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Every hour I hear blasting on the local Estonian Television stations, “Borrowing time is here again!” The holiday season is traditionally a time for giving, but these SMS loans are a form of legal stealing. The thought of people still naïve enough to get even more into debt that way is scary. Estonia usually prides itself on being smarter than that. Estonians like to feel they are in the forefront of the latest technologies, as with Skype and the Genome project. Estonia is even getting ready for some environmental solar and wind energy conservation breakthroughs with the help of Swedish investors. Estonia is constantly talking about the next Nokia.

Our government keeps looking but they don’t seem to have found it yet. Instead of being innovative are locking themselves into past technologies, i.e. oil shale. We do have a digital parliament; we can pay for parking or state of the art pay toilets with our mobile phones, or purchase a can of soda from a vending machine. To our credit, we really have come far since the Soviet Union days only a couple of decades ago.
Drive around Tallinn day or night, with the high-rises, lights, shops and malls, you could be in just about any city in Europe. The same could be said of parts of Tartu, Viljandi, Pärnu, or Narva. The long awaited Tallinn-Tartu highway is halfway finished.  At least how I remember it, you could mistake it for the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. Regardless of the global economic downturn, we seem to be optimistically facing our future. Our Economics Minister, Juhan Parts has just submitted a working budget for next year. Hopefully predictions of our national financial demise will have been greatly exaggerated. Even real estate is expected to fare better as soon as the Euro comes into effect at the beginning of this New Year.  There is no need for despair; every cloud has a silver lining.
The Estonian baker, Leibur, recently closed the last bakery in Pärnu that made bread by hand, claiming it no longer can afford to keep it going. All the big construction companies are having similar problems, and I don’t mean the ongoing political payoff scandals. Many companies have grown too big to sustain themselves in the current market and this could ultimately be good news for others. This is the time for an enterprising baker to open up his own little bakery in Pärnu making fresh rolls and breads by hand.   He could do this because he doesn’t have to support a chain of bakeries. He (or she) can do this because they have a family that could help -mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, kids to do chores and they could also work out of their home. After a while the bakery gets a reputation for selling quality products people only remember and soon you are able to open up a shop of your own and then another. And so, begins the cycle all over again. Redistribution of wealth! 
In today’s construction industry there is a glut, a surplus, of buildings and apartments, so prices have dropped. Even so, very few people have money to buy new, so they opt to repair what they have. A small contractor can start charging reasonable rates for doing fix ups. Because he doesn’t have huge equipment leases to pay or an army of construction workers, bookkeepers and lawyers to keep on the payroll, the small contractor can charge a decent hourly wage to start. As he gets busier he hires a helper, buys a used pickup truck, then a shop and -wallah! Again, a redistribution of wealth; this is the natural order of things in nature. Everything changes. In a forest different faun and fauna take over in varying sequences. Leaf trees first, then evergreens sneak in between the branches and before they finally win out lightening hits and the process starts all over again.
Often it’s the big money companies who, after having grown exponentially, have the most to lose and complain how the end is near. But in reality, it’s not the end which is near but a change.
What I don’t understand is, even though Estonia signed on to the Kyoto agreement;  where we have agreed to significantly reduce our dependence on black energy by at least 20% by the year 2020, are we lobbying the European Union now to increase our carbon emissions limit for the future?
Reading through the Estonian Energy Security Report 2006 written for the Estonian Parliament you discover how the current emissions limit was put in place during the final days of soviet occupation when Estonia was spewing pollution like there was no tomorrow.
Our carbon allowance was set back then but as soon as the soviets left we immediately started cleaning up our act. We have successfully amas-sed decades of carbon credits. The last number mentioned on the news was 18 billion kroons worth! Eesti Energia received 1 billion kroons in carbon credits in 2006 but after that, they haven’t even bothered to collect until now.  We have sold some to Japan. Those countries that do not meet their carbon emissions quota can purchase credits from other nations who have them.  We in Estonia do not burn coal, gas or fuel oil for primary heating as they do in most other EU countries. Estonia is the only European Union country that utilizes biomass (firewood) for 70% of its home and apartment heating. Firewood is carbon neutral which gives Estonia lots of additional carbon credits every year.
In studying the problems facing alternative energy in other EU states, I learned the biggest enemy of alternative energy has always been the local energy company, which makes sense. They do not want to lose their monopoly.  Because of intensive and successful lobbying Estonians believe “what is good for Eesti Energia is good for Estonia”. After all, Eesti Energia is more than half owned by the government. Still, we should never forget the other half is owned by shareholders. Estonians believe oil shale is king like the Confederates thought cotton was king. I am not saying Eesti Energia is not looking to hedge its bets with alternative energy.  Wind is an alternative energy source that can be monopolized so Eesti Energia is actively pursuing this. I would hope they are not doing this by pushing private wind park owners out. Unlike wind, solar energy cannot be monopolized. Solar is truly the great democratizer, Power to the People! 
Estonians should be supporting all of our many innovative technologies. Why must our innovators always have to look elsewhere for support when our government is able, even managing to cross party lines to allocate 25 billion kroons to Eesti Energia over the next 20 years to build two state of the art 600MW oil shale burners in Narva. Sure they would be useful prototypes for Eesti Energia’s global oil shale development projects? But, isn’t this like betting on the loser in yesterday’s horse-race?  We should be moving away from fossil fuels, not encouraging its further development.
Our economics minister is telling the local media and the Estonian people, alternative energy is too costly. But what is the alternative? Can we afford not to? We could be helping to develop and not consign us to future dependence. Everyone must understand the true, real cost of our oil shale technology, not just hidden taxes, charges and costs but its globally polluting aspect. Our future has to be elsewhere. Like many innovators Estonia seems to suddenly have lost its way or run out of ideas and is looking to the past for security. We must be brave if we hope to continue to lead as we have been doing in the past.

Viido Polikarpus
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