The Global Shift to Renewable Energy

Here's good news about the global shift to renewable energy that finally has begun.

| April/May 2004

  • Renewable Energy
    In the United States, a national wind resource inventory published in 1991 indicates enough harnessable wind energy exists in just three states — North Dakota, Kansas and Texas — to satisfy national electricity needs. Today, this greatly understates U.S. potential: Recent advances in wind-turbine design and size have dramatically expanded the wind-power industry.
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/wajan

  • Renewable Energy

Here's good news about the global shift to renewable energy that finally has begun. — MOTHER

As world population has doubled and the global economy has expanded sevenfold over the last half-century, our claims on the environment have become excessive. We are asking more of the Earth than it can give on an ongoing basis and creating a "bubble" economy — one in which economic output is artificially inflated by over-consumption of the Earth's natural resources.

We are cutting trees faster than they can regenerate, overgrazing rangelands and converting them into deserts, over-pumping aquifers and draining rivers dry. On our cropland, erosion exceeds new soil formation, slowly depriving the soil of its inherent fertility. We are taking fish from the ocean faster than they can reproduce. We are depleting our nonrenewable fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) faster than nature can absorb it, creating a greenhouse effect. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, so does the Earth's temperature.

The resulting mega-threat — climate change — is not getting the attention it deserves, particularly from the United States, the nation responsible for one-fourth of all carbon emissions. Washington wants to wait until all the evidence on climate change is in, by which time it will be too late to prevent a wholesale warming of the planet. As the Earth's temperature rises, it affects all life on the planet. Climate change will cause intense heat waves, more destructive storms, lower crop yields, glacier melting and rising seas.

To head off disaster, we must design more efficient transportation systems; raise efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and automobiles; and develop and promote renewable energy technology.

The good news is that although this is a staggering challenge, it is entirely doable, and many countries are now taking action. Detailed studies by governments and environmental groups reveal the potential for reducing carbon emissions while saving money in the process. Cutting global carbon emissions in half by 2015 is entirely within range. Ambitious though this seems, it is commensurate with the threat climate change poses.

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