Earth & Science

Interview with Ditlev Engel, CEO and President of Vestas

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Vestas, Lego and others have now formally introduced their new consumer label, WindMade (See previous post). According to, the new label will tell consumers when products have been manufactured with the use of wind energy.

Here is a short interview by Reuters with CEO and President of Vestas, Ditlev Engel.

The interview is worth watching because it marks the efforts by Vestas to change its business model  — or at least to expand on it.

The fact that Engel as much as opens his mouth to speak about the new label is a clear signal that it’s more than just a well-meant green initiative — it is business strategy. Engel does, after all, receive about $2.000.000 annually in wages.

In a Vestas press release, the windmill company said the new label is hoped to circumvent a political process that has come to a standstill.

“The purpose of the new initiative is to create a shortcut that can prevent a situation where a political process that many feel is without prospects ends up blocking necessary initiatives,” the press release said (Danish.)

By allowing consumers to support “green” products and industries, Vestas seeks to raise demands for wind energy from bottom-up. The company, in other words, wishes to cater to consumers rather than depend on governments.

Time will tell whether the label can endure. First and foremost, I believe, WindMade will provide an interesting litmus test for the ability of markets to drive changes toward clean energy.


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January 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm

NGO Introduces Wind Energy Consumer Label

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Made By Wind. Politics and consumption have long been part of the same realm. Labels such as ‘Recycled,’ ‘Organic’ and ‘Fair Trade’ witness this. And now there’s another label in town.

WIND. New label promises to tell consumers if products have been manufactured using wind energy. Photo,

With the launch of WindMade — an NGO funded by Lego, the UN, Vestas and others — a new label promises to tell consumers if products have been manufactured using wind energy. What that means exactly is still unclear, but terms of use as well as specific requirements are said to be revealed at the official WindMade label launch at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 28 January.

Edit: 01/25/2011. The standard used to qualify manufacturers for using the label will not be completed before June 15, 1011, according to WindMade.

You can read up on the new label at the HuffPo, in a Vestas press release (Danish) or at the official WindMade website.

In the meantime, maybe we could think about this:

What does solar power manufacturers such as GermanSolar think about a move implying that clean energy is wind energy?

So far the German manufacturer has been silent (German), but I can’t imagine solar business to be thrilled.

Don’t they want in?

The launch of WindMade, funded and marketed by Danish windmill giant Vestas among others, seems to me to be the first shot fired in what could be a burgeoning war over symbols.

Such a war would be a benign one. We are, after all, talking about boosting growth in renewable energies here.

But if Vestas is successful in branding clean energy as primarily wind-based energy, there is a big chance that solar, tidal or geothermal energy manufacturers will suddenly find themselves standing in the shade of one of those big whooping windmills for a long time.

Striving to dominate mainstream clean energy discourses is a bold and clever move by Vestas (who could use a bit of tailwind after the massive layoffs and catastrophic second quarter financial report which filled Danish media with bad press for most of 2010.)  And it may also prove to be a great way of funding the climate from bottom-up instead of COP-down.

But why did Lego, the UN and WWF accept this wind-bias? And what does Siemens say? Are they simply too involved with manufacturing generators for coal plants to be political about this?

I wouldn’t prefer a label called ‘ChickenOrganic’ to the more inclusive one, ‘Organic.’ Neither do I think it would be very realistic to rely on wind technologies alone to provide the clean energy we’ll all need in the future.

But WindMade — that does sound pretty cool. And I’m stoked to see someone taking action like this.

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January 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Mac Funds Snow Leopard from Bottom Up

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Two months ago, I wrote a post on Earth & Science about the peculiar and serendipitous nature of the web. In the post I argued that that the internet facilitates a kind of randomness that is not very random at all. And that this could prove to be a good thing for the snow leopard — an animal species of which only about 6000 exemplars remain, according to the WWF.

Here’s a brief recap of the blog post.

Until this Wednesday, New York Times-blogger, Andy Revkin, may not have known he was teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio to help conserve the threatened wild tiger. But then he noticed, as Revkin writes in a post on his blog, that he had received a burst of new followers on Twitter. Revkin discovered that DiCaprio had picked up on a suggestion he made that Apple — which has long named its Macintosh operating system software after the tiger, the snow leopard and other wild felines — could use some of its (heaps of) money to help preserve the wild cat. DiCaprio had re-tweeted Revkin’s suggestion giving it an extra boost of attention.

