Stadiums and Solar Power

When you think of European soccer, maybe you think of hooligans and rowdies. You probably don?t think of solar power. The Bundesliga?s soccer season started this past weekend in Germany. On Saturday I had the good fortune of attending a Werder Bremen game (without apologies to Bayern München fans). Other than the decisive victory over 1. FC Kaiserslautern, the most impressive thing of the day was Werder?s stadium, Weser Stadion, which has been remodeled to become a solar energy?generating station. Some 200,000 photovoltaic cells have been incorporated into the stadium?s east and south sides and its partial roof. These cells produce enough electricity to run 300 households. Indeed, the electricity not used by the stadium is sold to consumers. Through a combination of photovoltaic cells and efficiencies gained from a micro-gas turbine, Weser Stadion expects to reduce its energy consumption by 12 to 78 percent.

That Werder Bremen?s stadium should become a solar electricity plant is all the more remarkable given Bremen?s notoriously gray and wet weather. But Bremen was also the first German federal state where the Greens were elected to parliament in 1979. And it has been governed for the past sixty-four years by the SPD, and for the last four years by a Red (SPD)-Green coalition, renewed after state elections in May.

In the United States, energy subsidies have supported fossil-fuel production to the detriment of renewables. According to a study of the Environmental Law Institute, in the first seven years of the twenty-first century, U.S. subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to approximately $72 billion, compared to $29 billion for renewable fuels, with the majority of that amount directed toward the dubious project of corn-based ethanol production.

Germany continues to subsidize coal mining (even though the industry employs just 20,000 workers these days) and has pledged to continue to do so till 2018, four years longer than the European Commission has called for. But despite its subsidies for coal, the German federal government has for several years been committed to increasing the use of renewable energy. In 2009 alone, the solar energy?generating capacity of the country grew by 66 percent over the previous year. The commitment is visible. Traveling around Germany, I have been struck by the presence of photovoltaic cells on the tops of barns in the countryside and houses in little villages. These are the fruits of an energy policy, in particular a law enacted in 2000, that has established feed-in tariffs that ensure the profitability of renewable energy production through guaranteed contracts at higher rates. Even so, average household energy costs have only modestly increased.

Europe overall has ten times the installed solar capacity of the United States. Given their comparative geography?the vast expanses of desert in the American southwest that Europe lacks?the difference is remarkable. Clearly government policy, not geography and not the free market, makes all the difference in directing a country?s energy policy toward renewables. Until the subsidy priorities of U.S. energy policy are dramatically changed, I?d wager that the stadiums of Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, and Phoenix will not be transformed into solar power plants.

Image: GrüneFraktionBayern, 2011, Wiki. Com.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.