Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Small is Beautiful in Nepal

Nepal is developing small scale, affordable technologies--indigenously designed and based on traditional skillls--that are bringing renewable energy to many rural areas that have never had electricity before. Greater local control over resources is improving lives in Nepal while restoring natural resources.

Nepal has one of the highest per capital hydropower potentials in the world; and that potential is now being filled by micro-hydro plants with generating capacities varying from 5 to 500 kW. It is anticipated that by 2011, 15,000 kW will have been installed.

The micro-hydro project is being managed by the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, Nepal. Their first alternative energy project was to establish village biogas plants. Today there are over 180,000 plants creating electricity from farm waste.

A third project, promoted by The Center For Renewable Energy, has been the introduction of solar-based household lighting, using solar tukis--portable solar lamps that use white light emitting diode bulbs. The spread of solar power has allowed villagers to abandon their traditional kerosene lamps, thus eliminating a source of CO2. The solar panels used by the lamps can also be connected to an AM/FM radio.

More readily available communication has allowed for the spread of better medical knowledge which, combined with better vaccination coverage, has cut the infant mortality rate in half since 1990.

Forest regeration across the mid Himalaya has been another success story since the parliament returned control over these forests to local communities 17 years ago.

Major dam projects still being constructed of the Kosi and Karnali rivers, driven in part by the tremendous energy demand growth in India, but for rural Nepal, small, local projects are improving lives while protecting the environment.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The 100 Mile Diet

A study by Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low Carbon Life, purports to show that walking to a store three miles away actually contributes more to global warming than driving a car would, due to the carbon intensive system of food production we have developed--especially when it comes to beef.

While I'm a bit skeptical about the findings--he counts all of the inputs that go into creating and transporting food, but doesn't seem to count the energy required to build and transport cars--Goodall does raise an important point: our agricultural system is increasingly oil and gas dependent. Food sold in the U.S. is now shipped in from an average of 1,500 miles away--a 25% increase from 1980.

That's the impetus behind the 100 mile diet. Starting in 2005, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, of British Columbia decided to try to live for one year buying or gathering their food and drink from within 100 miles of their apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. Within weeks of their announcement on their blog, word had spread around the world.

This year 80 Seattle residents signed on to an experiment to eat only food grown within 100 miles of home for the month of August. In addition to the desire to reduce fossil fuel use, the participants are finding that the food is fresher and better tasting, they are getting to know local farmers and businesses, and with stories of tainted food from China, they feel safer knowing where their food is coming from.

The Seattle project comes on top of the 10,000 people who have pledged to do their own 100 mile experiment.

Should a real oil crunch come, the 100 mile diet may become a necessity. As Cuba found out after the collapse of the Soviet Union cut off their oil supplies, locally grown food can literally be a life saver.