Sun, Feb

Dream or Nightmare? -- An ENN Commentary

Let's imagine a modern day Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving's fabled character who fell asleep for twenty years. To what kind of a world would he awaken in 2025, two decades from now?

Let's imagine a modern day Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving's fabled character who fell asleep for twenty years. To what kind of a world would he awaken in 2025, two decades from now?

The optimist of course would have Rip end his slumber in a world that has transformed itself. No longer do the industrialized countries rely on imported oil to fuel their means of transport. No longer is it necessary to engage in military conflicts in oil-rich nations. Instead, a vast network of grid-connected wind and solar devices produces a surplus of electricity that not only powers the built environment, it generates sufficient supplies of hydrogen to propel us down the highway eliminating acid rain while curtailing global climate change. The immense wealth previously exported for oil has instead led to massive investments in renewable energy and energy conservation technologies at home spurred on by attractive local and federal tax credits creating good jobs in a sustainable economy. Rip awakens to clean air and international security.

Then there is the pessimist. He sees Van Winkle aroused from his sleep in a violent storm, brought on by rapidly shifting, over-heated air, rammed up from the south against a frigid front precipitated by melting polar ice to the north. In the 20 years of Rip's snooze, monumental volumes of carbon from combusted coal and a nearly exhausted supply of oil have accelerated climate change to the point that the hurricane season has been replaced with an ongoing pattern of routine violent weather that regularly approaches hurricane force. Agriculture has been stretched beyond its limits. Food scarcities aggravated by alternating droughts and floods are as widespread as the fuel scarcities that everyone has come to live with. Renewable energy resources, stunted by government indifference and aggressive policies favoring fossil fuels, have never amounted to much. Our once mobile society is confined by its largely atrophied ability to get from point A to point B because it has run out of gas. Rip wonders if he's just having a bad dream.

Either of these scenarios have been vividly detailed in a series of recently published books, among them Lovins, Lovins and Hawkins' Natural Capitalism, Rifkins' The Hydrogen Economy, Michael Klare's Blood and Oil, Worldwatch's State of the World and others. Is anyone listening, or are we all just snoozing like Rip Van Winkle? Are we too busy with our gas guzzling fleets of SUVs, post modern hotrods and three-car garage castles in the suburbs to make the connection between a war in Iraq with our insatiable thirst for oil? The answer is neither a simply yes or no.

Happily, there is a robust and thriving renewable energy and energy conservation industry, complete with solar PV manufacturing, wind farm development, alternative fuel vehicle technology and a whole series of energy miser appliances, lights and HVAC equipment. Despite the prevailing government policies that render precious little support for them, a growing cadre of entrepreneurs possessing the vision and determination to move forward with clean technologies do so anyway. But will they be able to make enough headway to stave off the gloomy forecast of the end of oil and global climate change? We can dream. We can also stay awake.



James Quigley, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy.

Source: An ENN Commentary