Tag Archives: renewable energy

The Distillery: December 22, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.
The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.


Our end of the year Distillery is newsworthy updates to some recent – and not-so-recent – posts.
And here’s hoping that 2018 will bring us more EcoOptimism. (Because, well, 2017.)

On intergenerational rights (Original Distillery post date: 12/5/17. Original EcoOptimism post date: 4/1/13)
From Grist.org:
December 12, 2017

Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit


Image source: Our Children’s Trust/Facebook via cbcradio

EcoOptimism’s take: Despite first the Obama administration’s efforts and now Trump’s, this groundbreaking lawsuit continues to move forward.

On a related note, a different approach to environmental rights:
From Thinkprogress.org:
December 22, 2017

The radical movement to make environmental protections a constitutional right

Alleghany National Forest.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Panoramio/Diego González

EcoOptimism’s take: You’d think that the right to a healthy environment for those who are alive NOW, would be a more straightforward concept than the intergenerational version. According to this post, though, it’s currently a constitutional right in only two states, Pennsylvania and Montana. But it’s being used to challenge pro-industry, anti-environment legislation.

On the economic benefits of addressing climate change (Original EcoOptimism post “Surprise: Environmentalism Actually Boosts the Economy,” date: 1/19/2015)
From the Los Angeles Times
December 12, 2017

California’s cap-and-trade climate program could generate more than $8 billion by 2027, report says

Source: Flickr

EcoOptimism’s take: The premise of EcoOptimism is that good environmental policy is good business, or to steal from the famous line about General Motors, “What’s good for the environment is good for the country.”

On the movement by local governments to take the lead in climate action (Original Distillery post date: 11/17/17)
From USA Today
December 5, 2017

Obama praises mayors as ‘new face’ of leadership on climate change in Trump era

From CityLab
December 5, 2017

Lab Report: Obama Calls Cities ‘The New Face of Leadership’ on Climate Change

credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

EcoOptimism’s take: Damn, we miss him

The Distillery: November 17, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

Back in October 2014, an EcoOptimism post asked “Will the solutions come from cities?” In the context of that year’s fruitless UN Climate Summit, I wrote “[EcoOptimism lies] not with national governments at all, and that’s reason for hope…. In its stead, lower level officials, notably mayors, have been leading from the bottom up, changing mundane things like building codes and transportation programs.

“Cities are where a majority of us 7 billion humans live. [And cities] emit 75% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So focusing on cities makes a lot of sense.”

As a case in point, I cited NYC’s “One City Built to Last” report, which was a follow up to the previous administration’s PlaNYC.

With the current US federal administration’s move to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the role of the federal government is even further diminished and local governments are filling the void, many under the mantle of We Are Still In.

From Business Insider:
June 5, 2017

“A group representing $6.2 trillion of the US economy says they’re ‘still in’ the Paris climate agreement”

EcoOptimism’s take: The WeAreStillIn group had a sizeable presence at last week’s COP (Conference of the Parties) that was the first one since Trump withdrew the US from the Accords. It served to show, exactly as the hashtag says, that much (or most?) of the US is still on board. And it was a stark contrast to the official US presentation which promoted coal and nuclear energy.

From CityLab:
October 23, 2017

Cities Are Thinking and Acting Globally, Says Paris Mayor

Image source: Raw Story

EcoOptimism’s take: This reaction, by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, recognized the significance of local commitments. (In an unrelated context, Hidalgo said “Mr. Trump is so stupid.)

From Grist:
August 24, 2017

“States keep cutting carbon, despite federal inaction.”

Image source: Paul Horn/Inside Climate News

EcoOptimism’s take: The local level includes states as well as cities. The northeast states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) have jointly agreed on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This will partially replace the Clean Power Plan initiative by President Obama and that Trump has vowed to rescind.

(New Jersey outgoing Governor Christie had pulled the state out of an earlier RGGI, despite the state Senate attempting to override him as well as a court ruling against him. The incoming Democrat-led administration will probably rejoin.)

From ThinkProgress:
August 22, 2017

St. Louis adopts a 100 percent renewable energy goal”

Image source: Wikipedia

EcoOptimism’s take: This further illustrates the potential role of states, even those that you might think would be averse to clean energy. The post notes that “Missouri’s history is deeply tied to coal.”

 

From The Nation:
November 15, 2017

California Governor Jerry Brown Is Doing Far More to Combat Climate Change Than Trump’s Washington

EcoOptimism’s take: We can always count on Jerry. And this is particularly important given both the size of California’s economy – it’s the sixth largest in the world – and the fact that California often sets the precedent for other states.

The Distillery: October 12, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

In our September 18th post, we “distilled” a series of articles all regarding, as we put it, “the oncoming and inevitable demise of cars powered by the internal (or, some would say, infernal) combustion engine.” Yesterday, the Washington Post, made the same observation in both an article and an opinion column.

From The Washington Post:
October 11, 2017
Why 2017 will go down as the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine

October 11, 2017
Do automakers dream of electric cars?

And from a bit earlier in the month:
October 2, 2017
Death of gas and diesel begins as GM announces plans for ‘all-electric future’Do automakers dream of electric cars?

Image via CleanTechnica

EcoOptimism’s take: While we don’t like to boast, can say here that we scooped the Washington Post?

And gotta love the title of the op-ed.

 

 

The Distillery: September 28, 2017

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.


In the aftermath of 9/11, at a gathering I attended here in New York City, a participant said she didn’t want to hear about the opportunities in the face of the disaster, that it was emotionally just wrong and, though she didn’t use those words, “too soon.”

