Spain

Blowing in the Wind, a look at green jobs

President Obama has touted production of “green” jobs by promoting alternative energy sources to produce electricity, especially wind energy. He has particularly pointed to the experience in Spain and Denmark as examples of what could be done in the U.S.

However, the experience in those countries shows that all is not well.

A research team from Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University produced a detailed, well-sourced paper: “Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources ,” which shows that the “green jobs” program was an economic failure.

See: http://www.juandemariana.org/pdf/090327-employment-public-aid-renewable.pdf

This study found that for every subsidized green job created, 2.2 jobs were lost elsewhere in the economy. “The study calculates that since 2000 Spain spent €571,138 (Euros) to create each ‘green job’, including subsidies of more than €1 million per wind industry job.” “… the programs creating those jobs also resulted in the destruction of nearly 110,500 jobs elsewhere in the economy,” and that “each ‘green’ megawatt installed [including solar jobs] destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy.” The study also estimates that between subsidies, and higher production costs, Spaniards would have to pay 31% higher electricity prices to repay the incurred debt.

In Denmark, they produce 19% of their electricity from wind power, but to produce that 19% takes 75% of all jobs in the energy sector. A study from Denmark (http://tinyurl.com/mdfsju ) notes “that the effect of the government subsidy [to the wind industry] has been to shift employment from more productive employment in other sectors to less productive employment in the wind industry. As a consequence, Danish GDP is approximately 1.8 billion DKK ($270 million) lower than it would have been if the wind sector work force was employed elsewhere.” This study estimates that the per job subsidy for the wind industry was $90,000 to $140,000 US.

The Danish Economic Council concludes: “The wind power expansion in the 1990’s is an example of a policy that was unprofitable from society’s point of view, even taking the economic advantages that the wind business enjoyed into consideration. ” As a result, the energy sector underperformed by 13% when considered on a value-added basis compared to other industries.

If the Obama administration really wants to create jobs, perhaps they should rethink their energy policy.

Cochineal, The Little Red Bug

Have you ever noticed that some prickly pear pads around town have white fuzzy stuff on them? Under the fuzzy stuff, which is a waxy web, is a little red bug called a Cochineal. Scientific name: (Dactylopius cocus)

The story of the Cochineal is fascinating and you may often use something it produces.

When the Spaniards first came to Mexico in the early 1500s, they sought gold. They also found another substance which became just as valuable: a substance that would lead to a world-wide commercial monopoly, a substance that was the object of international industrial espionage; and a substance which caused them to import prickly pear cacti to Spain.

When Hernan Cortes came to Mexico in 1523, he noticed that the natives were wearing brilliant red clothing. He also saw that the color didn’t fade upon washing. He found the perfect red dye, something Europeans had been seeking for centuries. Where did this remarkable dye come from?

The cochineal is a scale insect which feeds on the juices of the prickly pear. To protect itself from the sun, it spins a waxy, white web. To protect itself from predators, mainly ants, it produces Carminic Acid, a very bitter-tasting substance. And carminic acid is the best natural red dye there is.

Female cochineals are dark red, wingless, legless, and sessile (attached to the plant and sedentary). Males resemble small pink and white gnats.

Males undergo complete metamorphoses and develop into winged adults. Females, however, remain in a prolonged larval stage, never changing into winged adults, but becoming sexually mature nonetheless.

The young females settle near their mother in groups and secrete the fluffy wax which protects them from desiccation. Each female sticks its tube-like proboscis into the cactus pad and draws nutrients from the cactus throughout its three-year life-span. Within a few weeks of hatching, the female becomes bloated and sexually mature – a silvery, purplish balloon, similar to a fully engorged tick. When home sites become too crowded, the young females use web material to ride the wind to another pad.

The male cochineal remains tiny and mobile. After a few weeks, he spins a cocoon-like structure and transforms himself into a tiny, soft-bodied, delicate-winged flyer. The male lacks mouth parts, and is programed for one thing, sex, and that he pursues by moving rapidly among the cactus pads and mating with as many females as possible before he dies within about a week.

To produce dye, the bugs are harvested, dried, and boiled. The material to be dyed is placed in vats of the mixture and the color is fixed with oxalic acid obtained from juices of several plants including the cacti themselves.

The Spaniards knew a good thing when they saw it. Cochineal dye was so good, that the bugs and cacti were exported to Spain and to Spanish colonies in South America, and the dye soon took over the market. That, incidentally is why you can find prickly pear cactus in Europe.

For almost 300 years, Spain had a monopoly in Cochineal dye and they strictly controlled the source. One of their best customers was the British Army. The Redcoats red came from the cochineal.

The French didn’t like this and constantly tried to get some of the little red bugs. Finally, in 1787, a French naturalist manage to smuggle Cochineal-laded cacti out of Mexico to Haiti where they too began producing the dye. In the 1870s, the English managed to get some cactus and cochineal, and tried to grow them in India.

Cochineal dye is still produced in Mexico, Spain, and South America.

Red dye from the Cochineal is not used much for clothing any more since it has been replaced by synthetic dyes. However, Cochineal dye is widely used in cosmetics and in food coloring. It is non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. Read the labels of any red food product. If you see the word Carmine (or sometimes cochineal), then the red color comes from the mashed remains of the little red bug that lives under the white fuzz dotting prickly pear pads.