Monday, January 28, 2013
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1. The barefoot revolution
The hunt to reverse-engineer the world’s most advanced running shoe.
It all started with a 75km endurance race between a few Tarahumara locals and some world-class athletes, including Scott Jurek. Jurek, a sponsored champion who races for a living in expensive shoes, was beaten by a 27-year-old Tarahumara goat herder, who had probably hiked 30 miles just to get there, and was wearing pieces of car tyre on his feet. What happened that day confounded the world’s running experts, provided inspiration for the Born to Run book, and introduced the world to the weird but not wrong Barefoot Ted McDonald (more on him later).
2. Brave new urbanism
SA needs simple, sustainable solutions in the face of a global energy challenge.
Einstein once said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Abundant resources have led to the unrestrained development of a highly motorised society, and suburbia. An energy-constrained economy necessitates a more deliberate, disciplined and intuitive approach to occupying and locomoting ourselves across the landscape. Our current linear mindset has to be upgraded to a more holistic view, because crucially, holism evokes sustainability.
Local living arrangementsSouth Africa is one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world. Firstly, this is due to abnormally high coal dependency, and secondly, due to a high national dependence on private automobiles for transportation.
Cape Town has started addressing its sustainability. More.
3. Are nukes nuts?
Do the risks of nuclear power outweigh the benefits?
A month after the incident, Japan was still no closer to containing the fallout.
Germany’s nuclear sector immediately responded by making a U-turn on its nuclear policies. Britain’s nuclear program, in response to public anxiety, has been delayed. Switzerland has frozen nuclear expansion plans, while opposition groups have arisen in Sweden, Turkey and South Africa.
But India, China, Russia, Poland and Chile (and South Africa thus far) are sticking to the nuclear option. Spain has warned against hasty decisions. Chris Huhne, Britain’s energy minister, criticised Germany by noting “some continental politicians...seem to be rushing to judgements”. More.
4. The economics of climate change
Extreme weather events have pushed the global economy back to the brink of collapse.
According to the US Department of Defence’s Defence Review 2010: “Climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world.”
The report calls climate change a ‘threat multiplier’, intensifying regional instability, increasing burdens for the US military and other militaries around the world.A prime example of ‘destabilising impact’ occurred in July 2010. Extreme flooding drowned a fifth of Pakistan. In neighbouring India, climate change has wiped out much of its rural economy (200 000 farm suicides in a decade, many in India’s cotton-belt). Cotton prices have rocketed to 140-year record highs in an environment where mere rumours of crop failures in India’s heartland fire up commodity prices.
Permanent conditionFood price inflation in India is double economic growth. Biotech firm Monsanto’s GM crops are more susceptible to crop failures (spreading rural poverty) because they have to be used with expensive oil-based fertilisers and insecticides. But should climate change put the onus on the poor, with much lower adaptive capacities to change? More.
5. Lesotho goes big on wind
Chinese loans enable Lesotho to develop the largest green energy project in Africa.
Now, with renewable energy expenditures having for the first time trumped investments in fossil fuels ($187 billion in 2010 vs. $157 billion respectively), Lesotho is reaping the renewable whirlwind – and in a big way. The R110 billion project is the biggest of its kind in Africa (80 percent is financed via Chinese loans). The timing is, if anything, fortuitous, given the November climate conference (COP17) in Durban last year.
Greenpeace has accused South Africa of an ‘addiction to coal’ in the past, and this wind power project (which will form part of the Highlands Water Project) will alleviate Lesotho’s neighbour’s hunger for energy. But not by much. Wind power will generate an additional 6 000 megawatts (MW), or around three percent of South Africa’s annual energy requirement (roughly 210 billion kWh). Although South Africa is the world’s 25th largest economy, it’s the 17th most voracious consumer of electric power globally, and every year the demands on the grid increase.
In September 2011, electricity consumption increased 1.9 percent, barely outpaced by production (which reached 2.4 percent in the same month, according to StatsSA). Year on year, however, South Africa’s electricity imports were down more than eight percent, while exports had increased over three percent.
The bottom line is this: clean energy has become a lot more competitive in comparison to coal, which is excellent news for both South Africa and Lesotho. More.