Energy & Climate: All Talk, No Action?

Europe's made significant progress regarding global warming, but not toward energy independence

1 min read
Energy & Climate: All Talk, No Action?

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Sources: Greenhouse-gas emissions: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data, detailed by party

Total carbon dioxide emissions for BRIC countries: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

Oil imports: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2010

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Even if you regard energy independence as absurd and global warming a hoax, you can be sure that reducing fossil fuel imports and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions will long be twin guideposts to policy and investment decisions. So it seems sensible to take stock of how the advanced industrial countries have been doing. Here's what the latest available numbers show:

Japan's dependence on insecure OPEC and Russian-region oil has decreased, while Europe's dependence has increased even more markedly.

The countries most supportive of the Kyoto Protocol—Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom—have gone a long way toward keeping their commitments. But the United States has not kept pace, and there has been a sharp rise in the emissions of the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries, especially China.

U.S. emissions decreased just 1.2 percent from 2000 to 2008, while Germany's and the United Kingdom's dropped 6.5 percent and Japan's 4.6 percent.

The 15 European countries that originally signed the Kyoto Protocol targets have cut their emissions by 3.5 percent since 2000, and the 27-member European Union of today by 2.4 percent.

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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