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Ten steps to climate neutrality
Step 3: There’s no such thing as a free lunch in life – or is there…?

Nº 91 – My World Tour
Ten steps to climate neutrality
Step 3: There’s no such thing as a free lunch in life – or is there…?

Saturday, 12th June 2021

Portugal wasn’t handed democracy on a plate. And the way we treat the planet is the way we treat other people. We take what we can get. Somehow, humans are by their very nature exploiters and thieves, staring enviously at the things others have and they don’t. Only when we look into the mirror and question and challenge ourselves are we given the unique opportunity to reflect. Are we really the person we think we are? If you want to be treated well, why do you treat other people, animals and nature badly? This is a question I try to measure up to. Once, when I was stuck in a financial dead-end, somebody gifted me the way out, solving a huge problem for me in the process. This is why I know how important it is for giving and taking to be in harmony. Excellence through experience?

Only when there is a critical mass, so many of us cancelling their contracts with EDP that it really hurts them, will the climate in this country improve a little. By then it will be completely irrelevant whether that outfit is still called EDP or already broadly known as SU Eletricidade. Over the course of its commercial history EDP has been responsible for the emissions of hundreds of millions of tons of CO2, responsible for forest fires, responsible for speculation and environmental damage through the senseless construction of hydro dams, and responsible for many corruption scandals across the country. If for them everything is only about money and nothing else, it won’t work out in the long run. Only once the first solar pioneers started gaining customers, the upper echelons at EDP HQ realised what it means to lose a little money. At first it was only peanuts. Then however they noticed that they themselves could jump onto the bandwagon of solar energy production – and EDP Renovável was born. That what you can’t beat with arguments is simply copied before all these small energy producers become too big. Monopolists are bad losers. They truly don’t believe in sharing.

I have been a fully-fledged member of the Coopérnico energy cooperative since January 2016 now. At the time there were 316 members; today there are nearly 2,000 of us, and the numbers are rising. And I did think long and hard about whether I’d get off the EDP ship and become a member of Coopérnico’s or not. I acquired three share certificates with a value of €20 each, thus becoming a regular member of Portugal’s first energy cooperative. There are things in life you cannot do on your own, you have to do them with others. The cooperative form of economic organisation is the only proper basis for changing this world for the better, to hold on to the little good that’s left, to look for allies and to be counted in as an ally.

You have a voice, no matter how much or little money you have. Use this voice, even if it’s still low and only whispers to you, use it. With every new day you’ll trust your voice a little more and will gain more certainty as for what you want and what you are doing. Tell yourself this every day. This is a part of democracy in an economic system where otherwise only money is the yardstick. I’ve only become a fan of the cooperatives over the past few years. One of the reasons for this was that humanity has to start giving money a back seat, another, more importantly, was about finding the best way to live with the resources of this planet in the future, and about how we deal with the greed lurking inside us. How can we treat everything else with more mindfulness?


In the third part of the series, ten steps to climate neutrality, I will deal with the fossil fuels of mobility and apply the questions to my own home too. Do I cook with gas or would electricity be better? Do we shower with warm water generated through solar geothermics or do we heat the bath water with gas? How do I read an energy bill, and how do I find out whether I am damaging the climate or healing it with my way of using energy? For the matter is in my own hands. Every trip I take involves an important decision in terms of mobility: to fly or to take the train? To buy petrol or fill up with electricity? And in the latter case, where does this electricity come from, how is it produced? If Coopérnico is selling electricity at currently two centimos per kilowatt-hour below the price charged by SU Eletricidade, you’d think that millions of Portuguese would rush to change from the industry Goliath to the David. This however is not happening. Why is this? Are people somehow a bit clueless, like a herd of sheep? If it’s about buying the cheapest t-shirt people storm the mall and hit the shops. Is it only when it comes to electricity that people are playing dumb? When interviewed about how many kilowatt-hours a citizen/consumer uses on average in any given month, no-one can give the answer. So I place myself outside this shopping centre with Payshop and politely ask passers-by, in my capacity as a journalist, for the amount of electricity they use. Question number one is: how many kilowatt-hours a month do you use on average? The answer is slow to come. The second question: do you know the current electricity price charged per kw/h by your energy provider? Of 100 people I ask, not a single one knows anything about their consumption nor the price per kw/h. I don’t believe it. After 100 interviews in Portimão I abandon the survey.

And the result of my enquiries is of course no secret to the big energy provider. For them, surveys are part of their daily business. And it is very good at playing their customers’ ignorance to their advantage. Their bills are not very transparent and not easy to read. And this is the way it had better stay. For the third question is: do you know the percentage of clean resources – wind and sun – in the electricity you use? It’s best not to ask most customers of SU Eletricidade any of these questions. It’s not worth your while. The result is devastating. However, with Coopérnico as well as the other  „ankle-biters” operating in the liberalised European energy market the fight for supremacy has now started. If I buy my electricity from Coopérnico, I know that today, my CO2 emissions are already down to ZERO, and that I pay two centimos less per kW/h. And as I was talking about democracy in the beginning, Coopérnico represents democracy in action. A new board is elected every four years and may also be deselected …


To be continued next week …


Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, Tim Coombs, João Medronho, Kathleen Becker
Fotos: dpa

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