In the time after Revkin’s writing, nothing really happened. But then a few days ago I visited the Mac store in Copenhagen on Vesterbrogade. I needed a new mouse but much to my surprise, I also found a leopard. It was crouching on the sales desk.

Humac on Vesterbrogade, Photo: Google Maps

On the right side of the sales desk, a donation box was sitting with its interior stuffed with bills and coins of the Danish currency, Kroner. The money was dedicated to preserving the threatened snow leopard.

Why was it there? Coincidence? Or were the store’s employees reading the same tweets and blogs as I was?

Here’s how the Mac store’s marketing manager, Vibeke Bjerker, explains what had happened:

“It’s an idea we had together with the German retailer chain, Restore… You know, we have an operating system for Mac called System OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and because of that we thought it would be funny to link it up with the good cause. We thought that made a lot of sense.”

I was thrilled to see that the (relatively) small store on Vesterbrogade had gone with its own initiative and acted on a great idea. The Macintosh Corporation doesn’t officially sponsor the snow leopard. But it seems it doesn’t stop individual retailers from making their own choices either.

Humac on Vesterbrogade, Photo: Google Maps

The box on the desk is not really an example of “serendipity at the world’s largest cocktail party” (a horrible expression, I know.) But it is at least a reminder that sometimes the exact same ideas can form independently from each other.

And now those two ideas are connected via this blog.

Whether the symbolic link between a threatened animal and a corporate computer behemoth will grow on from initiatives such as this to also become a symbiotic one, time will tell. Maybe it needs to grow from bottom-up before it will be implemented as a marketing strategy Jobs-down.

I hope other stores around the world will show the same willingness to act on their own great ideas, whatever they may be, in the same way as the store on Vesterbrogade have done.

It’s ironic that the Macintosh Corporation still doesn’t pay back just a little to the threatened animal whose image it uses. But maybe this is how preconditions for that kind of voluntary and original CSR can build.

Let me know if you see any new donation boxes sprouting up in Mac stores out there, folks.

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January 21, 2011 at 10:44 am

Causality Between Freezing Winters and Global Warming?

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Updated January 4, 12:24, Copenhagen Time.

Further reading: In Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming, New York Times op-ed contributor, Judah Cohen, advances the argument that melting sea ice in the Arctic increases snow fall in the Himalayas. And that this cools the jet stream which then brings cooler weather to large parts of the world, including Europe. Follow the link above to read Cohen’s full argument. Below is the original Earth & Science post on the topic.

Again this year, Europe was shut down by an unusually cold winter. The airport of Charles de Gaulle, the European bottleneck of intercontinental air traffic in Paris, was even more chaotic than usual (I was there – see photo.) And today I was skiing across one of the many frozen lakes outside of Gothenburg, Sweden, in temperatures nearing -20° C.

Paris Charles de Gaulle, chaos checks in. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

But what does all of this freezing say about global warming?

Well, here are some of the questions that arose in my frozen brain while I was skiing: What exactly is the difference between weather and climate? And are the colder-than-usual winters in Northern Europe related to climate change or are they refuting it?

In other words: Why are my fingers so frigging cold from taking photographs if the Earth is warming?

Russian scientists have already suggested that the colder than usual winters do not dispute global climate change but are in fact induced by it. Due to melting sea ice in the Barents Sea, the argument goes, the atmospheric dynamics are changing in a way that bring ice-winters to Europe.

Natural beauty on a small island in a frozen lake outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

But others say that such arguments, while somewhat plausible, may not be the best or even a necessary explanation for the link between a warming world and colder winters. A better approach to understanding this may simply be to distinguish between weather and climate; and to understand that sometimes there isn’t any link.

Scandinavia, to stay in Northern Europe for an example, has just experienced a second and consecutive, unusually cold winter. But that may just be a normal anomaly between weather and climate.

