Category Archives: Bolivia

What the MAS victory means for Bolivia

With the election yesterday in Bolivia, the ongoing political crisis that has griped the country for the last year since the “coup” of October 2019 finally seems to have been resolved. While the official results have not been announced from the election, the exit polls say that the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement to Socialism) decisively won the election in the first round with 52.4% of the vote, compared to the Comunidad Cuidadana (Civic Community) which garnered 31.5% and Creemos (We Believe) with 14,1%. I expected that the MAS would either barely win the election with the required 10% margin over nearest competitor in the first round, or it would lose in the second round, because all the other parties would unite against the MAS to form a majority.

Either way, I expected that 25% of Bolivians on one side or the other of the political spectrum would refuse to accept the results of the election, and we would have another round of protests and marches with the highways being shut down and no food in the markets, just like happened last October in the previous election. Before this election, I noticed that the price of food was rising in the markets and some people were stocking up in anticipation of a crisis.

With the MAS winning so convincingly in the first round, everyone basically has to accept the results, especially since the opposition is in charge, so it is hard for people to claim that the MAS committed fraud to win. This is an enormous relief for me because it means that we won’t suffer through months of political turmoil that I fully expected based on what happened in the previous election.

What most bothered me about last year’s election is the fact that the Organization of American States (which is heavily stacked with representatives that are opposed to the MAS) declared that election fraud had been committed without presenting clear proof to back up its claims. Four different groups (an NGO in Washington and 3 academic studies) analyzed the election and said that they couldn’t find statistical evidence of fraud. Inside Bolivia, many MAS supporters were convinced that the US conspired to overthrow the government of Bolivia, whereas many supporters of the opposition were equally convinced that the MAS committed massive election fraud. Nobody could come to any consensus about what had actually happened, and there was no reliable investigation to determine the facts of the matter. The interim government had an entire year to investigate the supposed election fraud, but it didn’t bother, so people were free to imagine whatever fit their preconceived notions about what actually happened.

My personal belief is that the MAS did commit some fraud, but it was localized and not systematic and not directed from the top of the party, and certainly not enough to swing the election. What bothered me the most, however, is that the interim government actually took down the website with the election data, making it difficult to investigate whether fraud had occurred and there was no published data on the internet of previous elections to do a comparison over time.

As for the theory that the US plotted to overthrow the MAS, I think it is likely that the US government officials did work through the OAS to produce an unsubstantiated report claiming election fraud when they didn’t have the clear evidence to prove it, which is similar to the role that the OAS previously played in overturning a Haitian election when the US didn’t like the election results.

There is some evidence of the opposition meeting with US government officials before the election, but I suspect this was just normal lobbying in case they won the election, rather than coup plotting. I say this because I haven’t seen any evidence of clear US involvement before the October 2019 election, so this is not like the coup attempts where we have good evidence that the US was involved in Venezuela in 2002, 2003 and 2020, Honduras in 2009, and Haiti in 1991 and 2004. As far as I can tell, the US doesn’t have a compelling reason to want to overthrow the government of Bolivia, but the neocons in the Trump administration are hardly careful planners or rational actors (as shown by their ludicrous actions against Venezuela), so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Nonetheless, I suspect this is simply a case of US government officials in the OAS taking advantage of an opportunity rather than anything that was pre-planned. Academics are still arguing over whether the US government helped overthrow the government of Brazil in 1964 or not, so we may never have a definitive answer as to what exactly happened.

What I can say for certain is that the OAS report that led to Evo Morales being ousted was extremely light in evidence and long in its conclusions. The OAS never even released the names of the 34 so-called “experts” who were sent to Bolivia to investigate the election or even what countries they were from. In my opinion, their “clear statistical evidence of fraud” was basically non-existent.

All of that being said, I also think that Evo was violating the Bolivian Constitution by running for a third full term in office. The MAS had stacked Bolivia’s supreme court, which used highly dubious grounds to rule that Evo was allowed to run for another term, so I can see why the opposition felt justified in declaring his election illegitimate. Furthermore, a plebiscite vote before the court ruling found that the majority of Bolivians were against Evo being allowed to run for another term.

On the other hand, Evo won the election even though people knew that he was violating the constitution that prohibits 3 consecutive terms for the president. Regardless of what people think about Evo’s actions, I think it is clear that this needed to be handled internally, through the traditional means of organizing popular protests inside the country to throw Evo from power, which is normally how presidents are kicked out of office in Bolivia. It should not have been done through an external body like the OAS producing a report claiming election fraud when there wasn’t much corroborating evidence. Furthermore, the police and the military should not have taken part in forcing Evo, his vice-president and head of the senate from power, in what in my opinion fits the technical definition of a “coup.”

Two of my closest friends in Bolivia lost their jobs due to the change of government and endured a year of unemployment, so maybe this effects my thinking on the matter, because people who I care about were harmed by what happened. At the end of the day, however, the coup did prevent Evo from violating the constitution, and did give the opposition the ability to investigate any fraud that MAS party officials committed while in office, so it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster for Bolivian democracy.

I personally feel very conflicted about this whole situation, because on the one hand, I am deeply opposed to the MAS’s environmental and energy policies and its plans for development based on environmental destruction. Basically, the MAS gave Bolivia 14 years of economic stability and economic growth predicated on a massive increase in the extraction and exportation of natural gas and minerals and promoted massive deforestation. Bolivia got more years of stability and growth under the MAS than it has ever enjoyed before in its entire tumultuous history. It also got redistributive policies that benefited a large portion of the population, and massive investment in education, roads, rural health centers, etc.

On the other hand, that growth is totally unsustainable, and is now coming to an end as the gas reserves now only have about 8-10 years left and the deforestation is provoking changes to the Amazonian water cycle that are leading to massive forest fires. Some climatologists believe that the Amazonian basin is hitting a tipping point from the combined effects of deforestation, climate change and forest fires that could irreversibly change the water cycle and lead to the gradual die-off of the entire Amazonian rainforest. The largest source of biodiversity on the planet is under threat due to the policies of governments that care more about short-term growth than long-term sustainability.

Almost every one of my friends who is an urban professional voted for Civic Community, except my friends who had jobs in the MAS government or are promoters of indigenous rights. My fiance who is a veterinarian and all of my friends who are environmental activists voted for Civic Community. Given that I think climate change is the greatest existential threat to humanity, I should have wanted Civic Community to win. One of my personal friends is running as a senator for Civic Community and I very much wanted her to win, since she clearly understands the environmental threats facing Bolivia. However, I’m closer ideologically to the MAS than the CC, so I felt very conflicted this election.

As I see it, Bolivia faces some major structural challenges, and regardless of which party got elected, I don’t think any of the parties are prepared to face them. Because Bolivian gas reserves are running out, its economy and political system are facing major crises.

