Mexican Drug Gangs Profit From Fossil Fuel Addiction

In his 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush declared, “Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.”

What President Bush didn’t say — although it was just as true — is that America is addicted to other fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal. In fact, the three countries that together contain 84 percent of North America’s population are all fossil fuel junkies. The battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has highlighted the Canadian-U.S. carbon habit, but information about Mexico’s energy battles rarely make the news here in the States. Most stories on Mexico focus on that country’s non-metaphorical drug problems.

Over at Living on Earth, there’s an interview about the surprising (to me, anyway) link between both of these addictions — to fossil fuel and to illegal drugs.

Here’s the introduction. Follow the link below to listen to the full interview.

The state of Coahuila borders Texas and produces 95% of Mexico’s coal. (Image: Google Maps)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Illicit drugs are a wildly lucrative business for many gangs in Mexico. But at least one cartel, the Zetas Gang, has found something even more profitable – coal mining. The state of Coahuila borders Texas and produces 95 percent of Mexico’s coal. It’s also ground zero for Mexican drug cartels turned coal barons. That’s according to a recent article in Al Jazeera, written by reporter John Holman, who joins us by phone from the roadside in Mexico. John, Welcome to Living on Earth.

HOLMAN: Hello!

CURWOOD: So how is it possible that mining for coal can be more profitable than selling illegal drugs?

HOLMAN: Well one of the big things is that in Coahuila there lots of small clandestine mines called pothos. And these sorts of mines that have very little regulation – and so obviously they can have bigger turnover from gangs like the Zetas gang – and obviously miners in that state not usually very highly trained and poorly paid – so that’s another reason they could earn a lot of money from it.

CURWOOD: So these are small little clandestine mines on the side of the roads that people are working.

HOLMAN: Yes, obviously Coahuila also has its share of bigger mines; as you said, it’s responsible for 95 percent of Mexico’s coal output. These small mines as you drive through Coahuila – as I did – and you can see them on the side of the roads in the coal district. And they’re literally just some men gathered around what looks a very ropey sort of machine to lower them down into the depths of the earth and bring up that coal.

CURWOOD: So walk me through this process. Who buys this coal from the drug cartels?

via Living on Earth: Mexican Drug Gangs Turn To Coal Mining.

Building for Energy Efficiency is Half the Battle

Energy is a foundation of modern life and one of the key differentiators between healthy, wealthy societies and sick, poor ones. As populations grow and countries develop, the best option in meeting their rising energy demand lies in energy efficiency – getting the same for less energy or getting more from the same.

IEA Energy: The Journal of the International Energy Agency

Sun Ship, Freiburg, Germany

Sun Ship, Freiburg, Germany (photo by Osha Gray Davidson)

Energy efficiency can never replace the need for a shift to renewable and clean sources of energy. But it can help make the change much more manageable — economically, technologically, and politically — by reducing the amount of primary power needed.

Last year, while researching Germany’s renewable energy transition, I visited several extremely efficient buildings, like the Sun Ship (pictured above) in Freiburg, designed by Rolf Disch, a pioneer in “PlusEnergy” buildings, and the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament in Berlin, rebuilt to exacting energy standards by English architect, Sir Norman Foster. (My slideshow of these and other buildings is here.)

The article excerpted here is from a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the International Energy Agency. It’s an excellent brief overview of the arguments for energy efficiency and worth reading in full (follow the link at the end of the excerpt to see the entire article).

Megawatts vs. Negawatts

 For the one in five people in the world who currently lack electricity in their homes and businesses, available and affordable energy resources are critical to their community’s efforts to reduce poverty, improve public health and increase educational opportunities.

For those with energy access, supply security – ensuring that energy is consistently available and affordable – is an ongoing challenge.

The European Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency Project estimates that up to 125 million Europeans are fuel-poor, having to make the “eat or heat” decision during winter months. In Belgium, where nuclear power provides more than half of the electricity supplied, the country’s power system came under significant strain late last year when safety concerns led to a months-long reactor shutdown. The American Society of Civil Engineers projects a USD 500 billion investment deficit for the ageing power grid in the United States, which increases energy reliability concerns.

But “negawatts” could reduce the pressure on supply infrastructure while maintaining adequate energy services for an improving quality of life. The negawatt is a theoretical unit of power saved – its name stems from a newspaper typo that Amory Lovins, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a dedicated energy efficiency supporter, decided to adopt for a 1989 keynote address at the Green Energy Conference in Montreal. There, he painted a picture of a more energy-efficient world, saying, “Imagine being able to save half the electricity for free and still get the same or better services!”

via IEA – February:- Megawatts vs “negawatts”: when less is more.

Sec. of State John Kerry Calls for Action on Climate Change

In his first policy address since becoming the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry today called the fight against climate change a “sacred trust.”

If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generation — generations — are remembered for. We need to find the courage to leave a far different legacy.

His speech at the University of Virginia comes just three days after the largest rally in U.S. history calling for action on climate change. Some, including the Canadian newspaper linked below, see Kerry’s address as a hint that the Obama administration plans to stop the completion of a pipeline stretching from tar oil fields in Alberta to Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline has become a symbol for many of business-as-usual energy policies amid growing climate catastrophes and extreme weather events.

Kerry speechThe prepared text of Kerry’s address are here.

Kerry speech ominous for Keystone XL pipeline – World – CBC News.