Germany Tops World in Renewable Energy; US at Bottom as Obama Preps for more Offshore Drilling
July 20, 2014
Al Jazeera & Gregg Levine / Al Jazeera America
Germany is the most energy efficient country in the world, according to a new study. While China is rapidly improving its energy efficiency, however, the US, the world's largest economy, was near the bottom of the list, at 13th place. In a move that spells immediate trouble for marine life and problems for global climate, the Obama administration has approved use of sonic cannons to map the ocean floor off the eastern US -- a step toward opening these coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.
Germany Is World's Most Energy Efficient Country
Study places the US and Australia near bottom of the list
(July 18, 2014) -- Germany is the most energy efficient country in the world, according to a study published Friday, while China is rapidly improving its energy efficiency.
The study by the Washington, D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked the world's 16 major economies according to which countries had done the most to gain energy efficiency.
Germany took the top spot because of its mandatory codes requiring both residential and commercial buildings to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, putting them at 2008 levels by 2020.
"We are pleased to win a second title in a week's time," Philipp Ackermann, the deputy chief of mission at the German embassy in Washington, told reporters on a conference call earlier Friday, referring the country's recent World Cup victory.
Ackermann added that Germany's economy has managed to grow while increasing efficiency and reducing the negative environmental affects that come with the energy trade.
"We all agree, I think -- the cheapest energy is the energy you don't have to produce in the first place," Ackermann said.
Italy came in second, with the help of its efficiency in transit, and the European Union as a whole came in third. China and France both tied for fourth, with Britain rounding out the top five.
Mexico was ranked at the bottom of the list, and experts say they are concerned that efforts to improve efficiency in the United States and Australia are not moving along quickly enough.
Australia, which abolished a carbon tax on Thursday, landed in 10th place. The country got high marks for its efforts to conserve energy during building construction and manufacturing, but was last in terms of efficiency in transportation.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is skeptical about climate change, and the study noted there was a "clear backward trend" of consumption in the nation.
The United States, the world's largest economy, was near the bottom of the list, at 13th place. The study said the US has made some progress but wastes a "tremendous" amount of energy.
2014 Energy Efficiency Scores
National Efforts Buildings Industry Transport Total
Germany 17 17 18 13 65
Italy 19 13 15 17 64
EU 19 16 15 13 63
China 15 19 13 14 61
France 19 16 12 14 61
Japan 17 13 12 15 57
UK 18 14 10 15 57
Spain 13 15 12 14 54
Canada 17 15 7 11 50
Australia 12 15 17 7 49
India 6 12 11 16 45
South Korea 10 12 12 10 44
United States 11 14 9 8 42
Russia 7 6 11 11 35
Brazil 4 10 2 14 30
Mexico 3 13 3 10 29
Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
Drill, Baby, Drill: Obama Opens
East Coast to Oil Exploration
Gregg Levine / Al Jazeera America
(July 18, 2914) -- Japan might still hunt whales the old-fashioned way, but the US prefers killing them softly.
In a move that spells immediate trouble for marine life and problems for global climate in the long run, the Obama administration has approved use of sonic cannons to map the ocean floor off the eastern United States -- a step toward eventually opening coastal waters to oil and gas drilling.
Sonic cannons paint a picture of the seabed by firing sound waves "100 times louder than a jet engine" through the water, then using hydrophones to measure how the waves are reflected back to the surface.
The "sonogram of the earth," as one petroleum industry spox called it, will be used to apply for drilling leases, which become available in 2018. The government plan is to open up waters from Florida to Delaware to fossil fuel extraction.
Sonic cannons have been used in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaskan coast, and were a matter of much debate for waters off California. What is not really in debate is that these sound blasters cause havoc with marine life -- especially species dependent on sonic communication, like whales, dolphins, sea turtles and even some fish.
An environmental impact study conducted by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency responsible for the approval process, estimates 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including "nine of the 500 north Atlantic right whales remaining in the world."
The whales spawn in waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.
Right whale expert Scott Krause of the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston told the AP that this amounts to a "giant experiment" on endangered species.
It is also a giant experiment on the planet, though one where the results are, at least partially, already known.
Climatologists warn that in order to keep global warming anywhere close to an end-of-Century two-degree increase (considered the most the world can tolerate without catastrophic consequences), most of the planet's remaining hydrocarbon reserves should remain unexploited.
"We have to stay within a finite, cumulative amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere," said U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres in an April speech. "We have already used more than half of that budget."
In order to do that, Figueres said, "Three-quarters of the fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground."
Expanding US offshore drilling is not a step in that direction. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even with current rates of extraction -- and this is of the known reserves -- the world is expected to max out its carbon "budget" in only 32 years.
While the administration made a big show of proposing new limits on carbon emissions last month -- a show coal, oil and gas producers were quick to pan as too harsh -- those limits are what serious climate scientists might call "marginal changes." It is hard for the US to play the role of climate leader if it is unwilling to attack the problem at its core.
The Obama administration likes to tout its "all of the above" strategy in an attempt to keep corporate stakeholders and environmental advocates within reach, but continuing to map and exploit new oil and gas reserves isn't a strategy so much as it is politics as usual.
The sea life off the Atlantic coast will find that out sooner; terrestrial residents sooner or later. Carefully managing known reserves as part of a rapid transition to truly GHG-neutral, truly renewable resources the only kind of "all of the above" the earth can tolerate.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.