While the weather fluctuates from warm to cold on a small-scale time-frame, the global temperature trend is rising consistently towards a long-term image of a warming world. The frigid winters in Northern Europe, according to the last argument, are thus totally normal short-term variations within a different long-term trend.

Let’s look at definitions.

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, the distinction between weather and climate goes something like this:

  • Weather is characterized by momentary observations. The weather is the here and the now – the rain and the snow.
  • And the climate, on the other hand, is the weather measured in a specific area over an extended period of time.
  • Thus the colder-than-usual winters of 2009 and 2010 in Northern Europe are examples of cold weather. And the climate is the overall trend that characterizes this weather as not just cold, but unusually cold.

Crossing the Kattegat sea from Frederikshavn, Denmark to Gothenburg, Sweden. An unusual sight from the ferry window. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

These are thoughts from a brief trip of skiing. Please comment above to shoot down inconsistencies.

Is it the job of researchers to define causalities?
Thinking about the difference between weather and climate may not just be a useful way of understanding cold winters — it may also be a fruitful way of approaching climate research in general.

Interesting questions for the future – and continuously approached by climate scientists – are the multiple ways in which weather is and will become affected by changes induced by global warming.

They have to do with causality.

But is it fruitful for scientists to venture into the dodgy field of causalities? I would argue that it is not just fruitful — it is necessary. But when doing to, it is equally important to understand the incremental process of such a journey. It needs to be OK to get lost, make mistakes and then slowly get back on course.

When scientists are saying that the future will bring more of the strongest categories of hurricanes due to global warming, for example, it is a prediction that bridges climate change and changes in weather causally. And such predictions don’t just help us prepare for the future. They make policy making more informed and stress the urgency of action in an intelligent manner.

But such claims are notoriously dangerous to pose and though a standing challenge seems to be to answer the ‘when’ and the ‘to what extent’ global warming and changes in weather are related, pinpointing their relationship can only be done slowly — with a bunch of detours and mistakes — and will have to target a variety of specific weather phenomena in a variety of  specific locations.

The challenge is, in other words, a complex affair that seems to resemble an incremental journey much more than an explanation. The better journalists and the public understand this, the less dramatic the scientific journey will be — and the more interesting.

A dear on the ice. Lerum, Sweden. Photo: Jacob Stærk, CC.

Whether colder winters in Northern Europe can be seen as an outcome of global warming is uncertain. Right now, it seems, it is more likely that the frigid temps of Scandinavia is a reminder that the link between weather and climate is not always explained the best in causal terms.

Time and science are the factors that will help understand how climate and changes in weather are related – in this particular case and in other particular cases in the future.


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December 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Synergy Effect May Increase Threat to Polar Bears

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On the frozen surface of the Barents Sea, tucked away between mainland Norway, Svalbard and Russia, polar bears are actually doing well. But their good fortune might not last, researcher says.

Ever since Norway did away with hunting in the early 1970s, the regional population of polar bears has grown in spite of a decrease in sea ice cover and high levels of environmental toxins such as PCBs. This is according to Jon Aars, a polar bear expert and senior researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Now, however, the polar bear population may have gained all it can from the ban on hunting. And researchers fear that a combination of toxins and a decrease in ice extent may add up to worse than the sum of their parts. There is reason to believe that an unfortunate synergy effect may arise as the Earth gets warmer, Aars said in a recent interview from his office telephone in Tromsø in northern Norway.

Photo: Dave Olsen, WikiMedia Commons.

“Today we see polar bears growing skinnier,” Aars said. As they burn more fat they will be less resistant to illnesses, and they will also absorb more toxins into their bloodstream. “It is likely that such a synergy effect will happen.”

Polar bears depend on sea ice as a platform for hunting seals and small whales—a vital diet for maintaining their fat reserves. But as the Arctic has become warmer due to climate change, Arctic sea ice has been shrinking in extent.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, or NSIDC, at the University of Colorado, the extent in Arctic sea ice has decreased by 11.5% per decade since satellites started recording the development in 1979. Moreover, since the Barents Sea is one of the areas in the world that seems to follow climate models the closest, polar bears here may be particularly exposed to starvation as the Earth continues to warm.

“In the latest years we have had very little ice. It has always varied, which is natural, but the last years have been completely catastrophic,” Aars said referring to the Barents Sea area.

