We all know the small, everyday things we can do to affect our environment for the better: switching to fluorescent light bulbs, turning down the thermostat in the winter, recycling our garbage. Easy enough. But what about the big stuff? Like, what we could get for, let's say, $2.2 trillion. Why choose that figure?
Because the Iraq war will cost American taxpayers $2.2 trillion, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. For those who doubt it is possible to end our addiction to oil and shift to clean, secure renewable energy, I offer this fact from the ace researchers at the Earth Policy Institute (www.earthpolicy.org): If we had invested that $2.2 trillion in wind turbines, we would have built enough electrical generating capacity to provide roughly 150 percent of total U.S. energy needs.
That's right. If we spent that amount of money on renewable energy just once, it would provide more than enough energy to replace all our fossil fuel energy production, including coal, oil and gas, plus nuclear. A one-time investment in renewable energy would pay giant dividends for years to come, including reducing air pollution, curbing the global warming crisis and permanently ending our dependence on foreign oil and natural gas.
As we celebrate Earth Day 2007 on Sunday, and renew our concern for the health of our planet, some still doubt that human activities are causing global warming. But many more now are deeply concerned, and there is a growing consensus that major policy changes are urgently needed to stabilize our climate. Finally the debate is shifting from if we need to stop global warming to how we can best solve this international problem.
Realistically, shifting our natural gas heating systems, gasoline-powered vehicles and coal-burning power plants to wind-generated electric power may not be our best option. Our energy future will undoubtedly be quite diverse.
But the point is that even though renewable technologies are relatively new and still improving, they already can provide all the energy we need at a price tag we can afford. Wind power is already competitive with natural gas; solar photovoltaics are close behind; hybrid cars are hot; battery improvements are coming on fast. What we have to do is step it up and insist that our tax dollars are spent wisely.
Hundreds of rallies nationwide occurred a week ago for the National Day of Climate Action, when citizens called elected officials to "Step It Up" and reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, which is a primary cause of global warming. The message to our elected officials was "Invest in Wind (and other renewable energy), not War."
We need to keep doing the small things; they make a difference. But let's also remember what organizing around a common goal can accomplish. Let's do everything we can to spread the word: Renewable energy is ready to come to our rescue.
Cheryl Long is editor in chief of Mother Earth News magazine.