Straddling Solutions and Survivalism
Just a few words about each of these policies:
· The US spends about $25 billion a year subsidizing coal and oil. That figure is $200 billion a year in the entire industrial world. If those subsidies were removed from fossil fuels and put behind renewables, the oil companies would follow the money and become aggressive developers of fuel cells, solar panels and windmills. That subsidy shift would also bring out of the woodwork an army of energy engineers and entrepreneurs -- with successively more efficient generations of solar film and turbines and tidal devices -- in an explosion of creativity that would rival the dot.com revolution of the 1990s.
· The creation of a large fund, that has been calculated at about $300 billion a year for about a decade, to jumpstart renewable energy infrastructures in poor countries. This could be funded by carbon taxes in the north. It could come from a tax on international airline travel. A mechanism we like involves a tax on international currency transactions. Today the commerce in those currency transactions exceeds $1.5 trillion a day. A small tax of a quarter of a penny on a dollar would net out to about $300 billion a year for wind farms in India, fuel-cell factories in South Africa, solar assemblies in El Salvador, and vast, solar-powered hydrogen farms on the deserts of the Middle East; and,
· the adoption within the Kyoto framework of a binding, Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard that rises by 5 percent per year. This is a mechanism that would make it all work.
Under this plan, every country would start at its current baseline to increase its Fossil Fuel energy efficiency by 5 percent every year until the global 70 percent reduction was attained. That means a country would produce the same amount as the previous year with five percent less carbon fuel. Or it would produce five percent more goods with the same carbon fuel use as the previous year.
Since no economy grows at five percent for long, emissions reductions would outpace long-term economic growth. It could actually happen much more quickly than that.
For the first few years of this progressive efficiency standard, most countries would meet their goals by implementing low-cost -- even profitable -- efficiencies getting the waste out of their current energy systems. After a few years, as those efficiencies became more expensive to capture, countries would meet the 5 percent goal by drawing more and more energy from renewable sources most of which are 100 percent efficient by a Fossil Fuel standard.
And that would create the mass markets and economies of scale for renewables that would bring down their prices and make them competitive with coal and oil.
I believe a plan of this magnitude -- regardless of the details -- would create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. It would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad without compromising ours. It would undermine the economic desperation that gives rise to so much anti-US sentiment. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into a central, driving engine of growth of the global economy.
Finally, at the risk of being overly visionary, I do believe, because energy is so central to our existence, that a common global project to rewire the world with clean energy could be the first step on a path to peace -- even in today's profoundly fractured world: Peace among people and peace between people and nature.
Stepping back for a moment to a wider-angle vantage point, this kind of initiative could also be the beginning of the end of an outdated and increasingly toxic nationalism which we have long ago outgrown.
The economy is becoming truly globalized.
The globalization of communications now makes it possible for any person to communicate with anyone else around the world.
And since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global climate makes us one.
We hear many complaints about the costliness of addressing the climate crisis. But the real economic issue in rewiring the world with clean energy is not cost. The real economic issue is whether the world has a large enough labor force to accomplish this task in time to meet nature's deadline.
But therein lies the catch -- nature's deadline. A growing number of the world's leading climate scientists agree that we are already too far along a catastrophic trajectory to avoid significant disruptions. So my enthusiasm for the healing potential -- on many different levels -- of something like these solutions is tempered by an increasingly loud and persisting question: how are people of good will and social conscience supposed to respond in the face of a coming age of collapse?
There is no body of expertise -- no authoritative answers -- for this one. We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own hearts to consult, the intellectual integrity to look reality in the eye, whatever courage we can muster and our uncompromising dedication to a human future that reflects the combined aspirations of every single person in this room.
-- Ross Gelbspan (Nov. 19, 2006)