Saturday, 30 August 2008

Wake up!

Last week the rally drivers from 'Grease to Greece' proved that it's possible to drive a car without petrol. The Englishman Andy Pag, who last year drove to Africa on waste chocolate, chose this time to cover the 2,500 miles from London to Athens driving on used cooking oil. The restaurants they asked for this oil during their journey were all happy to donate it, because it served a good purpose and disposed of it. With this story I don't mean to encourage the whole world to start driving on used cooking oil. Because then you will get an increase in demand for vegetable oil, which would upset the balance in the world: for instance in Asia they now complain that the production of palm oil, another alternative energy source, diverts agriculture from other crops and thus increases the risk of famine.

Olive oil may not be the oil most used for frying (although in Greece it is), but according to the British press the demand for olive oil in England is now so high that the country may be to blame for southern Mediterranean countries becoming deserts. Harvest machinery and water are the main requiremments when producing cheap oil for supermarkets. Because of the increasing demand, big companies buy olive groves but don't care about the environment and the landscape, using lots of water and chemicals for an increased harvest. This already happens in Italy and Spain, but not so often here in Greece.

Greek olive oil is internationally increasingly regarded as an excellent oil, just as the Lesvorian olive oil wins more and more international prizes. Here on Lesvos those machines driving over the trees to harvest the olives are still a distant nightmare. Although I can imagine that for some Lesvorians these machines would be a dream come true, because they make for less work and eventually they will earn you more money. As with the increase of organically grown olives. That is not done because of a better quality or because it's good for the environment, but most Lesvorians do this because you earn more money from organic olives.

Luckily enough Greeks are not good investors in new machinery or in new energy. So old traditions like picking olives by hand, will not quickly be lost. In the case of traditional production, olive oil can even earn them a big advantage. The Lesvorian oil keeps its good quality and there is a growing group of people who want better quality (I don't trust the quality of olive oil produced by the big companies).

Greece could have been as rich as any oil producing country: it has enough energy resources. But it prefers to be fooled by unreliable Russia (by the way, not only Greece) in signing contracts for big oil pipelines from Russia. If the Greeks dared to invest, they would not have to be so dependent of countries with oil and gas. Windmills, solar energy, cars driving on olive oil, why is it that Greece is not full of these things?

They also have plenty of geothermal energy which is currently hardly exploited, mostly just for growing asparagus and tomatoes. Just look at Lesvos and its thermal springs. It's full of boiling energy here under the ground and the only thing they do with it is exploit some thermal baths and those also are not used to their full for health care: some Lesvorians can be as stiff as can be because of rheumatism, you will never get them into the healing waters of a hot spring.

Maybe that will change, because last week the prime minister of Greece, Kostas Karamanlis, had a long conversation with Geir H. Haarde, the prime minister of Iceland. They didn't only talk about economic and tourist exchanges, but also about geothermal energy, a resource that Iceland uses as much as possible.

Karamanlis accepted an invitation to visit Iceland. Will he then realise what a treasure geothermal energy can be? The Greeks refuse to learn from their neighbour Turkey. It was the Turks that made the hot springs on Lesvos popular. Maybe the Lesvorians will not use the baths because they think it's a Turkish tradition. Turkey has exploited for years already its geothermal sources. Hundred and thousands of households there are heated by hot water coming from the ground.

So it's time that somebody convinced the Greeks that there is gold under their soil. Lesvos could become important because the island is so rich in thermal springs. Hot water for central heating, spa centres for tourists, heated greenhouses for vegetables and flowers.

Why should we continue to pay huge bills to the electricity company and keep on pumping expensive fuel into our cars, while there is plenty of energy under our houses and cars can run on waste products or (allegedly) water (on the internet you can order a book that apparently tells you exactly how to convert the engine of your car so that it can run on water)? Greece could be a very rich country, because of its volcanic soil and all the hours of sunlight it gets. It's time that Greek scientists stood up to educate the people. The Greek scientists/philosophers of early times are still venerated like gods, but the modern scientists are kept out of the picture by political shenanigans.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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