FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Will Al Gore Deliver Us to Solartopia?

Al Gore has leapt to center stage with well-founded concerns about global warming. He has been gratefully successful in publicizing the fact that there is a virtual library of irrefutable evidence that carbon dioxide levels are rapidly rising in our atmosphere, that this is being caused by human beings, and that the potential impacts are catastrophic.

What’s not being said is that the solution to the problem—the necessary transition to Solartopia, a world based on renewable energy—is also the key to the future of our economic well-being, and would be whether global warming was a problem or not.

In short: even without the dire disaster of climate change, a transitioning to green power is the only hope our global economy has for future prosperity.

Indeed, moving to an industrial system that runs on wind, solar, bio-fuels and other renewable sources, along with increased efficiency, including a revival of mass transit, can and will do for the global economy in the next 25 years what the computer/internet revolution has done for the last.

What’s also clear is that there is absolutely no room in this future for fossil fuels or nuclear power. But King CONG (coal, oil, nukes and gas) is not going to give up without a ferocious fight.

First up is the insane idea of bulding new nuclear plants. A debate now rages about a possible “renaissance” for atomic energy. It’s a non-starter. Nuclear power is nothing more than a half-century of proven failure.

It is 50 years since the first commercial reactor opened at Shippingport, Pennsylvania. But no solution has been found for the long-term management of spent nuclear fuel.

Nor is the private insurance industry willing assume liability for a possible catastrophic accident.

We have had a taste of such disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. We agree with the insurers that risk of another one, by terror or error, is too great to sustain.

The scant experience with these new reactors has already been bad, with cost overruns and other problems plaguing the few projects that have been tried.

The economics for new nukes are catastrophic. Bush Administration partisans may be willing to pour billions of taxpayer dollers into them. But we see no rush from Wall Street to embrace more nukes, especially when Bush is threatening war with Iran to prevent them from doing the same.

Which leaves us with this obvious challenge: if we reject fossil fuels and nuclear power, how will we heat and light an increasingly crowded planet, whose people are rightly intent on material prosperity?

The answer is in green power: renewable energy and increased efficiency.

For decades it has been argued that a planet run entirely on natural energy—a “Solartopia”—is an unrealistic dream, that might, at best, come in fifty or a hundred years.

But our planetary eco-systems can not wait that long.

And the economic engines now driving the conversion to green power—the big investment dollars pouring into wind, solar, bio-fuels, etc—will not allow such a delay.

In fact, there is a “great green avalanche” of investment dollars now flooding the renewable markets. The global wind business is booming with 25-35% annual growth. Far more new wind capacity is being installed than nuclear. Major technological advances in commercial-scale turbines mean there is no cheaper form of new electric generation. New gearless machines promise even better performance.

Though siting issues often arise (as they certainly will with new nuclear plants), properly installed wind machines do virtually no environmental damage. Though there are exceptions, the bird-kill issue is mostly anti-wind hype. Wind turbines are in fact proven to the point that financial powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, Edison Capital, John Deare, and many more are lining up to invest in these projects. Wind power’s principle problem today is a shortage of turbines.

Solar power is also plummeting in cost and soaring in demand. Solar water heating has long been economically competitive throughout the northern hemisphere. Photovoltaics (PV), which convert sunlight to electricity, are being incorporated into roofing shingles and window glass.

Solar power towers and parabolic trough collectors have proven themselves to be cost effective.

Passive solar architecture can be as simple as facing a building’s biggest windows to the south, with resultant heat gain worth big money for decades to come.

Ethanol from corn and diesel from soy have become major cash crops. But in the long run, bio-fuel stocks that need annual planting will give way to perennials with high cellulose and vegetable oil content. These “incredible inedibles” will include switchgrass, miscanthus, hemp, canola and more.

Meanwhile, simple devices to harness the tides, the currents, and the thermal differentials between solar-heated water at the surface of the oceans and the colder waters deeper down, are already proving do-able. Geothermal power, built on the heat beneath the Earth’s crust, has been with us for centuries.

All these sources are great job-creators. But can they add up to a totally green-powered planet?

That depends on our most crucial energy wild-card—increased efficiency. Despite all we’ve been through since the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, this nation—and much of the rest of the world—still wastes at least half the energy it burns.

Light Emitting Diodes (LED), superconducting, mag-lev, and a wide range of other high-performance technologies will redefine how we use—and abuse—energy. The projections for unsustainable rises in global energy consumption in the next decades are posited on energy inefficiencies that economic factors will force us to transcend.

In fact, we see a society that has no choice but to go totally green. The primary reason is that our survival on this planet depends on it.

Green energy and efficiency make perfect economic sense. They are our future, both economically and ecologically.

But none of that matters if we are still stymied by the hugely rich and powerful fossil/fuel industry. We won’t get to Solartopia until King CONG (coal, oil, nukes and gas) is shoved out of the way.

And that’s the hugest “if” of all. Those awaiting Al Gore to take on these industries may have a long wait. Even if he were an ideal leader, it will take nothing less than a gargantuan grassroots campaign to change our energy system to what it must be if we are to survive. For many of us, that will be the real work of the coming era.

A century ago, a great leader named Eugene V. Debs warned that he could not lead the American people into a worker’s paradise, because if one leader could take them there, another could take them out.

In the long run, Al Gore is right, global warming is a dire threat. There are major investors now willing to invest big money in solar power. And it is certain that one leader after another will emerge to lead us toward a world based on green energy and efficiency.

But King CONG will not give up on its gargantuan investments without an epic struggle. We will not get to a green-powered world without dismantling the enormous infrastructure that is the fossil/nuke cartel, with all its power and money.

No single politician will ever do that. In the long run, the only route to Solartopia is through the green grassroots.

HARVEY WASSERMAN, senior advisor to Greenpeace USA since 1990, is author of “Solartopia: Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030,

 

 

More articles by:

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail