I attended the Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy conference a few weeks ago, and was impressed to see the progress we’ve made in the transitions to clean energy and zero emissions: the question is no longer whether we’ll make the change, but how and how soon.
Today, we have the technology to address at least 80% of the world’s energy needs with renewable resources, at a socioeconomic cost less than or at parity with our current dirty ways. And while the path to 100% renewable energy still requires a great deal of technological innovation, we have some of the best minds on the planet tackling the last 20% of the equation.
From catalyzing hydrogen with solar resources for fuel cells, to battery technologies with smart demand response, to innovative financial mechanisms that incentivize solar deployment in developing countries – there are countless initiatives across the world to address the technological and economic challenges of 100% renewable energy.
But an elephant loomed in the conference room, and everyone seemed to be avoiding it. The panels of scientists and policy-makers made it very clear that they’re working diligently on the technical ingenuity required for this transition – but what about the social ingenuity?
Do we have the political and cultural wills to deploy these solutions quickly and efficiently, to avoid the worst of climate change?
Here in America, the short answer is no.
It certainly doesn’t help that the current federal administration is lined with climate change-deniers. But even under Obama’s administration, the issue of climate change – “the greatest threat to future generations” – only saw a handful of solutions. It seems Obama did the best he could with what he had – enacting the Clean Power Plan, raising fuel efficiency standards, and delaying the Keystone XL pipeline – but his successes are largely defined by his ability to circumvent a fossil-fueled Congress.
Meanwhile, as a culture, we consume the most resources per capita of any nation in the world – and by a longshot. We are also among the most informed nations about the issues of climate change, and among the nations most ready to accept that climate change is a threat to our world. And yet we are still digging up coal, still building oil pipelines, still fracking wells, and still financing this behavior with our consumer dollars, both here in the States & across the world.
The elephant shifted uncomfortably during a question to one of the panelists – the CEO of an electric bus manufacturer who has deployed dozens of fleets across the U.S. over the last year.
“Why can’t we deploy as fast as China?”, where a direct order from the central government resulted in the deployment of 15,000 electric buses in a matter of weeks.
“Well, that’s just not how we do things here. America isn’t run by a central government – we have customers who want to implement these fleets seamlessly, maintain the same routes for their customers, make sure the financials work out in their favor.” It’s not apples to apples; it’s capitalism vs. communism; democracy vs. authoritarianism.
If that’s the social ingenuity needed to take meaningful action on climate change, can we tout the benefits of a free state whose impact pales in comparison to the authoritarian regime? Is capitalism really the best economic structure if it fails to incentivize conscientious consumerism?
Or, more bluntly – do we as Americans deserve democracy?
I challenge us to earn our freedom every day, by supporting the transition to 100% renewable energy in every way we can. Let’s use our votes to support candidates who advocate clean energy; use our dollar to vote for companies that use renewable resources; volunteer with and donate to nonprofits leading the charge. Each and every one of us is a pathway to the renewable energy future, if we only have the will.