Twenty four reasons for hope

Published Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

In the world of environmental advocacy, hope can be a scarce commodity.  The daily cascade of negative reports about our planet’s health – warmer temperatures, extreme weather, rising seas and more – can challenge even the most optimistic personality.  

That’s why 24 Hours of Reality, a global event that happened earlier this week, was so refreshing: it was all about solutions and hope.  

24 Hours is presented each fall by The Climate Reality Project, the environmental organization chaired by former US Vice President Al Gore.  It’s a marathon day-long program livestreamed over the internet, and this year’s theme was 24 Reasons to be Hopeful.  Here are just a few of those reasons.

Renewable energy is becoming much more affordable 

The adoption of renewable energy over the past decade has exceeded even the most buoyant projections.  Between 2008 and 2012, the price of solar panels declined by 80%.  It’s no coincidence, then, that more solar panels were installed globally in 2013 than in any prior year: 39 gigawatts of capacity.  (For comparison, NB Power’s total generating capacity is 2.9 gigawatts.)  

Solar-generated electricity is already cheaper than conventional fossil fuel power in many countries, and is expected to be cheaper nearly everywhere by 2020.

The price of wind turbines dropped 30% between 2008 and 2012.  

Energy storage on the horizon

Widespread adoption of wind and solar energy has long been hampered by a simple reality: what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing?  The solution – a cheap and efficient way to store electricity – has long been elusive.  However, great strides are being made.  The most promising large scale technologies are pumped storage (where water is pumped above a hydro dam and held there until power is needed); compressed air storage (where air is compressed into large underground cavities like abandoned mines) and hydrogen.  As well, electric car batteries will buffer the power grid of the future.

Global brands are going green

In Canada, Walmart, RBC and Shaw Cable are just a few of the many companies relying at least partly on green electricity.  In the US, Staples, Intel Corporation and Unilever are among the companies that get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.  Apple, Starbucks and Boeing are not far behind. 

Sustainability is rapidly becoming part of corporate culture and savvy executives are recognizing that the benefits go far beyond energy savings.  

Renewable energy is creating jobs

In Germany, over 100,000 people work in the solar industry.  In the US, employment in the solar sector is growing rapidly, and more people now work in the solar sector than work in the coal and natural gas industries combined.

The US and China are on the move

Perhaps most heartening of all, the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, are mobilizing for emission reduction.  In 2013, China led the world in new solar installations.  Ditto for wind turbines – by a huge margin.  The country is developing a nationwide emissions trading program.

And the US’s new Clean Power Plan charts a course for the eventual phase-out of coal fired power.  In spite of an inflexible Congress, it is clear that President Obama is committed to climate change action.

More reasons

If your sense of optimism is revitalized by these five examples, you’ll want to watch 24 Hours of Reality to hear the other 19 reasons.  You’ll find it as a podcast at www.24hoursofreality.org. 

One critical final thought: hope is not helpful if used merely to rationalize inaction or foster complacency; hope is only useful as a motivator for action.  So may the hope offered by 24 Hours of Reality fuel our desire to act.