U.S. Business Sees Green in Cuba Thaw

Even as President Obama’s decision to make it easier to travel to Cuba from the United States gains support among Latin American leaders, businesses of all sorts are lining up to make the most of the new policy. The Obama administration lifted restrictions in March on family travel to Cuba, allowing Americans with family in Cuba to visit once a year, stay as long as they want and spend up to $179 a day, according to news media reports. Under President Bush, family visits to Cuba had been permitted only once every three years. Meanwhile, Cuba’s Latin American and Caribbean neighbors are opening doors and advocating for their communist neighbor. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called on the United States to rethink its policy toward Cuba, the Associated Press reports.

Immigrants Sending Less Money Home

Fewer hard-earned dollars are going to families in developing nations these days, as their immigrant relatives working abroad feel the pinch from the deepening recession. An Inter-American Development Bank study released in March showed remittances to Latin America from the United States at just over $69 billion in 2008 — nearly the same as in 2007. Yet the latest figures show as much as a 13 percent drop for some countries in January 2009, compared to the same period last year. Overall, 70 percent of Hispanic immigrants in the United States sent less money home last year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The Wall Street Journal reports that Bangladesh, too, had a ten percent drop in remittances between January and February.

Wind Energy: Becalmed by Recession

At a time when green energy is being touted as a potential booster for a slow global economy, a wind energy company in North Dakota has laid off nearly a quarter of its staff. The Telegraph reports that DMI Industries, one of the largest producers of wind-turbine towers, is suffering from a huge drop in demand just one year after seeing impressive growth. The company expanded its factories last year, when the U.S. wind industry doubled its activity, but was forced to lay off workers when banks and other lenders were hit by the slowdown. DMI’s president told the newspaper: “So many positive things have been said about renewable energy, but when the banks have problems, it has an impact on us too.” Some analysts say the investment slowed has undermined renewable energy’s potential to combat climate change.

Diplomas for Green-Collar Jobs

College graduates are returning to school, to study up in the potentially lucrative environment and renewable energy sectors. The United States plans to invest billions in “green collar” jobs, encouraging some people to leave their professions for a fresh start in what they hope is a more promising field, reports The Toronto Star. “Historically, sustainability has gone down in priority during tough economic times, but it’s different this time,” Doug Webber of the Canada Green Building Council told the newspaper. A report published last year by the United Nations, estimated that 20 million jobs could be created with the investment in renewable energy by 2030. In response, colleges and universities adding new “green” degree programs.
–Brittany Owens/Newsdesk.org
“Colleges responding to need for ‘green collar’ workers”
Toronto Star, February 9, 2009

Black Truckers Win Big Wal-Mart Settlement

Black truck drivers who claimed that Wal-Mart discriminated against them have reached a settlement of $17.5 million, although the company denies any wrongdoing. The 23 drivers who filed suit will also receive priority job placement for future work with the company. According to the Associated Press, figures show that 15 percent of truckers were black from 2000 to 2005. However, in that five-year period only 4 percent to 6 percent of Wal-Mart’s 8,000 truckers were black, and none of the hiring committees at Wal-Mart’s various sites had a strong representation of blacks, despite a rule that the panels have 50 percent minority membership. — Brittany Owens/Newsdesk.org
“Retail giant Wal-Mart settles suit by black truck drivers”
Associated Press, February 20, 2009

Diamond Dilemma in Botswana

Botswana is moving ahead with plans to build a state-of-the art diamond cutting facility — at a time when declining diamond sales are threatening the jobs of thousands of miners. Government officials see the facility, which will expand the types of diamond processing in Botswana, as a path to economic diversity, reports The Voice of Francistown. Even as the officials rave about the possibilities of the high tech diamond park, its Debswana Diamond Company — a joint venture with South Africa’s De Beers Group — is meeting with the mine workers union to discuss mine closings and layoffs throughout the country. Worldwide diamond sales are down in the face of the global recession, and Botswana’s economy is hurting. Diamond mining is Botswana’s economic mainstay, and the source of most of the country’s funding for development and public health.

An Asian Tiger Comes (House) Hunting

A group of Chinese tourists in America may go home with the ultimate souvenir: a house. The China Daily, published by China’s Communist Party, reports that more than 300 Chinese have signed up for a 10-day house-hunting trip organized by real estate Web site, Soufun.com. Potential homebuyers are capitalizing on low prices following the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis and the current global recession. The trip costs roughly 25,000 Yuan, or $3,500 and will target houses in the $400,000-$700,000 range, focusing on metropolitan areas with large numbers of ethnic Chinese in states such as California, Nevada and New York. Those interested include real estate professionals looking for cheap investment opportunities and parents of children studying in the United States.

Detroit's Got the Slow-Selling Hybrid Blues

Automakers, already flirting with bankruptcy, find themselves in another bind when introducing hybrid and fuel-efficient models — consumers aren’t buying if they can afford the gas. The Detroit News reports that small car and hybrid sales surged last year but have since fallen about 2 and 12 percent, mirroring dropping gas prices. Lower gas prices hinder investment in smaller vehicles and more efficient technology — yet in order to meet new emission standards being considered by Congress, automakers will need to spend billions on green technology. Auto sales have hit a 27-year low, and companies are deciding whether to spend limited resources on electric, hybrid, and fuel cell technology that might not sell. By 2012, the North American hybrid market is only projected to increase to 5.3 percent.

Is there a Carbon-Credit Bubble?

Carbon trading, which seeks to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions through market-based incentives, is being threatened by the global economic downturn, the BBC reports. Carbon trading in the European Union and the United States enables governments to set limits on the amount of climate-changing pollution a company can produce. If carbon dioxide emissions exceed that limit, the offending company can buy emission credits from companies that pollute less; thus, credit buyers pay to pollute, while sellers are rewarded for reducing their own emissions. Yet the global recession is reducing industrial productivity, resulting in lower carbon emissions, and so creating a surplus of carbon credits whose market value has plunged. Critics of market-based carbon trading say the whole system is flawed and warn of a “carbon bubble.”

Tribes Press Obama on Renewable Energy

Claiming that they will bear a disproportionate burden due to global warming, a coalition of American Indian tribes is requesting the Obama administration to support tribally owned or operated renewable-energy projects. The group represents around 250 tribes and their affiliates, and also hopes the new administration will direct a bevy of green jobs to the native nations, according to Indian Country Today. At present, companies working with renewable energy technologies shy away from joint ventures with tribes because they lose tax credit privileges. Tribal representatives highlighted the energy potential of their lands, saying wind and solar projects could produce billions of kilowatts per year. They also said investments in renewable energy would yield more jobs per dollar than ongoing investments in fossil fuels.