Editor's Blog: A Green economy

Posted: 27 November 2008

The world is hotting up , and so is public concern about climate change - despite the distracting financial crash and its economic aftermath. (Indeed, the lack of foresight over the credit crunch is only echoed by the failure by governments to act earlier on the far more dangerous eco-crunch.)

Articles, books and films now reflect the mounting chorus of concern. Even right-leaning commentators such as the three-time Pulitzer prize winning Thomas Friedman are now preaching the need for a transformational green economy (led in his vision by the United States).

Solar roof on family home, California. Photo: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory This solar electric system, integrated into an awning over a back porch, California, generates electricity while shading the family's outdoor activities.© US National Renewable Energy Laboratory

His latest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, paints a picture of a planet beset by rising temperatures, petro-dictatorships, crowded humanity, with new 'Americas' of spawning middle-class comsumers, all busy destroying the earth's biodiversity. The answer, he says, lies in a transformed renewable energy economy, led in the United States by government incentives and taxes, but harnessing the power of the market and entrepreneurial forces. This, he believes, will lead China onto a similar green path, while restoring the moral and economic leadership of his country in a reformed world.Allowing for the US audience he is trying to reach (and he is immensely influential) his basic message is badly needed. It indicates the rapidly shifting nature of public awareness of our global environmental crisis. And it mirrors what is beginning to happen in the energy business itself, irrespective of the cumbersome negotations over CO2 targets and international climate change agreements. Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, writing on this website, spells out the surprising progress already being made in the United States to develop a new energy economy. Texas alone will soon have 45,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity 'more than enough to satisfy the residential needs of the state's 24 million people.' And, within the next three years, the United States is likely to go from 420 megawatts of solar thermal generating capacity to close to 3,500 megawatts - an eightfold jump. (See: New energy economy is emerging in the United States).

Skegness offshore windfarm Skegness offshore windfarm. Photo © Dave Hughes

Elsewhere there are also signs of rapid change. The United Kingdom is now top of the world in offshore wind power, and though at present, the UK is low on Europe's overall wind power league, the government says there is potential to generate enough wind power electricity for every home in the country. (See: UK is now top of the offshore wind farm league). In addition, it has now signed up to reducing the UK's carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, while the EU teeters on setting a target of 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020. (See: UK signs up to cut emissions by 80 per cent).None of this is anywhere near enough to meet the scale and speed of the changing climate, the continuing destruction of the earth's soils, oceans and species, or the pressures of population growth in many poor countries in Africa and elsewhere. But it does hold out a tantalising glimpse of what a greener, less polluting, though still hot, flat and crowded world might look like.

John RowleyFootnote:Hot, Flat and Crowded: why we need a green revolution - and how it can renew America by Thomas L. Friedman is published in the United States by Farar, Strauss & Giroux at $27.95 and in the UK by Allen Lane at £20. Order the book, or see author's video clip here.Also recommended: The Age of Stupid, a new DVD directed by Franny Armstrong on climate catastrophe. The film features Pete Postlethwaite looking back from a 2050 archive, on how the world was destroyed by man's stupidity. To be released in April 2009, but see website at www.ageofstupid.net.​​​​​