Schultz Environment Blog

Environment in a broad sense,transports and energy issues. From my local point of view with a global touch!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Have the lucky breaks….
I was in Brussels yesterday on the Excellence in Road Safety Awards Ceremony. It started a little funny with approximately 100 persons waiting for the Vice-President Jacques Barrot, who was half an hour late by any reason. There were 19 new signatories of the Charter, all companies or organisations. There were companies as IKEA, Toyota Europe, Pfizer etc making commitments for Road Safety and some of them also for the environment. Karlstad was nominated for an Award in the category cities/regions but the prize was taken by the London Borough of Sutton. Congratulations to them. You may think it just another event, but it’s good to pay attention to the important task and the job being done, although we didn’t win any prize this time.

When I travelled home I started to read Mark Lynas book about the climate changes, quite interesting, I will come back with comments to his book sometime. When the train arrived to the neighbour city to Karlstad we were transferred to bus. The reason was that a goods wagon with hydrochloric acid had a leakage in the rail yard in Karlstad and the yard was roped-off. I called the head of the rescue operation and got some more detailed information. Luckily, this time it was a small leakage and it was possible to move the wagon without any trouble. But, it could have caused a major problem. Sometimes there are small differences between luck and unlucky.
Let’s hope we have the lucky breaks on our side with the climate changes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Spring flood in November?
The water magazines upstream in the river which comes thru Karlstad are filled up. It’s good for the energy balance but if it will carry on raining the risk for flooding is obvious. The peak for the water level in the river is forecasted to be tomorrow, if it stops raining. We have had much rain in October and November so far and the snow that fell earlier up in the north of the county and in Norway is now melting and we get a very early spring flood.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

München, the good example
Today, Ingrid Gustavsson at the Swedish radio tells us about a new report from the European Environment Agency, EEA, which deals with urban sprawl. The main writer, Ronan Uhel, means that the city planners let the urban sprawl rule for most cities in Europe. The report establish that European cities has expended with 78 % since the 1950:s but the population has only increased with 33 %.They don’t strive for holding the cities dense, but lets the neighbourhoods, industrial areas and shopping malls just sprawl along. This means more energy consumption, greater emissions and exploitation of land, often agricultural land. In the report cities like; Madrid, Dublin, Istanbul and Luxemburg are mentioned as bad examples and München as the good example, the compact city. After the war, the city planners in München have held the city compact and not allowed city sprawl.

This reminds me off a book called “Compact cities in the world”, Ashgate, London 2000. I was one of the co-authors in the book and discussed how mobility solutions can keep cities compact. According to Ronan Uhel the city planners of today are to keen to supply instead of looking at the demands. The European Union funds, today often goes to large infrastructure projects which imply urban sprawl and more road transports. The financial tools are taken us in the wrong direction so to say. Not the first time, I think?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Statistics Sweden news, sometimes needs to be interpreted.
I read in the newspaper that the Statistics Sweden released figures that the carbon dioxide emissions in the County of Varmland, were Karlstad is the residence city, has decreased the by 2 % per person during 2004. Immediately the newspapers asked people in town what they have done to reduce their contribution to the greenhouse gases. Taking for granted that the reduction was due to peoples behaviour.

The fact is that one big factory has shut down its production. The factory contributed with 3,5 % of the carbon dioxide emission in the county during 2001. I think the carbon dioxide emissions from transport- and energysector, actually could have has increased a little during 2004. It’s not easy to interpret the statistics.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Political discussion and birds
Today, there was a discussion in the Swedish parliament about what actions the new government will suggest to mitigate the effects of climate changes. The minister for environment stated that the government will suggest realistic actions founded on scientific basis. There seems to be a gap between the former government more goal-oriented politic and the ministers statement. Often the best action is somewhere in between to get the best practical result. But that’s the arena for politicians - to shape a good environmental politic. But it seems like parliaments in the world are to slow in finding the right tools, doesn't it?

Tomorrow there’s a new programme in the Planet series and it will discuss the fact about extinct species. I heard on another TV programme that Sweden is hit pretty hard by a decrease in several bird species. Of all breeding bird species in Sweden 46 % has shown to be decreased in number. Some species like the crane and the geese are increasing in number, while other like the starling and different sparrows are decreasing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Prices on electricity falls, but………
In an economical newspaper today I noticed that the price on electricity falls. The reason is that the hydrological balance has changed since some time ago in Sweden. Rain, snow, high temperature and lower price on emission rights decrease the prices. The price on emission rights is now at 8 to 9 euro. Earlier it was at the double and seemed stable at that level. But when we get a cold snap the prices will rise again. Not easy to keep up with these economic mechanisms for the ordinary house-owner.

