Algarve author and journalist Len Port takes a light-hearted view of the week’s news in Portugal.
Clean energy surging ahead
Portugal has demonstrated its leading role in clean energy by supplying the country’s entire electricity needs solely from renewal sources for a record four days in a row. It is being acclaimed internationally as a landmark in the shift from fossil fuels.
The country’s consumption was fully covered for 107 continuous hours with hydro power plants, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels and geothermal heat. No fossil fuels were involved.
“This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years,” said James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe.
Last year, more than half of Portugal’s electricity came from renewals, though this was down from 63% in 2014 due to drought and a drop in hydro output that normally accounts for about a third of naturally replenished sources.
The International Energy Agency says in its 2016 review that “Portugal should be commended for its achievements and its ambitions in large-scale deployment of renewable energy”.
The average levels of electricity generated from renewables in the 28 countries of the EU is much less than in Portugal, which is far ahead of many other countries including the United States.
Less than 13.5% of the domestically produced electricity in the US last year came from renewables, the rest mainly from coal and natural gas.
Hottest news ever
Amid widespread grumbles about how cold and wet it has been in Portugal this spring came news this week that April was the seventh month in a row to break global temperature records.
The latest figure smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded, as did the figures for February and March. It now seems certain that 2016 will be the hottest year on record – and probably by the largest margin ever.
Some of this can be blamed on the warm El Niño in the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not the biggest El Niño blast on record. A combination of factors are heating things up, say scientists, who this week have been talking more than ever about a “climate emergency”.
All the more reason for speeding up the move from fossil fuels to renewals.
New research prudently supports Portugal’s controversial drugs decriminalisation policy, previously lauded by some as a “resounding success” and dismissed by others as a “disastrous failure.”
It is 15 years since Portugal pioneered the decriminalisation strategy. While cannabis, heroin, cocaine and other drugs remain illegal, the personal use of all illicit drugs is deemed a matter for health officials rather than the judiciary – treatment instead of imprisonment.
A study by specialists in the UK and Australia found that reported drug use among the overall population in Portugal since decriminalisation in 2001 has decreased. So has the number of problematic drug users. There has also been a reduction in drug-related deaths and infectious diseases. On the other hand, cannabis use among adolescents has increased in line with several other European countries.
Prof Alex Stevens and Dr Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes have concluded that combining decriminalisation with expansion in prevention, treatment, harm reduction and reinsertion “may indeed offer a model for other nations that wish to provide less punitive, more integrated and effective responses to drug use”.
At the end of the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs last month – the first in almost two decades – the rift was still wide between governments insisting on prohibitionist drug control and those seeking more humane reforms.
Roundup winding down?
In March this year, the President of the Portuguese Medical Association, José Manuel Silva, called for a worldwide ban on glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide ‘Roundup’.
Produced by the American Monsanto company, ‘Roundup’ has been used in vast quantities by farmers and gardeners for decades. The EU’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed had been due to rubber stamp its approval of glyphosate for a further 15 years, but several countries objected when the World Health Organisation announced that glyphosate probably causes cancer.
After deliberating for two months, instead of giving a definitive yes or no, the EC on Thursday further delayed its decision to re-license glyphosate. Meanwhile, Natural News reports that tests conducted in Portugal have detected disturbingly high levels of glyphosate in people with no professional exposure to glyphosate.
By Len Por
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt