Paul Andersen: Fair Game
June 6, 2011
Amory Lovins predicts that the U.S. will be weaned off oil, coal and nuclear power by 2050. The devil is in the details, but Lovins is certain that a dovetailing of energy efficiency, solar energy and natural gas as a transitional fuel will depose the ruling triumvirate of oil, coal and nukes. Dirty, dangerous energy will be replaced by clean, sustainable technology, spurring economic growth at the multi-trillion dollar level, cutting carbon emissions significantly, and freeing America from dubious energy sources and shadowy providers.
Lovins made his prediction at the Aspen Institute’s Environment Forum, a ground-breaking symposium that set new ground rules for the way we live on Planet Earth – and especially in the way we harness the sun. MIT professor and solar maverick Daniel Nocera said it will soon be possible to convert individual homes into power plants and fuel stations – in a cheap, affordable way. One of his solar prototypes will be in place by December, opening the floodgates for revolutionary energy systems worldwide.
Nocera cautioned that decentralized energy will be slow in coming to the U.S. because of the inertia in our existing and outmoded energy systems. Energy innovation will come easiest to developing countries because they have no burdensome infrastructure. Just as cell phones obviated old-fashioned wire technology, so will decentralized energy leap the costly infrastructure of the centralized grid.
Nocera’s solar vision characterized the inspiring shift in mindset at this year’s Environment Forum. Where past Forums were overshadowed by revelations of doom and gloom – a necessary step in evolving awareness – this year’s Forum was buoyed by a contagious entrepreneurial buzz.
The key word was opportunity – for technological innovation, investment, policy change and political action. It came with a tenor of excitement from prognosticators and innovators revving off each other’s affirmative energy. Advances are occurring on many fronts, and the aggregate changes are big enough to bring on a tipping point of global significance.
Ideas were inspiring, but truth-telling cast a ponderous shadow on the future. Startling images by National Geographic photographers of declining fisheries and the loss of biodiversity reveal that man continues the feckless exploitation of species and ecosystems. At stake are species vitality and the delicate ecosystems that propagate all life on Earth.
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Climate change remains the biggest threat of the day. Scientists, innovators and political activists are racing against time to limit the already irreversible impacts of atmospheric carbon, a topic too “toxic” for most politicians to engage. Charges of Congressional gridlock took place, ironically, in the Koch Building, named for a purveyor of climate change denial. Congress dithers while Rome burns.
Amory Lovins is making an end run around Congress, taking his innovations directly to individual states and to progressive businesses willing to orchestrate a smart energy future for the nation. Lovins said the power of change lies in “transideological technological benefits” that will break down cultural and political barriers by scaling energy innovations to the national level.
The most toxic issue of the day is population growth, where projections call for upwards of 10 billion human beings by 2100. Coupling climate change with population growth could spawn the perfect storm of global disruptions on a scale that is simply unimaginable. Entrenched politics and culture conspire to censor a discussion that imperils global stability and the very future of mankind.
The Forum’s opening panel, “Coping with Calamity,” concluded that if the carbon load isn’t cut, we can expect the unexpected from Mother Nature. Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature”, explained that with 4 percent more moisture in the atmosphere as the result of warming, weather patterns are unpredictably volatile. He warned of a calamitous future because of runaway carbon emissions and a crippled political will.
The Environment Forum took participants on a wild ride, from the heights of hope to the depths of doubt. It was the dynamic interactions between engaged participants, however, that signified more promise than peril. The human spirit appears dauntless in its striving for solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, and much of it comes from young activists rising up to challenge the status quo. Their energy emanates from deep inspiration and the personal belief that change is due and that they will bring it.