In Sweden we have had low energy prices since long time compared to the continent. These prices are bond to rise, but there is a strong energy lobbing to keep the prices low from both the unions and the energy consuming companies. Also the house-owners organisation likes to keep the prices low, of course. The energy companies, on the other hand are not that uncomfortable with high prices. They earn quite a lot of money these days per produced kWh. If, and I say if, we want to save energy and get energy efficiency, the price mechanism is of great value. I think we must calculate with higher price on electricity in the future.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Planet
I watched the second programme in the series the Planet this week. It is perhaps a little bit to fateful, but it really puts the finger on how unsustainable the life on earth is today. The most difficult thing is to get people to take action before something has happened. Prevention work is not easy to communicate, at least not in subjects as climate changes, and the cause of that. The best thing is if one can find connections with other things in society when suggesting people to change behaviour.

Some time ago I looked at some drawings I did in school, in the premiere class I think. We had the task to draw a picture of how we thought a car would look like in the 2000 century. That was a typical suggestion in “the car society decade” in the school, in the beginning of the 60’s. My imagination about the car was that it would be more like a crossing between a space ship and a Fred Flintstone car. But has the car actually evolved that much during the years? How will the next 50 years look like? There are a lot of challenges to coop with to make the world go around without collapsing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Climate changes
Today, the secretary-general in the United Nations expressed his fear for the effects of the climate changes at the conference in Nairobi. He criticised the world leaders for not taking the treat of climate changes seriously enough. On the TV news, we saw reportage from the municipality Woking, west of London, were they have used the latest technique for reducing the carbon dioxide emissions, and they have succeeded. They have, according to the news, reduced the emissions of carbon dioxide with more than 70 %! The environmental director there has been recruited by Ken Livingstone to London to get some bigger challenge. In London the insurance companies now discuss if they will be capable of insuring new buildings in London. The main part of the programme dealt with the climate changes.

In the light of how much media is reflecting this issue and that Karlstad has been in focus for expected flooding it is surprising that the local building firms not seems to have reflected on the issue. They think it’s going to be business as usual, it seems. I think it was something of that attitude as Mr Annan targeted when he criticised world leaders for thinking its business as usual ahead.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Things tend to repeat themselves, I think.
For more than 30 years ago. We experienced an energy crisis. The oil producing countries threatened to stop the oil production. We got the first reports about the decreasing oil resources. I remember the prognosis that the oil would last for 30 years more. Now we are more convinced that we have reached the peak of oil production. One should always take those more exact figures in prognosis and such with some scepticism. I remember the year because I took my driver license that year and got ration card for petrol. At that time in 1973, one year after the Stockholm Environment Conference, one talked about to have a basic ecological outlook. Each municipality in Sweden ought to have an ecologist hired for the planning department. The Bruntland commission, formally the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), came with the “Sustainable development” or “Our common future” report in 1987. After the Rio Conference in 1992, we spoke about having an Agenda 21 in each society. Then had the Aalborg + 10 in June 2004 with adoption of the Aalborg commitments. So far over 340 local governments have signed the commitment. There will be a follow up in Sevilla in 21-24 of March 2007 .

The conferences tend to carry on at the world level and that’s good. I think our environmental minister will call all environmental ministers for a meeting In Sweden next summer to discuss the climate changes for instance. We deal with new expressions and new details about the environment and of course some good things come out of the conferences. Perhaps not that much as one wished although. Most of the declarations stay as words only. The policies and declarations tend to become more and more complicated like the legislation. Hopefully we learn from history and become wiser as time goes by and see new possibilities in getting a more sustainable development. It’s really a challenge to realize the great declarations on the global or national level at the local level in communication with the public.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Road safety
It’s a rainy day in Karlstad and dark already at four o’clock, but in the morning it was -4 degrees Celsius and somewhat slippery in the bicycle lane. Did you know that in this latitude and north of many people uses studded tyres on their bicycles? Road safety is another side of the environmental coin when it comes to traffic issues. Measures for Road Safety and the environment often goes hand in hand with each other. More than 40 000 people die in the traffic in the European Union in one year, and several hundred thousands are injured. Karlstad municipality has signed the European Road Safety Charter, and participates in the SAFE campaign and thus has undertaken some activities to strengthen the work with road safety. There are road safety goals in the Transport Strategy (you can find an English version in the link below) and a new programme for road safety, activities in schools, safer bike lanes etc. By the end of November there will be an Award ceremony in Brussels and Karlstad will have an information poster about the results achieved so far at the venue.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Imagine economical laws were environmental effects were internalized.....
Try to imagine a world were the economical laws were in harmony with the ecological laws. It shouldn’t be that difficult, but if we want transparency in the economy it will become really complicated. Take for instance prices for transports. If you by an exotic fruit from the other side of the globe it should be much more expensive than your ordinary fruit from your own country, just because of the cost for transport. But most often the price doesn’t reflect the transport cost. The World Trade Organisation negotiations, taxes and other price mechanism don’t permit us to see the connections between the real cost and the paid price. Ryanair is another example. How come it can cost so little to fly with them? They earn the money in another way, of course. There is somebody else paying main parts of our journey. Perhaps they want to do that, or perhaps they don’t know they do.