At this point, the Bolivian state is essentially bankrupt, and many of the redistributive programs that earned the MAS so much popular political support will no longer be possible in the future. The major problem is that not only are gas prices depressed for Bolivia’s exports to Argentina and Brazil, but Bolivia’s gas reserves are rapidly running out. Roughly 40% of Bolivia’s exports are natural gas, 25% are minerals and 10% are soybeans, and all three of those exports will be dramatically reduced in the future.

The natural gas exports are financing many of the government’s benefits (bonos) that are widely distributed among the population, plus the schools, which have enjoyed a massive increase in their budgets. The popularity and political support that the MAS party enjoys largely depend on the largess and social programs that the party was able to finance through natural gas exports. Those same exports were also able to pay for massive subsidies for fossil fuels. Before the coronavirus caused a drop in fuel prices, roughly 90% of the price of natural gas in Bolivia was subsidized and 60% of the price of gasoline and diesel was subsidized. Bolivia’s cheap energy helped fuel the growth of the Bolivian economy for the last decade and a half, but it is totally unsustainable. Roughly 80% of Bolivia’s electricity is generated by burning gas and the number of private automobiles in the country tripled in 12 years, partly due to the gasoline subsidies.

As Bolivia’s gas and oil reserves run out, the state will have to eliminate these subsidies, which will generate massive social protests, because they will cause the price of everything to rise, from food to bus fares. The biggest single expense in the extraction of minerals and the production of agroindustry and beef is diesel fuel, which means that when the fuel subsidies are cut, these industries will become much less competitive with international prices and their exports and profits will fall.

In other words, Bolivia will suffer a massive cut in the majority of its exports at the same time that the state has to cut back its social spending. By winning the election, the MAS party has been handed a poison pill and its current popularity in the polls probably won’t last long once it starts cutting the fuel subsidies.

More problematic is the fact that the Bolivian state and its private sector won’t have the resources to deal with the major structural problems in the economy that absolutely must be addressed. Bolivia simply has to stop its policy of deforestation to stimulate the production of agroindustry and cattle raising if it wants to have a stable water cycle in the Amazonian basin and avoid the ever increasing forest fires that are decimated larger and larger portions of its land every year.

The soybean producers, coca growers and large-scale cattle ranchers are all potent political forces inside of Bolivia and newly-elected President Luis Arce Catacora is unlikely to confront any one of these groups to detain the deforestation and chaqueo (the practice of burning agricultural fields before planting) that are changing the water cycle in the Bolivian lowlands. Because President Jair Bolsonaro unleashed a massive wave of deforestation in Brazil, Bolivia is now particularly vulnerable to dramatic changes in precipitation and drought in the Amazonian basin.

The second structural problem that Bolivia faces is a looming energy crisis. When the Bolivian state was flush with cash from its natural gas exports, it wasted its profits on new hydrocarbon exploration and the building of massive gas thermoelectric generation plants, instead of investing in alternative energy. Now that the Bolivian state is bankrupt and the economy is in a recession, Bolivia has to find the funds to transition its economy to renewable energy, because its fossil fuel reserves are running out and it won’t have the exports to pay for importing fossil fuels when it can no longer export gas to Argentina and Brazil. 80% of Bolivia’s electricity, which currently comes from burning natural gas, will have to be replaced with wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal over the next decade, but it is unclear where Bolivia will get the funds for such a massive investment. Likewise, Bolivia will have to massively reduce its consumption of gasoline and diesel if it expects to have any balance of payments, as its exports fall in the future. Investing in the electrification of transport will be very difficult in a country whose economy is contracting.

Bolivians love to spin fantasies that they will find the next extractive boom to continue fueling their economy just like silver, tin and natural gas financed their economy in the past. Many Bolivians believe that lithium will be the next extractive cycle that will revive their economy after the gas wells run dry, but that is a fairy tale that the MAS party has been peddling for the last decade. Bolivia has 60% of the world’s lithium reserves according to some estimates. Nonetheless, lithium from Bolivia’s Salares de Uyuni and Coipasa will never be competitive with the lithium extracted from the salt flats of Chile and Argentina, because its lithium concentrations are much lower, it has much higher levels of contaminants like magnesium that are expensive to remove, its evaporation rates are much lower requiring more energy consumption, and its transportation costs are higher. Even if new extraction techniques can be invented that take less of a toll on the environment, it is hard to see why international mining companies would choose Bolivia, when Chile and Argentina offer better prospects, and lithium extraction is increasingly moving to spodumene mining in places like Australia.

Once Bolivia’s gas reserves run out, it will no longer have the foreign currency to keep importing gasoline and diesel, and it will have to eliminate its subsidies for fossil fuels. Since diesel fuel is the largest single input for the mining industry and agroindustry, and Bolivia’s geography imposes high transportation costs, a 60% price rise in diesel will make minerals and soybeans much less competitive in international markets. In the long term, the world will face a shortage of the minerals that Bolivia produces, but Bolivia is going to be much less competitive in the short term due to its higher production costs than other countries. What this means is that Bolivia will suffer a massive decrease in its exports of natural gas, minerals and soybeans in the next decade. For a nation accustomed to 15 years of a rising standard of living based on increasing imports, the new economy based on limited exports and imports will be a bitter pill to swallow for many to swallow.

Many Bolivians voted for the MAS, believing that that it would return the country to the good times with over 5 percent annual economic growth since 2005, but no political party will be able to recreate that growth. Bolivia is facing a looming energy crisis that demands massive investment in alternative energy and an ecological crisis which demands a ban on all future deforestation. At the same time, the country’s economy will be contracting and the state will have less revenue from gas exports to meet these demands.

Sadly, the Bolivian press has done a very poor job of covering these issues, and there was virtually no discussion of the structural problems facing Bolivia in the recent election. None of the parties really have plans to address the serious issues facing Bolivia, nor the political will to implement the measures that are needed. Trying to stop deforestation and raise the price of fossil fuels are paths to political suicide for Bolivian politicians, but they are necessary for the long-term sustainability of the country.

All of that being said, the recent election has at least gained Bolivia some needed political stability for the next couple years and a government that will resist IMF structural readjustment policies and neoliberalism that have destroyed the economies of so many developing nations around the world. I don’t see much new thinking in the MAS party, so I’m not very optimistic that it will address the structural problems that plague the country.

