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The Special Period

Submitted by: MikeC (Admin) on 03-Jan-09 01:14:17 PM

Happy new year one and all.

So what do you know about Cuba? Chances are your mind is already suggesting words like: nasty dictatorship; communism; Cuban missile crisis; a backward country.

And what on earth has the country got to do with Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs)?

As far as certificates are concerned, nothing really. As far as energy is concerned, a lot.

There's a video below but before we get to that, a background primer.

"Suppressed Cubans not allowed computers"

Oftentimes when our media reports on Cuba, Journalists make a point of highlighting - almost gloatingly - how its Communist Government only recently allowed citizens to own computers. There is no expansion on why, instead we're left jumping to the implied conclusion that its despotic ruler has cruelly suppressed and held back the country's populace for fifty years.

Switch to wide-angled lens...

The Special Period

Within weeks of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, Cuba's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shrunk by a third - or put another way: Cuba's economy went into depression within weeks

This marked the dawn of a radical new era Cubans have called 'The Special Period'.

Before The Special Period Cuba had relied on 13-14 million tons a year of imported Russian oil. After Russia's collapse it shrank to just four.

(Remember, America has a long-standing trade embargo against Cuba.)

What has happened since then is a remarkable story.

The Special Period radically transformed Cuban society and its economy. It necessitated the successful introduction of sustainable agriculture, decreased use of fossil fuel-based transport, and overhauled industry, health, and diet countrywide.

Initially, events unfolded so fast that Government was unable to keep up so it began relinquishing more control over to local communities which then set about identifying and cleaning-up land for use as urban gardens to grow food.

The Government incentivised research into bio fertilizers and bio pesticides - it now exports them. 

1.2 million bicycles were bought from China and distributed to Cubans.

Free healthcare and long lives

The list goes on but throughout all this, Cuba maintained its free healthcare and education. Its citizens enjoy a lifespan and infant mortality rate almost commensurate with that of its (very) wealthy neighbour, America, and yet uses less than an eighth of its energy per capita on average.

Over time alternative sources of cheap, efficient and sustainable energy resources have been developed and utilised which include wind, sun and waste materials.

The Year of the Energy Revolution

The Government called 2006 the 'year of the energy revolution' and began distributing florescent lights and energy-efficient appliances to homes across Cuba as well as educating homeowners (85% home ownership) on how to keep energy usage low.

Which brings us back to computers: In March last year (2008), the Govt. legalised the use and purchase of computers and microwave ovens, amongst other appliances. It allowed this because of the improved availability of electricity.

In 2009 Cubans should have access to air conditioners - something they sorely miss, living in a tropical country. In 2010, electricity supplies permitting, toasters and electric ovens will be permitted also.

It's worth reminding ourselves that last year alone, Cuba was struck by three devastating hurricanes within weeks of each other which claimed seven lives - Cubans are very well versed in sheltering from hurricanes but the damage inflicted to the country's economy and infrastructure during those weeks (and these times) is thought to be very serious.

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil - abridged

You might find the full version (~50 mins) of this film on Google Video or YouTube - defo worth watching

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