In the quest for renewable energy certain regions and cities have been paving the way but the trend still has not caught on fast enough, or perhaps as fast as we would like or need. The first thing to realize is that we have, as a society, a social responsibility to push for renewables. This is not because we are harming the planet, nature will survive us human dogs after all. It is because we are making the planet uninhabitable and truly miserable for many others without having to notice or mind it that much. It is the unnoticed problems, the unknown unknowns, that can cause the most damage. The citizens of the world that are ambitious enough to elect eco-friendly representatives and vote to act on an early transition to renewables will not only be helping others but they will also gain an advantage in the near future. Especially developing countries that may skip past their industrial phase and right into renewable technology. According to research by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) clean energy solutions create more job opportunities than the traditional fossil fuel industry does now.
So who are these champions of renewable technology, braving the way for us, these Green Heroes taking the economic risk to save their children’s future? You may have heard of Candidate Sanders, a Senator from scenic Vermont, who has said that Climate Change is our number one threat to national security. His opponents in the 2016 race may laugh at him, clearly thinking that ISIS, a religious desert guerilla terrorist organization driving pickup trucks, is a greater threat. It would be equally laughable to think that the instability of that region has anything to do with our international addiction to fossil fuels. Presidential race aside, it is the Vermont city that Sanders was once mayor of that has achieved a surprising and welcome milestone. The city of Burlington has boasted that it is running on 100% renewable energy. With its main source being hydro, the city uses a mix of biomass, wind turbines, and solar. Burlington, recognizing the reality of global warming and our toll on the planet, is now using less electricity than it did in 1989. They claim though, that this transition to a green powered city was based mainly on an economic decision. For them it is the cheapest and healthiest long-term solution for their city.
Now let us venture to a warmer climate than New England and see how a less developed country has handled the transition. In 2015 Costa Rica managed to achieve an astonishing 99% renewable energy, claiming that 285 days out of the year were fossil fuel free. The Costa Rican Electricity Institute utilizes the country’s geography of large rivers to harness hydropower for most of their energy production. They also use a mix of biomass, wind, solar, and geothermal (another local specialty). The country is already aware that it depends too much on hydro, which although renewable is not the best for the environment. They are looking to expand into geothermal and be carbon neutral by 2021.
These are just two of my favorite Western Hemisphere examples. Holland, the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf, Germany, as well as most other EU countries are also well on their way. Yet still the biggest contributors to carbon pollution and many developing nations are tearing ahead with industrial methods that now seem out dated. While some claim that there is a focused attempt to misinform, our continued use is most likely a problem because of how we talk about the problem, the language we use, the lack of education for constituents, and a perceived economic dependence. If you think about energy dependence as your weekly paycheck, no one in their right mind would continue to hold down a job if they knew it would both someday stop paying with no new job lined up and was also damaging the health of everyone around us. Soon it will be economically sound to make the green transition. For example in India, solar may soon out perform coal.
Of course, this may take the USA a little more time than the rest of the world. We are possibly the only country that out right denies climate change exists and we are at the same time most likely the main cause of said change. Sadly, better education for this topic and media coverage will not change much with our congress acting like it does, throwing snow balls and disgracing our hard earned intelligence. It will unfortunately take political change first, perhaps some insane revolution, for our country to react to this situation properly.
What is funny though, is that we do not need congress, they are merely in the way. Local governments can take charge with the help of NGOs and emerging green industries to find solutions. Like we have seen with Burlington and Costa Rica, each renewable energy solution will be different and it will be mixed. What works in the mountains may not work in the rainforest. Each region will have to come up with its own unique mix of renewables and this will take local education and local action. But it will also take a global effort to share information on what works where and what doesn’t work. This will also have to be done thinking in terms of eco-regions. Forget about your state borders. Pollution doesn’t recognize the borders we come up with. A hurricane or rising water doesn’t know what country it is hurting economically. Cape Cod has more in common with St. Johns, Newfoundland than it does Miami. If these threats do not recognize these borders, then we need to understand the ‘borders’ that it does. This has become a huge problem in the globalized world. One country or corporation may let waste dribble downstream to the neighbors drinking water without them evening knowing. It will take a localized and a global collective to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I see no reason why eco-regions could not work together to provide safe sustainable energy.
We have seen that clean energy may even save us money in the future, so let us, the people, start laying the ground work. Find your local supporters of Green Energy, be it a political party, NGO, or even a responsible company and see what can be done. Who can argue with a cleaner smaller electricity bill?
Check out Cornelia Dinca’s experience with Amsterdam’s transformation from car to pedestrian city.