Monday, May 29, 2006

Sweden and Peak Oil : REVISED!

Reading this article really opened my eyes. When we watched the Cuba film, it was refreshing to see possible actions to an energy crisis actually in practice, but these initiatives were not a government acknowledgement or response to the imminent Peak oil, but a reaction to Cuba’s micro energy crisis. The acknowledgement by the government of Sweden that peak oil will occur, soon enough definitely gave me some hope. I was convinced that every government was going to follow the United States’ lead and ignore and avoid the peak oil issue. Thank something that Sweden isn’t.

They identified six measures towards becoming energy sustainable. The first measure was to broaden and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. Sweden hardly oil dependent for its energy demands, according to the article, their energy is generated half by nuclear power and half by hydropower. This is a good start, but Uranium, which is refined and used for generate nuclear power, is a finite resource, maintaining nuclear plants is costly and storing the spent nuclear fuel is risky. Development in the alternative renewable sources of energy is necessary for the least oil dependent countries too.

The next measure is to focus this development and increased use of alternative renewable sources of energy on wind power. This sounds harmless but what kind of impact will many wind mills have on migratory birds?

The third measure is to make Sweden heating sustainable, instead of using oil, which is pretty widespread throughout the country. Heating is an especially necessary consumption of energy for Sweden, because they are at a very high latitude, with really long winters. Heating is not a luxury in Sweden, it’s essential.

The fourth measure was to become energy sustainable concerning cars. The fuel for transportation issue is not exclusive to Sweden, its relevant all around the world. Sweden hopes to become transportation sustainable using a combination of converting cars to ethanol and biofuels. Brazil has proven that ethanol is a very feasible alternative to petrol, most if not all their cars have been converted to that system already.

The fifth measure was to increase efficiency of energy, which is necessary when generating energy from any source, even the most ideal. Within the same argument, they say that efficiency of energy is crucial for economic growth and sustainable development. I agree with the sustainable development, but economic growth will be an issue. The world market relies heavily on oil. When oil production peaks and then decreases, economies will also peak and decrease, because trade will be limited by the need for oil use in transportation, the diminished quantity of agricultural products (which require oil) etc. While Sweden can remain self sufficient with their measures, in terms of energy, I doubt the economy can grow independently of the rest of the world.

The sixth and last of Sweden’s measures to become energy sufficient is to increase research into renewable and alternate sources of energy and harnesses of energy. Learning that a large portion of Sweden’s export trade (the eight largest) is environmental technology was really interesting. Instead of ignoring and avoiding, even outright lying, about environmental issues, Sweden has been trying to address these issues, on a large enough scale that they can say that environmental technologies are their eight largest export. It is really eye opening to see.

How feasible is it for the United States to imitate Sweden’s decisions, measures and head toward energy sufficiency? I’m not sure, but there are some differences between Sweden and United States.

Sweden has a little over 9 million inhabitants, and is “slightly larger than California”. In comparison, the United States is about “half the size of Russia” and has the third largest population in the world, with 298,444,215 people. Sweden is also many steps ahead of the United States and probably the world in terms of energy sustainability. As I mentioned and the author Mona Sahlin mentioned, half of Sweden’s electricity is generated by nuclear power, and the other half by hyrdropower. The other needs for energy in Sweden are transportation and heating. I do not know the elements of electricity generation in the United States but I’m sure it’s a safe bet to say that a huge sector of our energy comes from non-renewable resources, otherwise why would the United States engage in so many conflicts over those resources? Our president even acknowledged it when he said we need to “quit our addiction to oil”.

What may work on a relatively small scale in Sweden may not be suitable for the massive scale of the United States.

Aside from the difference in scale between the populations and area of the two countries, there is a difference between mentality. Sweden is a socio-democratic country, where people pay huge portions of their income to taxes. They receive many benefits in return, with free healthcare, higher learning, elderly care etc. It seems like people are more willing to cooperate and contribute for the collective. In contrast, in the United States, we pay relatively smaller amounts of taxes, receive lousy quality public programs which do not include health care or free college education. Everyone has a tantrum and vows to vote republican whenever someone raises taxes (to cope with all our foreign spending and deficiets) or implements shopping tax. Everyone wants to pay as little taxes as possible, and then some wonder why our public programs crumble. As was summarized in the Cuba film on the American reaction would be to a suggestion to turn off unused lights “Why should I if I pay for it?” The concept of collective prosperity is lost on the people of the United States.

Basically, Sweden has the public support and funding to implement these six measures of energy sustainability, while in the United States, public funding has been squandered on the war in Iraq and people are more likely to suspect the government of cheating and try to prepare for an energy crisis alone.


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