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Thursday, April 02, 2009


 

Cuba's Energy Revolution


Two years ago I wrote about an important film entitled "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil." It tells the story of how a planned, organized economy was able to respond to an economic catastrophe (the loss of the Soviet bloc as a trading partner) by making massive changes in the way it "did business." The film focuses on the huge change in agriculture, in which Cuba shifted a remarkable 80% of its production to organic farming, reducing its pesticide usage from 21,000 tons in the 80's to less than 1,000 tons. Furthermore 50% of Havana's vegetable needs, and 80-100% of smaller cities, were able to be fulfilled with urban agriculture, thus reducing transportation costs (and fuel usage). "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" also deals with Cuban efforts in other areas (e.g., solar power), but agriculture is its focus.

In the last few years, Cuba has extended its efforts in energy conservation to other areas - widespread distribution of CFLs, replacement of old appliances with energy efficient ones, etc. As a result of these changes, Cuba is the only country in the world which is ranked by the U.N. "sustainable" in its ecological footprint while simultaneously being ranked "high" on the "human development index." Obviously it's easy to have a "sustainable" - in the ecological sense - economy if people are living in more primitive conditions; doing so while providing education, health care, jobs, housing, electricity, and so on to the population isn't nearly as easy, as evidenced by the fact that only Cuba, with its planned, socialist economy, has been able to accomplish it.

This accomplishment is the subject of an extremely valuable, fact-filled article in, of all places, "Renewable Energy World." Here are some "bottom line" facts from the article:

[Cuba] is currently consuming 34% of the kerosene, 40% of the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and 80% of the gasoline it used to consume before the implementation of the Energy Revolution a mere two years earlier. Cuba’s per capita energy consumption is now at a level one-eighth of that in the US, while access to health services, education levels, and life expectancy are still some of the top ranking in the world, as Table 1, below shows.

One of the motivators, as you might expect, was Fidel Castro:
As President Fidel Castro explained in a May 2006 address to the Cuban Electric Utility company (UNE): "We are not waiting for fuel to fall from the sky, because we have discovered, fortunately, something much more important – energy conservation, which is like finding a great oil deposit."
Of course there are a lot of people in other countries who have said precisely the same thing. The difference is that they don't hold state power, or, if they do, they still wield that power on behalf of corporate profits rather than people's needs. Because if they did the latter, they could do this:
Their programme to allow people to switch their incandescent bulbs to more efficient compact fluorescents, free of charge, was met with complete success. In six months over nine million incandescent light bulbs, close to 100% of the bulbs used in the whole country, were changed to compact fluorescents – making Cuba the first country in the world to completely eliminate inefficient tungsten filament lighting.
What else can you do with state power? Here are some examples:
In order to get the word out to even more of the population, the mass media was employed. For instance, you never see advertising for commercial products on Cuban highways, instead scattered across the country are dozens of billboards promoting energy conservation. There is also a weekly television show dedicated to energy issues, and articles appear weekly in national newspapers espousing renewable energy, efficiency, and conservation. In 2007 alone there were over 8000 articles and TV spots dedicated to energy efficiency issues.
There's so much more in this article, information about improvements in distributed energy generation, energy transmission, wind energy, and on and on, I can only say please read it. I'll close with the article's close, however:
The rest of the world should follow Cuba’s lead, for only a true global energy revolution will allow us to seriously confront the dire environmental problems that the world now faces.
A government of the bought and paid for, by the lobbyists, and for the corporations, will unfortunately not be able to accomplish that revolution. Only a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will be able to do so. Which is why Cuba is the only country in the world that has been able to do what it has done.


Why stop here? There's more...

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