Today, figuring out more precisely how environmental toxins affect bears is therefore critical for finding ways to help them survive as sea ice continues to decrease.

“What we still don’t know is how much pollution affects survival and reproduction in the polar bear,” Aars said. “We know that levels are high, and we know from other species that pollutants can affect reproduction… But it is not easy to say how big those effects will be.”

Polar Bears Originate from Brown Bears that Ventured North and Adapted to the Cold Conditions. Photo: Alastair Ray, WikiMedia Commons

According to Aars, there is no doubt that the polar bear is headed in the wrong direction. Now the challenge is to understand the details. By definition, climate models provide imperfect information about the future. And polar bears are affected by climate changes differently in different regions of the world. As a result, it is difficult to formulate proactive preservation strategies for the polar bear, he said.

“The first move is to know as many pieces of the puzzle as possible. That way we can deal with new situations as they arise,” Aars said. He adds that biologists know a lot about how polar bears move on ice, but they still need to learn how long they can swim and for how long they can stay in the water.

“As populations become smaller in the future—for example in isolated populations on Svalbard and Greenland—it will be important to know how far they can swim to see if they can exchange genetics between them.”

Climate change is the single biggest threat to polar bears, according to Aars. It happens on a global scale, and though it affects different populations differently, it affects them all.

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December 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Arctic, Endangered Species, Svalbard

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Arctic Sea Ice Extent Compared

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The fact that Arctic sea ice is decreasing in extent is hardly news. What exactly that decrease looks like, however, and how it has changed during the last thirty years, can be hard to fathom from numbers and texts alone.

At the University of Illinois’ website, The Cryosphere Today, it is possible to compare satellite imagery of the frozen Arctic ice cover from 1979 (the earliest satellite photos on record) and until today. Check it out by clicking the photo below. Specify year and month in the top boxes at the site and press submit to compare the changes.

Image Shows Extent of Arctic Sea Ice from Nov. 1980 and 2010, Respectively












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December 1, 2010 at 2:52 am

Posted in Arctic, Climate Change, Sea Ice Extent

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Serendipity at World’s Greatest Coctail Party May Help Conserve Wild Tigers

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Until this Wednesday, New York Times-blogger Andy Revkin may not have known he was teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio to help conserve the threatened wild tiger. But then he noticed, as Revkin writes in a post on his blog, that he had received a burst of new followers on Twitter. Revkin discovered that DiCaprio had picked up on a suggestion he made that Apple — which has long named its Macintosh operating system software after the tiger, the snow leopard and other wild felines — could use some of its (heaps of) money to help preserve the wild cat. DiCaprio had re-tweeted Revkin’s suggestion giving it an extra boost of attention.

The Snow Leopard -- Endangered Species and Namesake to Mac's Famous Operating System. Foto: Macopedia, Flickr.

What is at stake here? To me, the example is a case of self-induced serendipity facilitated by the web — by social media. It shows the capability of the internet to bring together the like minds of the world who may not have known they were alike in the first place — or rather, who may not have known in what ways exactly they were alike.

DiCaprio is obviously following Revkin on Twitter for a reason. But the question here is whether that reason has now shown to hold new potentials?

The internet, I think, is like the better version of a gigantic cocktail party. On the web we are relieved of sifting through all those boring people we don’t really want to talk to. We can go straight to our peers. Cass Sunstein, the law man currently administrating President Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has argued that this is a bad thing because it prevents us from meeting with people we don’t already agree with — it creates echo chambers. But sometimes, though, and hopefully for the wild tigers in this case,  it can also produce some interesting encounters that spur new and constructive thoughts.

In this case, all of that depend on Steve Jobs and whether he sees this as a branding opportunity for Apple. As Revkin says, Apple is free to choose the parsimonious path if the company wishes to do so. But now, if they do choose that path, it will be known as a conscious choice. There is no chance Steve Jobs hasn’t seen the suggestion laid forth by Revkin and DiCaprio.

The wonders of the self-induced serendipity at the world’s greatest cocktail party are at play. I wonder what they’ll do.

This post is written on a Mac.

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November 22, 2010 at 6:30 am