Charles Crumpley, in his March 1st Comment column, stated: “Virtually every form of alternative energy today is either unproven, expensive, limited in capacity or dangerous in its own right.” This statement is dangerous in its own right and threatens our future.
Let’s look at the path we are on. The numbers are grim. To contextualize the statistics: When we compare the sum total of fatalities from all of the wars fought in the 20th century – the highest in the history of humanity at 160 million people – with the results of a midrange global climate crisis during this century, the latter will be of a magnitude of far greater loss to humanity. The estimated carrying capacity of the Earth is 4 billion people. In this past century alone, we tripled our population to 6 billion. By 2050, the UN Population Database estimates that the world population will reach 9.1 billion. At our present course, the extinction of half of all species, plants and animals, will occur by 2100. Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson estimates that the extinction of 25 percent of all species by 2050 will be due to global climate changes.
We are caught in a quagmire. As we meet the increased demand for food supply for this population, the resultant deforestation contributes 20 percent of the global CO2 rise, increasing greenhouse gases to unsafe levels. Our response to the global environmental challenges today will change the course of history. Crumpley fails to recognize the danger of continuing on this path.
Claims against green energy solutions are flawed. The global climate crisis presents to us a lucrative economic opportunity. Today, in the worst economy since the Great Depression, innovators abound: The Isle of Samso, Denmark, 10 years after declaring it will be fossil-fuel free in one decade, has done so; a fuel cell that can produce electricity from natural gas or biogas, at a cost of 10 cents per kilowatt hour, is in beta testing, and a few short years away from prime time; an invention to turn the CO2 of coal plants, combined with calcium and seawater, in a biomimicry of sea coral, to produce calcium carbonate cement and bricks, thereby sequestering carbon to never be released atmospherically, may be the answer to coal energy. The list of profitable innovations that will solve the global crisis is endless.
In addition, the renewable energy industry is not hindering employment, but rather, is the opposite: a massive job creator. Along with each new innovation comes an increase in profitability. The solar photovoltaic power price has been dropping so rapidly with each new invention that it will be at grid parity within five years. Solar thermal energy, though still in its infancy, is now only 4 cents more than the average grid price per kilowatt hour, without any of the risks of nuclear energy. Or, combining solar thermal with natural gas or even coal will immediately drop the price further. There are energy-efficiency assessments and changes to be made, solar panel production and installations to be conceived, solar thermal and wind power plants to be built and operated. …We are standing at the foothills of a Green Industrial Revolution.
Whole new industry
Locally, we are already seeing the impact. The greening of the Port of Los Angeles has introduced a whole new industry born, right here, in Southern California: the development of the Balqon all-electric short-haul truck. The Santa Ana-based Balqon company has a multimillion-dollar backlog. On a per-mile cost basis, the common diesel truck it replaces costs four to nine times as much to operate. Per a U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory analysis, called Economic, Energy, and Environmental Benefits of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) in California (April 2006), for each dollar spent on power production, CSP power production (or solar thermal power plants) will deliver $1.40 of economic and employment activity to the California’s Gross State Product versus $1 of activity from a natural gas power plant.
Information abounds helping us find our way. A Scientific American article in November titled “A Path to Sustainable Energy” presents how in 20 years we can reach 100 percent renewable energy. The change required will drive the economy even greater than the metamorphosis in the 1940s. This is a job creator, not a job destroyer.
Finally, Crumpley’s conclusion: “The search for viable alternative-energy sources must and will go on, of course. But it’s good to remember that most of the experiments in alternative energy will prove to be failures” is wholly leading to the wrong conclusion. As in all new technology and changes in society, most experiments will fail. However, as evidenced by the sampling of examples above, positive experimental results are bounding forth.
When President Kennedy said we are going to be on the moon by the end of the decade, no one knew how we would meet that schedule. The American people accepted that challenge and beat it. We arrived, on the moon, ahead of schedule. The challenges facing us today are much more pressing to our survival. For the sake of our children, we have no choice, but to take action.
We are a creative civilization. We can succeed if we so choose. The biggest question is not “Can we do the change?” but is, in fact, “Do we have the courage?”
Dr. Joel Shapiro is the founder and artistic director of Electric Lodge in Venice, a solar-powered visual and performing arts center. He is the co-founder of Arts: Earth Partnership, a greening certificate program for cultural institutions in the L.A. region. He also is vice president and founder of Kelly Renewables, the renewables division of Kelly Pipe Co. He lives in Venice.
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