On the other hand, the MAS party now has such a large majority in the legislature and is so unassailable politically, that it can afford to consider politically-risky measures like confronting the deforestation caused by the largest cattle and soybean producers and fining their activities. Sadly, I don’t foresee Bolivian civil society forcing the MAS party to consider these sorts of measures, but 1.6 million hectares of Bolivia just went up in flames and the forest fires were even worse last year. At some point, the Bolivian people are going to start questioning the MAS Party’s development plans based on increasing deforestation, and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

Bolivia’s total quarantine makes me question what is the long-term plan

Bolivia started a “total quarantine” today. No public or private automobiles are allowed on the road if not authorized. People between the ages of 18 and 65 are only allowed to go out one day per week to buy food between the hours of 7 and 12 am. The day of the week that people are allowed to go buy food is determined by the last digit of their ID card. People who are caught on the street when it isn’t their designated day of the week are arrested and held for 8 hours and also forced to pay a fine of 1000 bolivianos ($144). People under the age of 18 or older than 65 are never allowed to leave their homes, but the military is supposed to help people older than 65 get food.

It seems that Bolivia has little capacity to test or treat the coronavirus, so the only solution is to completely lock down the country. It is worth reading the decree issued by the Bolivian government about these new quarantine rules.
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Problemas serios en el informe preliminar de la OEA acerca de la elección boliviana

He leído las 13 páginas de los “Hallazgos Preliminares” de la OEA acerca de la elección del 20 de octubre en Bolivia. En la primera lectura creo que demuestra que hay muchas evidencias de fraude electoral. Sin embargo, yo veo varios problemas en el informe después de la segunda lectura del mismo.

El primer problema es que la OEA no es un organización adecuado para juzgar la evidencia electoral porque la OEA tiene un historial que apoya la posición de los EEUU y sus acciones en las elecciones de 2000 y 2010 en Haití demuestra que la OEA no es una organización fiable en cuestiones de análisis electoral. Se necesita un análisis por otro grupo que tenga un pasado de independencia política. Continue reading

Bolivians are divided in opinion, which will only complicate the painful path forward

Bolivia recently witnessed the dramatic end of Evo Morales’ presidency. From what I have been able to gather, I would guesstimate that roughly a fourth of Bolivians are convinced that Evo Morales was forced out of office by a coup d’etat. A larger percentage between a third and a half of Bolivians are convinced that Evo was forced to resign, because the MAS Party committed widespread election fraud.

I am struck by how passionately both sides believe that they were wronged. The MAS partisans believe that it was possible that the MAS improved its winning margin from 7% to 10% after the unofficial quick count stopped reporting results, because most of the late tallies were coming from rural areas which heavily favor the MAS. Many of the Masistas that I have talked to believe that it was just a few bad apples who committed election fraud, but not the result of a systematic campaign directed from the top of the party. MAS partisans are convinced that the Organization of American States is not a neutral party, and the US and its surrogates in Latin America have long conspired to overthrow Evo. If asked how they explain the finding of widespread election fraud by the OAS, they will say that the OAS took a few isolated incidents of fraud and projected that to have occurred everywhere in the country.
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Adventures in home maintenance in Bolivia

I’ve never owned a house or a car, so I rarely have to fix anything. When I moved into my new apartment, however, I found all sorts of things, that I needed fixing.

I love the wooden parquet floors, but the previous renters had put down flooring wax without first cleaning the floors, so I could see lots of spots on the floor. I started scrubbing off the wax to clean the spots and ended up scrubbing the floors for two whole days.

Unlike in the US, Bolivian parquet flooring doesn’t have grooves to fit together the wooden tiles and they are glued on top of cement, so after a decade or two of being walked on, the wooden tiles start to come loose. I found about 100 loose tiles, especially in the areas of the apartment there there as a lot of foot traffic, such as the threshold of doorways.

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Presentación en la USFA cerca de las causas y soluciones del cambio climático en Bolivia

Hoy he dado una presentación en la USFA de la Paz acerca de las causas y las soluciones del cambio climático en Bolivia. Aca son los los dispositivos:
PrediccionesYSolucionesCambioClimaticoUsfa2019-03-25

Muchos de los datos de este presentación vienen del borrador de mi libro:
La problemática de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero en Bolivia

También, tengo un articulo acera de energía en Bolivia:
Bolivia invierte menos en energía renovable que otros países sudamericanos

 

Review of the Camp Thunderbolt folding bike

I recently bought the Camp Thunderbolt, which is a folding bike with 16 gears. Since I live in mountainous La Paz, Bolivia, I need a bike with more than the standard 6-8 gears that are found on most folding bikes. All the reviews that I read online recommended avoiding the cheaper brands of folding bikes, but higher quality manufacturers like Dahon, Brompton and Tern charge an arm and leg for their folding bikes that have over 8 gears. The cheapest one that I could find was the Dahon Visc D18 Tour which costs $879, plus another $35 to add fenders and $36 to add a cargo rack. I consider fenders and a rack to be absolutely essential features on a bike, and it annoys me to no end that most bikes are sold as entertainment and fair-weather exercise devices, rather than a practical means to get to work in the rain and carry groceries. At a weight of 27 lbs, plus another 4 lbs for the fenders and rack, the Dahon Visc D18 Tour weighs a total of 31 lbs.

In contrast, the Camp Thunderbolt costs $425 if ordered from the manufacturer’s web site and includes fenders and a cargo rack. The Thunderbolt weighs 29 lbs, so it is a tad lighter and considerably cheaper than the Visc D18 Tour. In addition, the Thunderbolt includes disc brakes, whereas getting that feature on a Dahon bike would mean upgrading to the Visc D18 Disc, which costs $999.

I question whether it is worth paying the extra cost for a larger number of gears. The Ford by Dahon Convertible 7 Speed only costs $269 at ThorUSA (which is reportedly the best place to buy Dahon and Tern online in the US) and its user reviews on Amazon are about as good as the reviews for the Thunderbolt. In the end, however, I decided that it was worth paying the extra $155 for the Thunderbolt if it meant not having to get off the bike and walk it up hills. (Actually the Convertible 7 Speed is not as cheap as it appears, because it only includes a warranty on the bike if it is tuned by a bike shop, which adds $40-$70 to its price.)

The Thunderbolt took 9 days to ship from K7Sport in California to my parents’ house in Indiana, which was longer than the 2 to 7 days for free shipping listed on the Camp web site. It arrived preassembled in the box and it was very well packed to avoid damage in shipping.

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The Camp Thunderbolt (with my added red chain on the cargo rack and extra lights on the front and back).

Problems I found with the Thunderbolt
Once I took the Thunderbolt out of the box, however, I discovered a number of problems. The front fender was scraping against the front tire, so I had to unloosen the bolt holding the fender to the front stem, then adjust the fender and retighten the bolt. The end of the front derailleur cable was sticking out, so it hit my foot with every rotation of the pedals. I had to loosen the cable’s nut and move the end of the cable so it would point it in toward the frame.

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End of front derailleur cable pointing out to hit the pedal.

