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jueves, junio 09, 2005

Environment in Venezuela

In one of the world's leading oil-producing countries, what attention is being given to environmental sustainability concerns? Venezuela has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and folks here are quite aware of the impacts of global climate change. Yet Venezuela's per capita energy consumption is high compared to its neighbors, with air pollution in Caracas growing worse -- and, of course, both its economy and social programs are dependent upon oil exports. What does this mean for Venezuela's future?

In three articles on the topic, Joshua Frank gives a brief overview, while Jeroen Kuiper goes into more depth on the state of Venezuela's environment with interviews of leaders of three of the country's most prominent environmental organizations. And finally, a positive development: an official at Venezuela's state oil company announced yesterday that they are planning to phase out leaded gasoline, now in widespread use and a major contributor to air pollution. It's about time!

The environment certianly is in bad shape. I think there are aspects where a lot can be done about it and other areas where unfortunately not much can be done.

First, there is just the general litter and pathetic garbage collection efforts. This really could be solved if ALL Venezuelans would just get off their butts. Contempt for the state of the environment is almost universal in my experience and really needs to change. A major public education campeign ala what they did with the Metro is definitely in order.

In terms of industrial pollution things are more difficult. For example Lake Maracaibo was wiped out when it was opened to the ocean to allow oil tankers to enter. Before there was a sandbar protecting it and it was largely freshwater. Once that was breached the water became brackish. To change that now is way beyond the means of the government. They would have to move pipelines, loading stations, refineries, etc. On the leaded gasoline that has always been a problem and used to be much worse. Venezuelan refined gasoline was actually banned from the US by the EPA in the mid 90's. So much for the "meritocracy" BTW, for these issues the oil industry you really should see "Nuestro Petroleo y otros cuentos" if you haven't already.

Anyways, I'm not optomistic on this issue. At the least people would have to care. And for the most part they still don't, or at the least have other more pressing priorities.

One cool thing though is the policy of supporting the OPEC policy of increasing oil prices through quotas. The increased prices help Venezuela. At the same time they at least to some extent reduce consumption in places like the U.S. So that is a win/win policy where Venezuela gets more money and there is at least a little less polution in other countries. I've seen several articles about how mass transit usage is up in the past year due to the higher gasoline prices.
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