Energy experts in Venice sound alarm over oil dependence

Fri, 04/24/2009 - 03:52

Energy experts gathered in Venice on Thursday to sound the alarm over the world's dependence on oil and underscore the importance of clean energy.

The meeting, organized by Italian farmers association Coldiretti, looked at the use of energy in different parts of the planet, with speakers from the United States, India, the UK and Italy.

Discussing the links between energy and food, Indian physicist, environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva said a complete revolution was needed in the way we think about food.

''At the moment, six barrels of oil are needed to raise a single cow, which suggests we have gone very wrong somewhere,'' said Shiva, who is also the founder of the Navdanya science and ecology research foundation.

''The loss of biodiversity means food is less nutritious, while the more energy we pour into our food system, the lower the content of energy in our food''.

She pointed to rising prices as another problem with the industrialized food system, meaning a growing number of people are unable to eat.

The price of wheat rose from 152 dollars per ton in 2005 to 343 dollars in 2008 and rice from 207 dollars to 508 dollars, Shiva said.

She said the problem was particularly critical in India, where 40% of children under the age of food are malnourished.

The other key speaker at the conference, former Maryland governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, outlined a series of changes under way in US energy policy under the country's new president, Barack Obama.

Kennedy Townsend, a professor at Georgetown University and visiting fellow at Harvard, said Obama planned to invest 90 million euros in clean energy, creating two million new jobs over the next two years.

''President Obama wants to turn the page on policies from the [George] Bush administration, switching the focus from oil to alternative energies,'' she said.

Kennedy Townsend pointed to several solar power centres in California ''that have the capacity of a small nuclear centre'' as examples of what can be achieved.

In addition to solar power, the former governor said Obama was looking at a number of avenues, including biofuels and an extensive investment program in revamping the country's public transport system, thereby reducing its dependence on oil.

''It won't be easy but we don't have a second to lose,'' she said. ''Under the Bush administration we met with constant resistance while trying to negotiate on climate change, compared to those in Europe who were taking the lead.

''America's dependence on oil has grown over the last eight years, while our greenhouse gas emissions have gone up but the new president has a different vision,'' she concluded.