We are all now desperate runners in the epic race between doom and boom. It's a global- warmed dead heat between apocalyptic ecological collapse, versus a Solartopian green-powered prosperity.
Defeat is defined by a death spiral that decimates our planet. Victory means the wealth, jobs and organic well-being that can come with renewables, efficiency and a post-pollution prosperity.
A middle ground is likely along the way, but would almost certainly happen by dividing humankind even further between rich and poor. That polarization is ultimately unsustainable, and will demand correction, one way or the other.
The "tipping point" where climate chaos becomes self-accelerating and irreversible may be as close as ten years away. Some believe we're already over the edge.
The global economy runs parallel. Any system addicted to huge inputs of irreplaceable, monopolized resources whose prices are soaring must soon collapse.
The cure is clear---a technological, economic and social revolution built around the transition to green power.
Despite the nay-sayers, such a Solartopian transformation is physically and financially do-able. But can we do it by 2030?
The answer: Ecologically, and economically, we have no choice.
A new report from the United Nations points to huge increases in renewable investing in the past 18 months---in excess of $100 billion. It predicts almost a quarter of the world's electricity could be green by 2030.
But Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has pointed out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, has published on the internet (and then withdrawn) findings that say ALL electricity consumed in the United States---the world's largest consumer---could be produced by renewable means by the year 2020.
Like Russia, China and India, the US has enough harvestable wind to do the total job. NREL says there is enough wind capacity in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone to electrify the entire US, using currently available technology. There's enough wind resource in the states between the Mississippi and the Rockies---what we might now call Windiana---to do the US three times over.
There are transmission constraints and occasional permitting issues. But there's no reason to build any generator west of the Mississippi that's not fueled by the wind or solar energy. There is also plenty of wind east of the Mississippi, especially in the Great Lakes and Atlantic.
Worldwide wind power is proven, profitable and booming at rates in excess of 25% per year. Solar, bio-fuels, wave, ocean thermal, geothermal, tidal, current and other forms of renewables are all close behind.
Anyone doubting the explosion in Solartopian energy might check out the financial pages and investment reports popping up throughout the global media. The trade association web sites (awea.org, ases.org, nrel.gov, etc.) over-brim with numbers that scream of a classic techno-economic takeoff.
The situation parallels the rise of the personal computer and dot.com industries. Imagine yourself describing 25 years ago---in 1982---what was about to happen in the information age.
Technologically, the Solartopian revolution is much further along. But it has one problem the information revolution did not---an institutional enemy.
There is a barrier separating a future defined by climate chaos and economic collapse from a boom to Solartopia. It is the coal, oil, nukes and gas industries---King CONG.
Few stood to lose from the spread of the PC and internet. But green power threatens the fossil/nuke multinationals with ultimate (and well-deserved) oblivion.
A likely scenario: for the next five to ten years, led by wind, renewables will grow at 25-35% per year. Despite King CONG, investment capital is fast becoming a green tsunami. Production facilities for wind turbines, photovoltaic roofing shingles, wave-generating "sea-worms" and the like, are booming.
As capacity expands, production costs and prices drop. Demand will accelerate even further. Solartopian industry will accumulate serious wealth and employee mass. The host communities will add their social and political commitment.
Today's green lobby has tremendous popular support. But too many solar companies are owned by major corporations with fossil/nuke investments. Above all, they fear the decentralized nature of green power.
But sooner or later, the public demand for an independent green industry will combine with accelerating wealth to create aggressive institutional power. When finally it attacks its competition---coal, oil, nukes and gas---in open political warfare, King CONG will head toward the compost heap.
The green power industry is certain to expand rapidly for the next decade. Economically and politically mature by 2015, its technological breakthroughs will multiply on themselves. Self-sustaining profitability and growth should match the PC/internet saturation of the global economy within another quarter century---by 2030---maybe earlier.
The take-off will bring a revolution in efficiency. Bloviating "experts" continually refer to an "inevitable" exponential growth in energy demand.
But soaring energy prices will force exponential breakthroughs on the demand side.
The biggest barrier to Solartopia may be reviving a mass transit system that was systematically murdered by General Motors, Standard Oil and the glass and rubber companies. Without good inter-city rail travel and advanced public transit within the cities, the US has no economic future. The hybrid car-especially the plug-in model---marks a step forward. But the automobile still kills in the range of 40,000 Americans per year, many on a freeway system that is overburdened and obsolete. The auto must be transcended.
The rhythm of this techno-financial revolution will push us toward Solartopia by 2030. But so will our eco-systems. Time is short to solve our climate crisis. We must stop emitting carbon dioxide and reverse the damage done. The eco-imperative extends to habitat destruction, air and water pollution, decimation of the forests, the spread of toxics, and much more.
Mother Earth is telling us we can't coast for another quarter-century. The clock to "Thermageddon," as Greenpeace founder Robert Hunter called it, ticks as fast as the one on economic collapse.
Extinction peers over our shoulder just as green power approaches critical mass.
So set the date for 2030, bid King CONG goodbye, and let's win this race to Solartopia. Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared.
© 2007 The Free Press