A European journey on energy and global warming issues

JPEGe-Toile: George Gonzalez, you are professor of Political Sciences at the University of Miami and, for the third year in a row, you are taking a group of students to France for a working trip on the issue of Global Warming and Energy. What is, in a few words, the purpose of this journey and what do you expect to achieve?

George Gonzalez: The politics and policies of energy, land use, and global warming are very different in the U.S. from those of the countries of the European Union.

Thus, holding this class in the European Union allows American students [from the University of Miami] to learn and see for themselves how countries other than the United States view and act on the vital questions of energy and global warming.

It is my sincere hope that my class contributes to moving the U.S. closer to the types of energy and global warming policies and politics practiced in the European Union.

e-Toile: Why do you choose France, and Europe, to further improve the understanding of your students on this issue?

George Gonzalez:The European Union is at the center of the global politics to ecologically modernize industrial society.
While attaining advanced economies, with high standards of living, EU citizens have much smaller carbon footprints than those of the U.S. or Canada.

This means that EU residents, especially in France, on a per capita (or per person) basis have a less adverse effect on the global environment than residents of other advanced industrialized countries.

France, in particular, merits special attention. Among advanced industrialized nations it maintains the lowest per capita emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), the key climate change gas.

It attains this achievement partially through a politically controversial nuclear energy program, which provides France with upwards of 75 percent of its electricity needs. France also minimizes its CO2 emissions through urban planning and transportation policies that reduce the need for oil and energy overall, while delivering a high quality of life for its urban residents.

Additionally, EU countries are at the cutting edge at the development and deployment of clean alternative energy: wind, solar, and hydroelectric.
Thus, the countries of the EU, especially France, pursue a comprehensive energy, transportation, and urban planning strategy in order to reduce energy and fossil fuel consumption.

Finally, the countries of the European Union have been at the forefront of international efforts to fashion a global response to climate change (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol).

Centering the class in Paris allows us to visit leading French, EU, and even world institutions that deal with the environment. Moreover, Paris houses leading experts and advocates on the environment. Hence, we receive lectures/presentations by these figures on European and world energy, transportation, and international global warming politics and policies.

e-Toile: Could you give us an idea of personalities and organizations’ representatives you are going to meet during the trip?

George Gonzalez: With the tremendous/kind help of France’s consulate in Miami (particularly from Christophe Arnaud) and through our program provider (CEPA), we have been extremely fortunate in being able to visit a number of public officials and government agencies that treat the question of global warming and energy. These visits have made my class in my opinion a definite/outstanding pedagogical success:

  • OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (in 2010 and 2011)
  • Institut d’Amenagement et d’Urbanisme (IAU) (in 2010 and 2011)
  • Brice Lalonde (in 2010) former Green Party Leader and former Minister of the Environment
  • EKORE Exploitation (in 2010): a brokerage and consulting company of business development in renewable energies
  • Freiburg, Germany: Environmental Protection Authority (in 2010)
  • The (French) Socialist Party (in 2010)
  • The UMP (in 2010)
  • Secrétariat de M. l’Ambassadeur délégué à l’environnement: Mr. Thebault (in 2010)
  • PREDA (in 2010): a government agency which was set up to match businesses’ needs with what France has to offer.
  • Energies Environnementales (EE) (in 2011) a company specialized in ensuring energy efficiency in the construction industry mainly in the field of façade constructions they work along the complete service chain, from design to completion.
  • International Energy Agency (in 2011)
  • EOLE-Res (in 2012) – a firm specializing in the building and operation of clean renewable energy power facilities
  • General Directorate for Energy and Climate Change (in 2012), part of the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing
  • Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (in 2012), the biggest science museum in Europe
  • ADEME: French Environment and Energy Management Agency (in 2012)
  • ExxonMobil (in 2012)

e-Toile: Professor Gonzalez, you are an expert on Urban sprawl and Global Warming (the topic of your last book). In your own view, what makes the difference between the US and Europe when it comes to defining a new way of life to help fixing global warming threats?

George Gonzalez: This is the topic of my 2009 book (Urban Sprawl, Global Warming, and the Empire of Capital [State University of New York Press]), and it requires a book to adequately address this question.

But what I can say is that during the modern era (beginning with post-World War II) period, the countries of Western and Central Europe have explicitly sought to limit their exposure to the world fossil fuel market (e.g., France’s nuclear power program).

Thus, as the global supply of fossil fuels (especially oil) has tightened, and the scientific community has come to view the societal scale burning of fossil fuels (coal; petroleum; natural gas) as destabilizing the global biosphere, the politics and policies of the European Union have been much more adaptable to the realities of fossil fuel depletion and global warming (when compared to countries like the United States, Canada and Australia).

To learn about the bio of Mr. Gonzales, visit http://www.as.miami.edu/politicalscience/people/GeorgeGonzalez

Last modified on 24/05/2012

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