50% to the total operating costs of airlines which is very high compared with European and American airlines. The Indian airline industry could face a $2 billion loss unless the government approves hefty subsidies and reduces taxes on aviation fuel. Finally, the consolidation trend has reached India and we are likely to see numerous mergers and acquisitions. Most budget airlines might disappear and for many Indians, their first flight might have been their last flight for quite some time.