Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Not That Hard

The above graphic is from the Environmental Law Institute, and illustrates a discussion of how the US Tax structure subsidizes foreign oil production, in 2009. Things have changed since then, and now polices are beginning to shift to support renewable energy sources. That, and conservation in many areas, have begun to take effect.

Which is a point emphasized by Amory Lovins and the RMI - the "think and do tank" - who takes the position that we can make this transition without further regulation by congress, by simply invoking the profit motive and efficiencies of scale. In promoting his book, he points out that China is currently the world leader in the use of renewables: photovoltaic, wind, small hydro, biogas, and solar thermal for hot water. This is evolving into a big, profitable business. Lovins goes right to the heart of the strategic argument for renewable energy as a standard:

In fact, to go back to the beginning of the modern climate debate, I think that when the bogus studies were issued claiming that climate protection would be very costly, the environmental movement fell into a trap of saying it won’t cost that much and it’s worth it. What they should have said is, “No, you’ve got it wrong. Climate protection is not costly but profitable because it’s cheaper to save fuel than to buy fuel.”

Lovins also delves into energy strategies that can be adopted immediately, such as net energy metering as well as addressing existing challenges for updating the US electrical grid to include all the issues that distributed systems of electricity create for the ratepayers as well as the utilities. The industry is evolving, and the integration of solar and wind power on an intelligent grid is becoming a fundamental shift from the old model of generated power from distant, dirty plants that also consume considerable amounts of water.

Yet the issue remains that public policy and taxation structures in the US and in other countries must necessarily be rapidly reformed to create even greater incentives for abandoning extractive energy sources. Going back to the global picture, these shifts in global taxes and incentives to renewables will be necessary to be in accord with agreed-to guidelines on carbon emissions by the countries around the globe. The US, being the largest contributor to global carbon over the last 200 years, will necessarily need to reduce its footprint extremely rapidly in order to get its per capita allowance under the probable caps. But if you look at it as Lovins does, it creates tremendous savings that can be applied to productive industries that propel economics forward under a different energy and development model. It's not a cost, it's an opportunity to create better solutions to human existence at a "profit" to those who undertake these challenges, since they'll not be burdened by the costs and responsibilities of carbon cleanup, toxic waste recapture, and a bunch of industrial "legacy" infrastructure.

A synergistic solution is something that's greater than the sum of its parts, and this is where collaboration and information exchange can leverage people and industries across the globe, since these interactions are the result of creativity and knowledge-sharing. Under these kinds of circumstances, constructive change can happen suddenly and in surprising ways. In the same way that no one dreamed of our current internet and global communication network fed by intelligent digtial technologies twenty years ago, there will be new people - driven social and communication structures that make many things possible within a decade that no one can even imagine today.

A future centered on the principles of life and a new view of managing energy could be the strategy that breaks out of the old structures that bind us to the destructive effects of carbon sources and the wars they create in the name of controlling resources for profit. These networks, being less territorial and more flexible than physical structures, could give way to a more vibrant way of existence for all of us.