The screw in the quick release on the front stem was not tightened correctly, so the handle bars wobbled the first time I tried riding the bike. My father who is 75 years old fell off the bike, because he tried pulling up on the handlebars and they pulled all the way out of the front stem. Seeing my elderly father take a tumble on the bike gave me quite a fright, but he only suffered some minor scraps on his hands. Tightening the quick release’s screw eliminated the wobble in the handle bars.

There was only 1.5 cm of space between the Thunderbolt’s kickstand when raised and the back brake’s disc. When I kicked up the Thunderbolt’s kickstand, it moved far enough to bang against the brake’s disc on the back wheel, making it ring like a gong. After kicking up the kickstand a few times, I found grooves in the kickstand’s rubber bumper where it had banged into the brake’s disc.

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Grooves in the side of the kickstand’s rubber bumper from banging against the back brake’s disc. Notice how I filed down the side of the bumper so it wouldn’t come so close to the disc.

I found that I could avoid the banging by raising the kickstand slowly with my hand, rather than using my foot, but that isn’t very convenient. I was concerned that this banging would warp the disc over time, so I tried to adjust the kickstand so it wouldn’t lie so close to the brake’s disc when folded up. Unfortunately, the kickstand is attached inside a slot, so it can’t be turned outward. I found that I was able to move the position of the raised kickstand so it was farther from the back brake’s disc by putting a metal wedge inside the slot where the kickstand is attached. Unfortunately, moving the kickstand outward with a metal wedge made it impossible to completely fold the bike, so I had 2 cm of extra space between the wheels when I folded up the bike.

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I shoved a coin between the frame and the kickstand mounting to move the kickstand slightly outward.

I finally solved the problem by replacing the metal wedge with a thinner coin, shortening the kickstand to its minimum length and filing down one side of the kickstand’s rubber end bumper. With these 3 changes, I am now able to kick up the kickstand with my foot without banging the brake’s disc and I am able to completely fold the bike. Unfortunately, the shortened kickstand means that the bike is more liable to fall over, especially when parked on surfaces which aren’t flat or when carrying something heavy on the cargo rack.

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Kickstand modified to not bang against back brake’s disc

Nobody else complained about this problem in the reviews of the Thunderbolt on Amazon, so maybe the kickstand on my bike requires more force than normal to raise it and that extra force causes it to strike the brake’s disc. However, it seems to me that the Thunderbolt’s kickstand is a fundamental design flaw. There isn’t much room to play with, since the kickstand can’t interfere with the folding of the bike. Maybe this problem could be solved by using a smaller disc in the brakes. In my opinion, the disc is too close to the road anyway and is likely to get scraped against curbs and accidentally kicked when trying to fold and unfold the bike and push it through crowded bus stations.

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Shortening the kickstand makes the Thunderbolt lean over when parked, so I turn the front wheel away from the lean to give it more stability.

The second problem I found was that the front disc brakes constantly scraped. It is normal for disc brakes to scrape a little when a bike is new, but the scraping noise annoyed me, so I adjusted the brake pads so they wouldn’t lie so close to the disc, but that made the brakes mushy and it still didn’t solve the scraping. I was also annoyed to discover that the Yining brakes on the Thunderbolt only allow the position of one brake pad to adjusted. Better quality disc brakes allow the brake pads to be adjusted on both sides of the disc.

IMG_20181029_071255BlackMarksWhereWashersScrapedOnDisc

Black marks on the washers show where they were scraping against the front brake’s disc.

After taking off the front brake’s disc, I discovered that the washers on the brake were scraping against the disc. I tried to adjust the brake so it wouldn’t lie so close to the disc. The holes to attach the brakes are slots, so in theory the bolts holding the brake mounting can be moved away from the disc, but when I tried to move the bolts, the washers still scraped against the brake’s disc. In the end, I took a metal file and filed down the washers so they no longer scrape against the disc.

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Filing down the washers that rub against the front brake’s disc.

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The washers on the brake mounting after being filed down.

I also had to loosen the 2 bolts holding on the front disc brake mounting and readjust them so the brakes would evenly apply to the disc, rather than lopsidedly scape on one end of the disc. I also had to loosen the screw on the front wheel’s quick release, so the wheel would spin freely without scraping against the brakes. Clearly, the bike was sloppily assembled if it required this much adjustment.

Disc brakes don’t make a lot of sense on a folding bike in my opinion. People usually don’t ride folding bikes through snow and mud like mountain bikes, so debris usually doesn’t get on the wheels’ rims to hinder braking. Folding bikes also don’t need the added stopping power of disc brakes, since they generally aren’t ridden as fast or on as rough terrain as mountain bikes. The discs also add extra weight compared to normal rim brakes, and folding bikes should be as light as possible to be easy to carry.

None of the Amazon reviewers complained about the washers scraping the Thunderbolt’s front brake’s disc, so that was probably just caused by sloppy assembly of my bike, but several reviewers have complained that the Thunderbolt’s brakes squeal loudly when stopping. I also am annoyed by the squealing brakes. The squeal on the front brake was reduced once I adjusted the wheel in its forks and the placement of the brake pad unit, so there was no wobble to the brake’s disc, but I still hear the squealing. I have read online that squealing brakes can usually be fixed by replacing the brake pads and discs, but one Amazon reviewer tried that and reported that the squealing persisted after replacing the brakes. Camp could have avoided these problems altogether by using normal rim brakes. Disc brakes won’t have problems if the wheels warp over time and they are better at stopping when the roads are wet, but I think that the Thunderbolt would be better without disc brakes.

How the Thunderbolt rides
Once I fixed the scraping of the brakes and adjusted the kickstand so it doesn’t hit the back brake’s disc, I took the Thunderbolt on a 1.5 hour bike ride in La Paz. Even with 16 gears, I still had to get off the Thunderbolt and push it up the steep hills in La Paz. With a normal bike, I can stand up to pedal up steep hills, but the frame of Thunderbolt is not that long, so standing puts my body over the seat, rather over the center crossbar of the frame like on a normal bike. Because it is uncomfortable to pedal while standing on the Thunderbolt, it is harder to pedal up hills and harder to ride over rough terrain. Because the frame is not very long and the seat post and front stem are adjustable, the Thunderbolt allows me to ride in a more upright position, so I don’t have to hunch my body to reach the handlebars, like I do on a normal road bike.

It takes some adjustment to get used to riding a bike where the wheels are so much lower than your center of balance and the turning is very fast due to the smaller wheel size. On a normal bike, I only loosely grip the handlebars, but the Thunderbolt feels a little unsteady underneath me, so that I grip the handlebars more tightly to control it. I’m sure I will get used to it over time, and it is a lot of fun to ride because it turns so fast. At the higher gears it can really move. I used to ride unicycles and the first time I got on the Thunderbolt it reminded me of riding a unicycle. You have to be a little more aware when riding the Thunderbolt and constantly adjusting to keep everything steady.

