Geoff Bennett - Editor

Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.

Firstly, we would like to welcome Invercargill City Council as our latest subscriber to e-Bench™

We open this week with a look at two alarming articles, the first of these issued jointly by the IPSO and IUCN concerning the declining state of our oceans and the high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history. The second, much closer to home is issued by Massey University scientist Mike Joy, on the mass extinctions of New Zealand native species that will occur within our lifetimes. Yep, bleak stuff, but it’s okay because John Key doesn’t share his viewpoint and you can always trust a politician over a scientist. I sense a Tui moment coming on here…

Anyway, if you don’t believe me, ask any American as long as they are a Republican. Our next couple of articles looks at the state of the US economy and to a wider extent society as well. But let’s first take a moment to get this into perspective. For example, Greece with a population of 11.5 million has debts of US$ 481 billion, largely caused by an unwillingness of the average Grecian to pay taxes or retire at an older age (at the moment a Greek government employee has the right to retire at the age of 53 with 80% of their salary as a pension). So we have a situation where their national debt equates to US$ 44,000 for every Grecian. And for that very rightful reason, Greece is regarded as a financial basket case, with no country really wanting to lend them more money, except that if they don’t, the Eurozone could implode. So they will. Too big to fail.

Surely, things can’t be that bad in the USA; the world’s only remaining Superpower and home to the world’s single largest economy? Well, actually, yes, it can be. It can be much worse and more worryingly, not looking like it will get better anytime soon.

With a population of 311 million and a Federal debt of US$ 14.5 trillion or $US$45,400 per US citizen, the USA is a bigger financial basket case than Greece. But a couple of big differences, oil is priced in US dollars and it possesses by far and away the world’s largest military. Another case of too big too fail, or simply too dangerous?

It is certainly dangerous, with Al Gore prompted to again speak out, this time arguing that the US electoral system is broken and that only a mass movement can deliver reason to the USA and climate change. Al Gore’s final paragraph captures things well “The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.” Indeed ~ wealth over reason is a scary concept…

Of course, one of the reasons the US debt is so large is due to the costs of waging war in multiple arenas, over many years. The US have now been fighting in Afghanistan for over ten years and at US$ 2 billion per day it sure adds up. Even though the cost of gasoline in the States is low by international terms (on average only 50% that of the EU) they still manage to squander it away. For example, the US military spends US$ 20.2 billion annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a status symbol, that is over $20 billion on being cool!!

Changing the subject to something more positive, we examine how environmental reporting is shifting to be value reporting. This is in my opinion the face of the new capitalist model ~ a holistic approach to valuing everything that we regard as important, such as clean air and water, social tolerance, respect for nature and of course economic performance.

We also look at how rising energy costs are driving green growth in making facilities more energy efficient. We also look at how the UK Government might be about to force landlords to refurbish the estimated 680,000 of their most draughty and energy-inefficient homes or find themselves blocked from renting them out.

We next look at the state of the international food market. Oxfam is forecasting food prices to double by 2030 with the world entering an era of permanent food crisis and the world’s poorest, who spend up to 80% of their income on food, to be hardest hit. It blames the situation on a combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush into biofuels, a growing population, changing diets and speculation in grain trading. This latter item incidentally, was the subject of a G20 meeting of agriculture ministers on 22nd June, where discussions were held on how commodity markets might best be regulated.

And if we are going to improve the security of the world’s supply of food, then things are about to get a lot fishier. On average to produce each kilogram of protein, it takes 61 kg of grain for a cow, 38 kg for a pig, but for a fish only 13 kg. This is largely due to them being cold blooded (don’t have to keep themselves warm) and living in water (don’t need the same bone mass to negate gravity as air in water provides natural buoyancy). Efficient little critters, but wish they weren’t so hard to scale and gut.

Our last article looks at how t-shirts can be used to charge batteries while users boogie around dancing or listening up close. The UK music festival Glastonbury is going to see these t-shirts in action, where sound vibrations, particularly bass frequencies will create enough shaking to produce electricity from a material as simple as piezoelectric film. Hey, that’s cool man and it won’t cost $20 billion either!!

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.

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