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The Progressive

New Report Confirms that Switch to Renewables Is Feasible

It’s official: The world can easily make the switch to renewable energy if it wants to.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released a report stating that energy from clean sources could account for four-fifths of the global supply within a few decades—if governments show the necessary will.

Far from being a wild-eyed organization the way right-wingers portray it to be, the IPCC is actually a very cautious institution that works through the consensus of its 194-member countries. The report’s summary had to be agreed on unanimously, word by word, line by line, The Guardian reports.

"The report shows that it is not the availability of [renewable] resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramon Pichs, co-chair of one of the working groups of the organization.

There’s some really promising data in here. For instance, almost half of new capacity added to the electrical grid in 2008 and 2009 came from renewable sources. And to reach the target that the IPCC deems doable would cost a negligible 1 percent of the global GDP each year.

The report is a vindication of what many environmentalists have been claiming all along: that the transition to a clean energy future is not only desirable, but also extremely feasible. Nation columnist Mark Hertsgaard (whose new book is reviewed in the June issue of The Progressive) has been saying this for years.

“The way to start, I believe, is for the United States to launch a Global Green Deal: a program to retrofit civilization environmentally from top to bottom--and in the process create the biggest jobs and business stimulus program of our time,” Hertsgaard wrote for The Nation back in 2000. “Making use of both market incentives and government leadership, a Global Green Deal would do for environmental technologies in the twenty-first century what government and industry have done so well for computer and Internet technologies at the end of the twentieth: launch their commercial takeoff.”


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And veteran nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman has been urging a green energy economy for decades.

“When the No Nukes movement first started, it was hoped by many that solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, biomass, increased efficiency, and other renewable technologies would ‘someday’ be cheaper than nuclear power and fossil fuels,” Wasserman writes in the May issue of The Progressive. “By all accounts, that day has come.”

Sadly, the United States has been lagging in its efforts.

“The U.S. has lost a lot of time—the world has lost a lot of time—in moving from fossil fuels to alternatives,” Rajendra Pachauri, the head of IPCC, told me in December 2008. “We need to make up for that lost time.”

Since then, the Obama administration’s record has been mixed, even if an improvement over its predecessor.

“There are reasons to be concerned about America’s competitive position in the clean energy marketplace,” says a Pew March 2010 report. “In all, ten G-20 members devoted a greater percentage of gross domestic product to clean energy than the United States in 2009. Finally, the United States is on the verge of losing its leadership position in installed renewable energy capacity, with China surging in the last several years to a virtual tie.”

We have to hugely invest in clean energy—starting now.

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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