It is difficult to jump curbs with the 20 inch wheels on the Thunderbolt and I often have to stop the bike to haul it over curbs. The wheels are only 1.5 inches thick and they have very little tread on them, which makes them glide smoothly over flat asphalt, but they are not designed to handle rough terrain. Many of the side streets in La Paz are paved with stone and riding over them in the Thunderbolt rattles every bone in my body. The seat adds a little cushion, but otherwise there is no suspension.

How well the Thunderbolt folds
The hinges on the Thunderbolt feel very stable and rigid when latched closed. I don’t feel any wobble from the hinges in the center frame or front stem when I ride the Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt frame only comes with a 1 year warranty, whereas  Dahon’s new frames have a 10 year warranty, but the Thunderbolt’s aluminum frame and its hinges look very sturdy and I doubt that they will fail me. People who are close to the 250 lb limit for the bike, however, might need to avoid jumping and other types of riding that put a lot of stress on the frame.

The hinge on the center frame has a safety latch that is manually pushed down to prevent the center hinge from coming undone while riding. One thing that I don’t like about the hinges is the fact that their latches flap around freely when the bike is folded. Other folding bikes have springs to prevent flapping latches. I worry about the long-term durability of the plastic folding pedals; I suspect that they will have to be replaced after a couple years of hard use.

It takes a little practice to fold the Thunderbolt correctly. The quick release on the handle bars has to be undone and then the handlebars turned upwards so that the break calipers and gear shifters aren’t in the way of the wheels. If the handlebars aren’t turned upwards, then the two wheels won’t touch when the bike is folded. The front stem is folded down so it will hang between the two wheels when the center frame is folded. The front light with 3 AA batteries that I added to the handlebars is thin enough that I don’t have to take it off when folding the bike, but it rubs against the front tire when the bike is folded and I have to take it off if I plan to push the bike on its two wheels.

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The seat post is pushed down to provide a leg for the Thunderbolt to rest upon when folded.

In order for the bike to be stable when folded, the seat post needs to pushed all the way down and the seat turned to the side so that the bike can rest on the bottom of the seat post. The bottom of the seat post has a plastic bumper on the bottom to prevent it from damaging delicate flooring. If the seat post is not pushed down, then the ground will scrape against the brake handle and the chain and teeth of the front sprocket.

If the seat post isn’t pushed down, then it can be used to push the folded Thunderbolt on its two wheels. The Thunderbolt can being pushed forward in front of your body, but not pulled behind like Brompton which is more convenient. There is a noticeable wobble back and forth between the two wheels when pushing the folded Thunderbolt forward.  When pushing around the folded Thunderbolt, I often forget that it can only go forward. If I step backwards, the pedals will start moving and jam into the wheels, which jerks me to a halt. I also tend to forget to always hold up the Thunderbolt, and I try to set it down on its front procket and handlebars, which isn’t good for the bike.  It takes a bit of practice to remember to always go forward and never set it down when wheeling around the folded Thunderbolt.

IMG_20181113_124900FoldedThunderbolt

The metal plate from the front wheel only partially touches the magnet from the back wheel when the bike is folded.

There is a magnet on the back wheel to hold together the folded bike, but the metal plate on the front wheel doesn’t line up well and only touches part of the magnet, so the bond between the two wheels isn’t as strong as it could be. Camp also provides a velcro strap to hold together the two wheels and it probably should be used when transporting the Thunderbolt for long distances to ensure that the bike doesn’t unfold.

Using the Thunderbolt on public transport
I plan to carry the Thunderbolt in a bag on public transport, but I found that it feels very heavy and bulky when carried. I bought a Camp bag to carry the Thunderbolt for $25, but it takes quite a bit of wrangling to get it into the bag. The Thunderbolt does fit into the Camp bag with the seat post all the way down and the seat turned at an angle, but it is easier to zip up the bag if the seat post is pulled out of the frame and lain on top of the folded bike.

IMG_20181030_102632ThunderboltInCampBag

It takes me between 1.5 and 2 minutes to fold up the bike, put it inside the Camp bag and zip it up. Hopefully I will get faster with practice, but I don’t find it very convenient.

The shoulder strap on the Camp bag doesn’t have much padding, so it bothers me the way it digs into my shoulder if I have to carry it for more than a couple minutes. I will probably buy a replacement strap with better padding for the shoulder if I use the bag very often. I do worry that the shoulder straps are only attached to a little patch of the bag that could pull free over time. In contrast, the hand straps are much better attached to the bag. If I use the bag which weighs a tad over 2 lbs, I also need to carry it in my backpack when riding, which weighs another 2 lbs. When folded up, the Camp bag takes up all the room in my backpack, so it is not a small bag.

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Strap on Camp bag.

I bought the Thunderbolt to avoid spending 30 minutes walking every day to get to work, but I’m not sure that I will go through the hassle of folding it, wrangling it into the bag, then unfolding it every day since it only will end up saving me roughly 15 minutes. On the other hand, I enjoy riding a bike, and I love the freedom of being able to avoid public transport altogether when the weather is nice.

The deciding factor in my buying a folding bike is the new public transport being implemented in La Paz, Bolivia where I live. Most public transport in La Paz consists of converted Toyota or Honda vans and half-sized Blue Bird school buses, where there is little room to carry a bike. La Paz has full-sized buses for a few routes through the city, but the folded Thunderbolt is too big to fit inside, and I am fearful of using the bike racks in the front of the bus, because the distinctive Thunderbolt would be a target for theft.  I bought a thick motorcycle chain to lock up the Thunderbolt to deter potential thieves, but I can’t use that on the bus racks.

Nonetheless, La Paz recently added Mi Teleférico, which is a new network of aerial cable cars. The cable cars are designed to hold up to 10 passengers, but they are almost never full, so there is usually plenty of room for me set down a big bike bag. I have to carry the bike bag in front of my body when going through the Teleférico’s turnstiles and some of the stations require walking for several minutes to get to the next line, but I have now taken the Thunderbolt folded inside a bag through most of the stations in the Teleférico without mishap.

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The Thunderbolt on my porch with cable cars from La Paz’s new Teleferico in the background.

Bikes can be transported on the Teleférico, but they require buying a second ticket for the bike. Since almost nobody in La Paz has ever seen a foldable bike, the Teleférico employees don’t suspect that I am carrying a bike in my bag. So far, I haven’t been asked to buy a second ticket when carrying the Thunderbolt on the Teleférico. I make sure to stick my bike helmet in my backback and I’m wearing normal clothes for work, so it isn’t obvious that I’m a biker. I wonder if other commuters in La Paz will start using folding bikes and the Teleférico employees will eventually start looking for passengers carrying bike bags to charge them extra, but I doubt it will happen any time soon. Almost all the bikers in La Paz are either kids or tourists who get a thrill from riding beefy mountain bikes down dangerous Andean slopes.