In several environment laws there is a principle called the Polluter Pay Principle, PPP. It means that the person or company that’s polluting also should pay for the damages and what it takes to re-establish the environment. Often, that is as complicated as in real life. Who is paying for what? Mostly it will be the state or the municipality that will take the bill, eg. you and me. That’s why we all win on keeping our common environment as unpolluted as possible. The problem is that individuals tend not to care of things belonging to all. If I behave, somebody else will destroy, so “why bother” seems to be a common view. More transparency in the economics, with the environment effects internalized, could perhaps be of help for us in determining what’s good or bad behaviour?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Optimism needed
In these days it is easy to get pessimistic of all the things about climate changes and environmental disaster in the media. There’s a need for optimism. Is it possible to dig up some good things, things going in the right direction? Well, merely the fact that the climate changes are recognised by the public is a factor to feel optimism about. The more people being aware of the effects make better possibility for action to prevent environmental damages. More than ever governments speak about the fact that actions have to be taken to mitigate the effects from climate changes. We must remember that in these days the press is mostly focusing on things going in the wrong direction. It’s easy to feel depressed and resigned by all articles about environment disaster ahead.

Actually, more and more money are spent on environmental investments. Politicians and the public are more aware of the climate changes than ever. This is positive for the measures for a better environment. To be motivated to adopt a new lifestyle you have to see a possibility to change the development. You must feel that many people are as motivated as you are. In Venice, they have carried out the first phase of the project “Cambieresti” – Would you like to change? They gathered over 600 households taking part in group activities, learning more about the environment and how to undertake action for a better environment. Knowing that they were quite a lot of people in the same action strengthened their motivation, I think. If you manage the Italian language have a look at the link about Cambieresti. Otherwise, I will tell you more about the project later on.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Energy issue
Almost every day you can read in the newspapers about energy crises and the climate changes. In Financial Times, Wednesday, I read the editorial comment about the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook”. The IEA speaks well for building of new nuclear power plants; they even mean that the economics have moved in favour of nuclear power. IEA also speaks more broadly about potential payback by energy efficiency. Like in the Stern report IEA establish that the US, China and India are the big players in the issue of carbon dioxide emissions. I can agree with the editor in his final remark that it’s time for the world to take energy savings seriously and to remember that the most energy efficient power plant of all is the one that does not get built.

Getting there, not needed to build a new power plant, all end-users of energy are important main figures. The Echo Action project in the Intelligent Energy Europe programme aims to give the right tools for the end-users of energy to give an input to the energy savings. I will come back to this issue and describe the targets and measures we work with in the project, later on. Soon I will watch the first programme on Swedish TV “The Planet” that I have advertised in this blog earlier.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Media climate
The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet has a new image today – they write about the treat from the climate changes. The idea is to each and everybody a chance to undertake a commitment about how to decrease ones emission of greenhouse gases. You can promise to lower the temperature inside your home, drive less car, take the train instead of the airplane when possible, use the public transport instead of the car, use the bike for more journeys etc. If you can manage the Swedish language, have a look in the link.

Today the Swedish Meteorology and Hydrology Institute, SMHI, release figures that show, that the climate in Sweden has become almost one degree warmer the latest 15 years. The latest 15 years are compared with statistics from the years 1961-1990.
The Swedish media cover more and more news about the climate, Swedish TV, radio and the newspapers all have news about the climate changes. Most of the articles are more of the reporting kind. In the editorials and in letters to the editor you can find one or other doubter of the climate changes of course.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Venice and Karlstad…..
Today the committee looking at climate changes and the vulnerability in the society left their first interim report and had a press conference. Their final report is planned to be finished by October next year. I had the pleasure to be invited to the TV sofa in the “Good Morning Sweden” programme to comment the situation for Karlstad and what a municipality can do to avoid flooding. My answer was that a municipality in Sweden can change the way of planning and take the flood argument seriously, communicate the problems with the inhabitants, prepare for handling crises and finally exchanging information and experience with other parts of the world. Sweden is actually not so hard hit by the climate changes as many other parts of the world.

Speaking of flooding, next week I will go to Venice and take part in a kick-off meeting for an EU project in the Intelligent Energy Europe programme. It’s called ECHO ACTION and the energy company of Venice is co-ordinator. It shows that both Venice and Karlstad has developed a very similar idea of how to give families the tools to behave more environment adapted in their weekdays. The project mainly deals with the energy and transport issues. I’m quite delighted in the project idea and it certainly shows that we can learn from other municipalities in the world. It is also meaningful to give tools for a better behaviour aiming at decreasing the greenhouse gases in the perspective of the climate changes.