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Venezuela’s Chavez Promoting Energy Conservation, Alternatives February 3, 2007

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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CARACAS (AP)–With the zeal of a die-hard environmentalist, President Hugo Chavez plans to invest some of Venezuela’s oil wealth in manufacturing solar panels and has begun giving out millions of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs in homes nationwide.

Though his country survives on oil sales, Chavez is increasingly talking up the environmental cause and urging the world to cut back on oil consumption to prevent climate change.

He says Venezuela can serve as an example, but that remains a lofty ideal for a country where car sales are booming and litter-strewn streets are clouded with exhaust.

Some critics say Chavez’s rhetoric frequently goes beyond his actions. But he has been exhorting his followers to drive less and take public transport, while the government plans a windmill farm on the coast and is exploring more uses for clean-burning natural gas.

“Venezuela is one of the countries that least contaminates the environment, but nevertheless we want to give an example and be at the vanguard,” Chavez told a news conference Thursday.
He called rampant U.S. oil consumption – which handsomely funds his government – a leading cause of the world’s environmental troubles.

“They’re destroying the world,” Chavez said, citing the melting glaciers of the Andes and predictions of rising sea levels. “The human race will be finished if we don’t change the world capitalist system.”

Leftist ideology colors Chavez’s views, and he has spent time discussing the dilemma of climate change with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his friend and mentor.

Castro’s obsession with energy-saving has been caused in part by Cuba’s dependence on oil imports. Before he underwent intestinal surgery last year, Castro was in the midst of an energy-saving crusade in which he distributed pressure cookers and offered household tips on television.
In contrast, Chavez’s country is the fourth-largest oil supplier to the U.S. and has traditionally had little reason to worry about saving energy.

Internationally, some environmentalists warn that Chavez’s plan to build a South American natural gas pipeline across Brazil to Argentina could be an ecological disaster.

Others, such as Venezuelan Deborah Bigio, say Chavez has interesting ideas but that the country must put more emphasis on environmental issues.

“I don’t see clear environmental policies in Venezuela,” said Bigio, who heads the group Foundation for the Defense of Nature. She said Venezuelans need to be given more concrete incentives to encourage them to save energy.

Taking Cuba’s lead, Venezuela has distributed millions of fluorescent light bulbs in recent months, giving a bluish glow at nighttime to slums that used to be filled with common yellow lights. Brigades of Cuban workers have joined Venezuelans fanning out to replace the bulbs.

“We see the savings,” said Francis Izquierdo, a single mother in Caracas who said her power bill is about half what it was before the bulbs were replaced in her barrio.

Chavez’s recent decision to raise gasoline prices domestically may have an effect in persuading some Venezuelans to drive less. The country’s heavily subsidized gasoline prices – as little as US$0.12 a gallon (euro0.03 a liter) – have been unchanged for years and are among the cheapest in the world, encouraging strong sales of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.

Chavez said he also plans to open a solar energy research center to eventually produce solar panels “in massive quantities” to supplant power generated by hydroelectric dams. It remains unclear when that project may begin.

Chavez said it might make sense to take up a proposal by Democratic Assemblyman Lloyd Levine of Los Angeles, being debated in California, to ban common incandescent light bulbs by 2012.

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