Final thoughts on buying the Thunderbolt
I still can’t decide whether I made the right decision in buying the Camp Thunderbolt. The problems I have encountered so far convince me that it is best to buy a quality brand like Dahon, Tern or Brompton. Several of the Amazon reviewers compared the Thunderbolt favorably to Dahon models, but I doubt that I would have encountered the sloppy assembly and the design flaw in the kickstand if I had bought a Dahon. On the other hand, I wanted a higher number of gears to be able to ride up hills and I wasn’t willing to pay the prices charged by Dahon. If I had been 100% sure that I would use the folding bike every day to commute to work, I might have bought the Dahon Visc D18 Tour, but I bought the bike as an experiment so I wasn’t willing to invest that much.

The real choice for me was between paying $250-$300 for mountain bike and paying $450 for a folding bike with a bag. I needed a bike and I figured that I was going to spent at least $250 on a decent bike, so I decided that I might as well spent an additional $200 for a folding one with a bag that I can carry on public transport. Even if I end up not using the Thunderbolt during my daily commute, I will use it at other times to get around the city and on long distance buses when I travel in the Andes.

If the Thunderbolt holds up over time, then I will feel that I made a good purchase despite the initial problems that I have encountered with the bike. I don’t mind tinkering with a bike to fix minor problems and I’m too impecunious to invest in a more expensive bike. If living in a flatter place that doesn’t require as many gears, the Ford by Dahon Convertible 7 Speed or Muon are probably a safer bet than the Thunderbolt for people on a tight budget.

As a commuter bike, the Thunderbolt is simply too big and bulky in my opinion to be used on most public transport and it isn’t easy to carry in a bag. It takes me at least a minute and a half to fold it up and wrestle it into the Camp bag. Only in places where you can push it around on its own wheels would I recommend it for commuters using public transport. A smaller folding bike like the Brompton or Dahon Curl with 16 inch wheels is much more practical for public transport, but those types of commuter bikes simply aren’t designed for the rough roads of La Paz.

Trying to ride up the steep hills of La Paz has convinced me of the utility of electric bikes, but an electric motor and a large battery would add another 10 to 15 pounds, which will make the bike too heavy to carry in a bag on my shoulder, so I would have to pay extra to transport an ebike on La Paz’s Teleférico. Also, motorized bikes technically aren’t allowed on Teleférico, but that rule was probably written for scooters and mopeds. Most Teleférico employees have never seen an ebike before, so they will probably think that an ebike is a normal bike and let it pass.

Another option is to use a folding electric scooter, rather than a folding bike. They aren’t any lighter, but they fold more quickly than a bike and are easier to carry on public transport. On the other hand, I wouldn’t like to constantly worry about charging the lithium-ion battery and it can’t be transported on an airplane. Since I have studied the environmental impact of fabricating lithium-ion batteries, I am reluctant to needlessly increase my carbon footprint when I can use a non-motorized bike. Also electric scooters can’t be carried on airplanes (see below) due to their large lithium batteries, and shipping one to Bolivia via sea and land would be costly and dealing with Bolivian customs often involves weeks of bureaucratic hassle.

Traveling on airplanes with folding bikes
I only had one day to play with the Thunderbolt, before I packed it up and shipped it on a plane to Bolivia. My father figured out that I would be able to avoid paying oversize shipping fees by cutting down Thunderbolt’s box it so it was 14 inches wide, 26 inches long and 21.5 inches tall. Most airlines don’t charge oversize fees for checked luggage which is 62 linear inches or less. My father also cut some plywood panels to fit at both ends of the box to avoid the bike being crushed in transit. Given that the walls of the Thunderbolt’s carton box are double thickness, the extra wooden panels probably weren’t necessary, but my father thought that it would be a good idea. I took off the wheels, cargo rack, fenders and tied down the dérailleur to save space and I took the brakes’ discs off the wheels to avoid them being bent during shipping. (The nuts holding down the brake’s discs had washers on one wheel but strangely didn’t have washers on the other wheel.) We were able to cram everything into our cut-down box except one wheel, which I stuck in another suitcase.

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The Thunderbolt box reenforced with plywood panels at the ends and cut down to 26 x 21.5 x 14 inches to avoid paying oversize luggage fees on airlines.

With the derailleur tied down, the frame of the Thunderbolt only needs a box which is 24 inches in length. If we had cut two inches from the length and added two inches to the width, we probably could have gotten the second wheel in the box, but we left the box its original width of 14 inches.

When I got to the airport, the lady checking me in for United Airlines asked me what was in the box. I told her that it was a folding bike, and she informed me that I would have to pay $150 extra to ship a bike, even though it fit within 62 linear inches and was under the 50 lb weight limit. I told her that charging an extra fee for a bike was unfair, since it shouldn’t matter to United Airlines what is inside the box as long as it complies with the normal baggage requirements. Seeing no way to contest the extra fee, I paid it. As I waited to board the plane, I used the free Wifi at the airport to check the United baggage requirements for sports equipment, which state:

United accepts non-motorized bicycles with single or double seats (including tandem) or up to two non-motorized bicycles packed in one case as checked baggage. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is over 50 pounds (23 kg) and/or 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), the item(s) will be subject to standard oversize and overweight service charges. First, second and excess checked bag fees may apply. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is less than 50 pounds (23 kg) and 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), there is no bicycle service charge, but the first or second checked bag service charges may apply.

The following are bicycle restrictions:

  • Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed, or
  • All loose items must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar protective material, or
  • Bicycle should be transported in a sealed box.
  • If your itinerary includes a United Express flight, please contact United for information regarding aircraft cargo hold limits
  • United is not liable for damage to bicycles that do not have the handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed, handlebars and pedals encased in plastic foam or similar material, or bicycles not contained in a cardboard containers or hard-sided cases.

Note: Bicycles will not be accepted during an excess baggage embargo when no excess baggage is allowed.

With this information in hand, I complained about being charged the extra fee to ship the bike. It took the United agent almost an hour to figure out how to refund me the extra $150 that I had been charged, but we got it resolved before I boarded the plane. The moral of the story is that you need to know the baggage requirements for the airline beforehand and have a copy of the airline’s rules with you, because the airline agents probably don’t know their own rules and it is a hassle to contest the extra fees afterwards.

Given the amount of time that it takes to cut a box to the right proportions, disassemble the bike to fit in the box and then reassemble it upon arrival, it is worth buying a bag like the Downtube Folding Bike Soft Suitcase for $99. It doesn’t require any disassembly of the bike and it has rollers, making it easier to carry than a box. It looks like normal luggage, so you are unlikely to get questioned by airline agents about its contents. However, my custom box with wooden panels provides better protection against getting crushed, so I will keep using it. Tern reports that their 20 inch bikes can fit in a standard 30×21×13 inch hardbody suitcase if disassembled, so it might not be necessary to use a custom box.

