Posted on November 29, 2011 by
Please welcome today’s guest poster, Jamison.
I will confess without hesitation: I’m horrible about giving credit where credit is due. I remember Dianne dragging me to a Save the Bay event, spending hours and hours doing back-breaking labor, planting native plants, all to save a little cove and then driving home past major polluters with a feeling I’d accomplished nothing at all. Dianne, like most of the Greenists, appreciates the little victories. I guess in the end it comes down to your definition of what a little victory is. So when I say it’s time to celebrate a little victory, realize it’s coming from a place of great cynicism and doubt about the future of the world. And if I’m telling you that you’ve accomplished something important, it’s probably a pretty big deal.
You might ask: What was done to finally impress you, Jamison? For the first time, installed green energy capacity has exceeded the installed nuclear capacity in the world. Take minute to process that. For most of my adult life I’ve heard corporate media commentators screaming at the top of their lungs to all that would listen that green technology didn’t represent an significant part of our energy portfolio and wouldn’t anytime soon. Now in a very short decade it’s happened. As if by magic. Knowing the corporate shills, I imagine they’ll start splitting green energy into its components in an effort to keep trivializing and impeding its development, but the cat is out of the bag now.
So what has happened to the world that caused this amazing shift to occur that we were assured would never happen? The Europeans basically got their act together after Kyoto and started doing what they said they were going to do. They started taking into account CO2 emissions in their energy production equations and started to make the changes that were required to implement a green energy plan that would be successful. They started making the windmills and solar panel factories required to be able to implement this green future. And most importantly, they set standards for manufacturers to create a clear path for what kinds of technologies were going to be required for them to be viable in this greener future. And they did it. Set a goal and started making the decisions required to succeed at it. Germany is leader in the European effort, implementing more solar and wind mill technology than the U.S. last year.
Which brings me back around to the U.S., where I actually live. This is where I would love to have the talents of Greenists to mine the positive from the negative. We dropped the ball, which is why I, and most everyone else in this country, thinks that green technology isn’t ready for prime time. For years we’ve heard an uninterrupted flow of disinformation on the topic of green technologies. Despite being one of the leading producers of greenhouse gases, we’ve failed to take responsibility for its production or really made any effective plans to fight against it. To say our leadership on the topic has been bipolar is sort of an understatement. We are investing, finally, now that the rest of the first world is making massive gains toward green technologies that will pay advantages for decades into the future. We are halfheartedly reaching the starting gate of the technologies. While disappointing, I haven’t lost hope for us yet, because of the next group.
The Chinese have done what we once would have done as a nation. They’ve begun the effort to retool their economy to support a greener existence. The bio-gas production example that I wrote about previously is just a start of that effort. They’ve begun to push the development of advanced battery technologies, windmills and solar panels. I’m not going to pretend they haven’t used some nefarious means to gain the upper hand in these environments. For as much as we feign outrage, these are the same nefarious means we used ourselves to gain our status as a first world power, so it’s a bit disingenuous to be too mad at them. Using our old tricks of the trade, they’ve managed to leapfrog over us to become not only the largest installer of green energy on the planet, but the largest producer of it as well. Amusingly, they’re using our green investment dollars to fund their green enterprises, but to their credit, they’ve been willing to spend the money to supplement the efforts.
Instead of looking at the next quarter, they looked to the next century and made the investment. That’s a lesson that the U.S. should maybe start taking notes about again, since we wrote the book on the topic.
So where does that leave us? I think it leaves us in a position to actually celebrate. Green technology has the potential to decentralize power generation. Just like every other local effort in the green movement, the myth of the economy-of-scale argument drops away and we see that with the transmission of everything from energy to food, the shorter the path, the less it costs. And that is a valuable message to get out there. The second thing we learn here is that it’s possible to move toward a green technological solution. Despite the constant barrage of disinformation out there saying it isn’t possible, the reality is that just like with food monoculture, we don’t need an energy monoculture either. Both are bad for us as a nation and as individuals. For all the gains from the economy of scale, it introduces a catastrophic vulnerabilities that we can’t afford as a nation.
Finally, I think there is something to be said for the old ways. The Chinese should act as a reminder of how we used to watch out for the long-term future of the nation as a whole and not just the temporary corporate interests of the moment. We can get back to that kind of country again and if we can do that, we can start to be successful like we once were. In the meantime, our decisions to support this new kind of thinking will help move technology along and maybe everyone else will finally catch up. Take a victory lap that the world, in spite of us, is making progress that we will be able to copy and emulate in the future.