Bolivia invierte menos en energía renovable que otros países sudamericanos

Bolivia ha invertido menos en las energías renovables que los otros países sudamericanos en la última década, a pesar de que el articulo 379 de la constitución boliviana especifica que “el Estado desarrollará y promoverá la investigación y el uso de nuevas formas de producción de energías alternativas, compatibles con la conservación del ambiente.”

La gran mayoría de la electricidad de Bolivia viene de la quema de gas natural en termoeléctricas y este porcentaje ha crecido rápidamente durante la administración del MAS. La capacidad de las termoeléctricas bolivianas ha crecido de 958.39 megavatios al final del año 2006 a aproximadamente 1999 megavatios al final del 2016 (todavía no tenemos datos oficiales del Ministerio de Energía para el año pasado).  La administración del MAS sólo ha agregado 13 MW de energía solar, 27 MW de energía eólica,  60 MW de bioenergía y 12 MW de energía hidroeléctrica en la última década. En total, 112 MW de energía renovable fueron agradados en comparación a 1040 MW de energía sucia de combustibles fósiles. Continue reading

La problemática de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero en Bolivia

Estoy escribiendo un libro con el titulo preliminar “La problemática de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero en Bolivia”, que presenta datos acerca del las emisiones de Bolivia y la pólitica del Estado. El borrador del libro esta disponible para descargar:
ProblematicaGEIBolivia.odt (para editar en OpenOffice/LibreOffice)
ProblematicaGEIBolivia.pdf (para leer en Adobe Acrobat)

Gracias por cualquier tipo de comentario u observación acerca del libro.

The Mexican gasolinazo prefigures the future of Bolivia

Recent news is filled with the protests over the Mexican gasolinazo. The Bolivian newspapers have a few brief headlines about the Mexican crisis, and these articles often draw reference to the gasolinazo experienced by Bolivia a couple years ago. However, there seems to be little recognition within Bolivia that its future will be dominated by gasolinazos which are far worse than the current one in Mexico.

In Bolivia, gasoline and diesel is sold at a price of 3.7 bolivianos per liter, whereas it costs between 8 and 10 bolivianos per liter outside the country, meaning that 50% to 60% of the price is subsidized. Over the last decade, and the percent of Bolivian electricity coming from burning fossil fuels has risen from 60% to 78%, because the government mandates that thermoelectric plants can buy a thousand cubic feet of natural gas at a subsidized price of $1.90, whereas Bolivia exports that same gas at a price of between $5 and $10. In 2014, Bolivia spent over $800 million of its annual budget subsidizing fossil fuels, which is much more than Mexico per capita, when you consider that the population of Mexico is 10 times bigger. If you look at the difference between the price of fuels inside Bolivia and the price of the fuels that Bolivia exports, I calculate that Bolivia lost $3.4 billion in 2014 due to the subsidies. These amounts have dropped in recent years due to the falling prices of oil and gas in international markets, but the recent rises in prices indicates that Bolivia will probably have to spend as much on subsidized fuel in the future as it did in 2014.

Continue reading

The failure of China’s development model

This fascinating article explains how China has achieved economic growth and why that growth is destroying the environment.

The stability of China’s political system rests on maintaining employment, which means keeping growth high, so there seems to be no way out except to overthrow the political system. It is very depressing reading but extremely enlightening. The next time I talk to someone who talks about the miracle of Chinese economic growth, I will point them to this article.

In some ways Bolivia is going down a similar path of growth based on destruction of its environment. The MAS party is destroying the environment in the name of dirty development, but now the Bolivian state has become so dependent on growth that it can’t stop it if wants to stay in power. It needs to keep exporting more and more natural gas to have the money to pay for the programs that make it popular with voters, and it needs to allow more deforestation to keep the soy agroindustry and the cattle raisers happy.

La deuda climática de Bolivia es una distración de los problemas reales

El sitio climatefairshares.org ha publicado estimaciones de la deuda o crédito climático de cada país. Algunas personas apuntan a este sitio para decir que los paises industrializados le deben a Bolivia.

En mi opinión la polémica de climatefairshares.org es una distracción de los problemas reales que nos enfrentamos en países como Bolivia que son basados en la ideología de desarrollo sucio. Además, los cálculos de climatefairshares.org tienen muchos huecos.

Continue reading

Los HCFCs en las espumas de carnaval

Jueves tuve una entrevista en la Red RTP (canal 4) acerca del impacto de espumas carnavaleras que contienen hidroclorofluorocarbonos (HCFC), que es un químico que destruye la capa de ozono y causa el calentamiento global.

Rey Momo y Camaleón, que son las dos marcas de espumas carnavaleras más vendidas en Bolivia, contienen HCFC-22. Un gramo de HCFC-22 equivale a 1810 gramos de dióxido de carbono (CO2), en términos de su impacto calentador en 100 años. He calculado que cada envase de Rey Momo contiene 12 gramos de HCFC-22, que tiene el impacto calentador de 22 kilos de CO2-equivalente, que es como quemar 9.5 litros de gasolina. (Durante la entrevista, dije 11 litros basado en la estimación que cada litro de gasolina produce 2 kilos de CO2, pero cada litro produce 2.31 kilos de CO2, entonces debe ser 9.5 litros de gasolina.) Para más información, ver mis articulos en Reacción Climática.

Según el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua, las emisiones de gases de fluoro en Bolivia fueron 2.4 toneladas de CO2-equivalente per cápita en el año 2004. Desde aquel tiempo, Bolivia ha reducido sus emisiones de los clorofluorocarbonos (CFC), pero no ha tomado medidas para controlar sus emisiones de los HCFC, que ha subido rápidamente en los últimos años. Según el Protocolo de Montreal que es un acuerdo internacional para reducir los gases que agota la capa de ozono, Bolivia debe empezar de reducir sus emissiones de los HCFC a partir del año 2015 y prohibir su uso en el año 2030, pero la falta de control en la venta de espumas canavaleras señala que todavía el gobierno no está controlando el uso de los HCFC en Bolivia.

En la reunión de Reacción Climática ayer hemos hecho planes para alertar al público acerca de este problema y presionar al Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua para controlar el uso de los HCFC en Bolivia. Estamos invitando a otros grupos para colaborar en esta campaña. El día martes 3 de febrero tendremos una reunión en el Cafe Urbano (en Av 20 de Octubre, Sopocachi) a las 6pm para planear la campaña. Tod@s que tengan interés están invitados a esta reunión para planear la campaña en contra del uso de los HCFC en Bolivia.

La comida no saludable en Bolivia

Ayer fui a una tienda de Irupana para comprar harina de trigo integral, pero Irupana ha dejado de ofrecer harina de trigo integral porque no hubo suficiente demanda. La tendera en Irupana me mencionó que el supermercado Hipermaxi tiene harina integral, entonces fuí allí, pero Hipermaxi sólo ofrece harina de la marca Princesa para el pan chamillo. La harina tiene pedazos que no son molidos, que no me gustan en los pancakes. La última vez que compré harina Princesa, encontré excrementos de ratón en la harina. No conozco ningún otro lugar que vende harina integral, entonces compré 2 libras de esa harina chamillo. Continue reading

Espumas carnavaleras contribuyen a cambio climático

Jueves tuve una entrevista en la Red RTP (canal 4) acerca del impacto de espumas carnavaleras que contienen hidroclorofluorocarbonos (HCFC), que es un químico que destruye la capa de ozono y causa el calentamiento global.

Rey Momo y Camaleón, que son las dos marcas de espumas carnavaleras más vendidas en Bolivia, contienen HCFC-22. Un gramo de HCFC-22 equivale a 1810 gramos de dióxido de carbono (CO2), en términos de su impacto calentador en 100 años. He calculado que cada envase de Rey Momo contiene 12 gramos de HCFC-22, que tiene el impacto calentador de 22 kilos de CO2-equivalente, que es como quemar 9.5 litros de gasolina. (Durante la entrevista, dije 11 litros basado en la estimación que cada litro de gasolina produce 2 kilos de CO2, pero cada litro produce 2.31 kilos de CO2, entonces debe ser 9.5 litros de gasolina.) Ver: http://reaccionclimatica.org/klab/espumas

Según el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua, las emisiones de gases de fluoro en Bolivia fueron 2.4 toneladas de CO2-equivalente per cápita en el año 2004. Desde aquel tiempo, Bolivia ha reducido sus emisiones de los clorofluorocarbonos (CFC), pero no ha tomado medidas para controlar sus emisiones de los HCFC, que ha subido rápidamente en los últimos años. Según el Protocolo de Montreal que es un acuerdo internacional para reducir los gases que agota la capa de ozono, Bolivia debe empezar de reducir sus emissiones de los HCFC a partir del año 2015 y prohibir su uso en el año 2030, pero la falta de control en la venta de espumas canavaleras señala que todavía el gobierno no está controlando el uso de los HCFC en Bolivia.

En la reunión de Reacción Climática ayer hemos hecho planes para alertar al público acerca de este problema y presionar al Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Agua para controlar el uso de los HCFC en Bolivia. Estamos invitando a otros grupos para colaborar en esta campaña. El día martes 3 de febrero tendremos una reunión en el Cafe Urbano (en Av 20 de Octubre, Sopocachi) a las 6pm para planear la campaña. Tod@s que tengan interés están invitados a esta reunión para planear la campaña en contra del uso de los HCFC en Bolivia.

Developing countries produce 44% more greenhouse gases emissions than developed countries

I added a graph to my article “Experiences at the Cumbre de los pueblos in Lima, Peru during the COP20” to show how developing countries now produce 44% more greenhouse gases emissions than the developed world.

Yesterday, I had an argument with a drunk Bolivian about the fact that Bolivia produces more than 30 tons of GHG emissions per capita, which is 50% more than in the US and 4 times as much as the European average. Bolivians simply can’t accept that they contaminate more on a per capita basis than people in the developed world. It is a very hard mental adjustment to start taking responsibility for climate change, especially when the government and most of society seem to be in denial. It is a different type of denial than in the US, where people deny the science of climate change. In Bolivia, most people don’t deny that climate change is occurring, but they deny that Bolivians are playing any part in making it happen. For example, I have yet to see a single article in the Bolivian press, saying that the principal reason that Bolivia is loosing its glaciers is the black carbon produced by fires in Bolivia.

An update about my life in Bolivia

I haven’t felt inclined to write much about myself lately, partially because nothing which I have been doing lately has been very newsworthy. Still, I realize that what has become so humdrum for me may still be interesting to people who think fondly (or not so fondly) of me. So I dedicate myself for the next hour to chronicling the events of the past week in hopes that others may enjoy reading about my travails of living in the Andes. Continue reading

Biofuels and World Hunger

Since I came to Bolivia in March 2007, the price of food has risen 25%, for some items the price has doubled. I used to be able to buy bread for 0.20 to 0.25 Bolivianos. Briefly the price spiked at 0.50B last year, but has now settled down to 0.40B. In my favorite place to eat lunch near la UMSA university, the price of a standard mean has risen from 6B to 8B. The vegetarian restaurant which caters to a more upscale clientèle has likewise upped its prices from 12B to 15B. I don’t buy staples in the market daily, so I haven’t kept track as carefully of the prices of potatoes, rice, noodles, and other essentials of the Bolivian diet, but they seem to have risen in a similar fashion.

In a country where the majority live on less than $2 and a sizable proportion on less than $1 per day, these price increases have been devastating. The average annual GDP for a Bolivian is $1137, but of course the majority live on less, since the exclusive echelon on wealthy elite pulls up the average. Unlike in North American and Western Europe, where food is tiny proportion of total expenses, food forms a sizable proportion of household expenses, often consuming 50% or more of disposable income for the poor majority. Continue reading

The implication of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for Bolivia

I have several shelves full of edifying books gathering dust in my apartment. I tell myself that I should read that latest book on Andean linguistics or Latin American social movements, but they languish sadly unread. I fully expected Naomi Klein’s latest book to similarly become a accumulator of dust in my apartment, with a title like “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Books analyzing 3 decades of capitalism are generally pretty low on my list of favorite reading, so it was with some surprise when I finally cracked Klein’s book. Since I was killing time on a Saturday afternoon, I didn’t expect to make it through more than a dozen pages. Instead, I didn’t put Klein’s book down for the next 48 hours, eagerly flipping page after page. I stayed up till the wee hours of the night, reluctant to put the book down even to sleep. Continue reading

Experiencing Bolivian Carnival

I´m still recovering from Carnival which ended last Tuesday for most Bolivians, but in a few communities in the La Paz province Carnival keeps going for a week after Lent starts–the Andes always did have an interesting interpretation of Christianity.

Carnival consisted of five days of continual drinking, dancing and nursing hangovers. They don´t show as much skin or have quite the licentious attitude as the Brazilians, but Bolivians are still deadly serious about their carnival. It seems to be a point of honor for them to start dancing and drinking early in the morning and to go till 3 in the morning. Then to stagger off to bed, only to roll out of bed and do it all over the next day. It seems that being constantly hung-over, red-eyed, and staggering with exhaustion are essential to truly “enjoying” carnival. It is a point of honor to keep drinking until you have finished a crate (or even a couple crates) of beer with your friends. Continue reading