Of course, she was right in that moment. But in the longer run, disasters can indeed represent opportunities, especially in avoiding or mitigating future ones. While it may still be considered too early to look at Harvey, Irma and Maria in this regard (as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in dismissing climate change as a factor, has made a point of saying), Japan’s 2011 earthquake and NYC’s Superstorm Sandy are far enough behind us that we can look more objectively. One of the things we can specifically address is making the electrical grid more resilient.

From Yale Environment 360:
September 12, 2017
Rebuilding from 2011 Earthquake, Japanese Towns Choose to Go Off the Grid

The destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Creative Commons via David Suzuki Foundation

EcoOptimism’s take: In the NYC blackout caused by Superstorm Sandy, virtually everything below 34th Street, including our Lower East Side neighborhood, went dark for days. NYU’s campus at Washington Square Park was the exception. A recently installed co-generation plant kicked in, allowing the campus to separate from the ConEd grid so that power there remained on. NYU opened its doors so that not just students, but also the nearby community could at least charge their cellphones…

From The New York Times:
How N.Y.U. Stayed (Partly) Warm and Lighted
November 12, 2012

Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/9360514/

EcoOptimism’s take: “Microgrids” are becoming a mainstay of resilience, so that when a disaster occurs or something goes wrong in the power grid, that one event doesn’t take down entire regions. Hoboken, NJ is putting this into application…

From CityLab:
To Stormproof Hoboken, a Microgrid
August 24, 2016

Image source: Huffington Post

EcoOptimism’s take: Microgrids, by definition, are subsets within the national or regional grid. They can be defined by an area as small as a few blocks or larger – perhaps a mid-size city like Hoboken.

And they can serve multiple purposes:

From Columbia University’s University’s Earth Institute:
Microgrids: Taking Steps Toward the 21st Century Smart Grid
April 18, 2017

Source: www.microgridinstitute.org

EcoOptimism’s take: Microgrids also enable locally generated power such as solar or wind to better co-exist with the larger grid. In doing this, they not only enhance resilience, but overcome the dubious objection quoted by some that these renewable energy sources endanger the nation’s aging power grid.

Which brings us full circle to the role of renewable energy in resilience…

From Grist.org:
Hurricanes keep bringing blackouts. Clean energy could keep the lights on.
September 22, 2017

And:
From RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute):
Rebuilding the Caribbean for a Resilient and Renewable Future
September 22, 2017

Image source: RMI.org

EcoOptimism’s take: In the face of disasters, this makes the combination of microgrids and renewable energy one of those win-win-win solutions that EcoOptimism is so fond of.

The Distillery: September 18, 2017

EcoOptimism’s current selection of favorite posts

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

While EcoOptimism’s Distillery picks don’t intentionally have themes, this confluence of posts that began over the summer warrants a topical selection. The topic is the oncoming and inevitable demise of cars powered by the internal (or, some would say, infernal) combustion engine. Places from Paris to India to China, and manufacturers from Volvo to Jaguar – no word from American manufacturers – are phasing them out.

September 11, 2017

From ThinkProgress.org:
Electric cars are about to get their biggest boost ever: China plans to ban new fossil-fuel powered cars.

EcoOptimism’s take: The significance here can’t be understated. China manufactured and sold more than 28 million cars last year (compared to the US’s 17.55 million) and yet still only one in five owns a car. It’s the world’s largest car market — responsible for around 30 percent of global passenger vehicle sales. Given that China has almost ¼ billion people, you can begin to guess the ginormous number of future cars – especially as the affluence of Chinese consumers grows – that this will represent.

Photo source: CleanTechnica.com

July 26, 2017

From Bloomberg.com:
France Aims to End Sale of Fossil-Fuel-Powered Cars by 2040

EcoOptimism’s take: This news goes back to July but, along with the news from China, the death of fossil fuel powered cars seems ever more imminent.

Photo: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) [CC BY-SA 3.0]


June 3, 2017

From CNN Tech:
India to sell only electric cars by 2030

EcoOptimism’s take: The air quality in India contributes to 1.2 million deaths a year, and “doctors have said breathing the air in New Delhi…is like smoking 10 cigarettes a day.” India will subsidize electric cars for a couple of years and, after that, believes electric cars – by the millions – will start paying for themselves. That’s both the ecological and economic sides of EcoOptimism.

photo: Mark Danielson – Flickr/Creative Commons

September 7, 2017

From BusinessGreen:
Jaguar Land Rover to make only electric or hybrid cars from 2020

The BusinessGreen post seems to sometimes be behind a paywall, but you can check out a related Treehugger post:
Jaguar Land Rover to phase out gas/diesel-only cars

EcoOptimism’s take: Given the low mpg of expensive SUVs and sportscars, getting rid of their gas versions is a big deal.

photo: Jaguar Land Rover

July 11, 2017

From Forbes:
Volvo’s Electric Car Announcement: Turning Point or Nonevent?

EcoOptimism’s take: There’s a note of skepticism in this post from a not-exactly-green source. They write that Volvo’s announcement doesn’t actually mean they won’t be making cars that use fossil fuels; they will still make hybrids. But still it’s a pretty big deal, especially since Volvo is Chinese-owned.

photo: Volvo

The Distillery: August 23, 2017

Triangles_Distillery_Text-smr

EcoOptimism’s current selection of favorite posts

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

We’ve got a plethora this week.

August 22, 2017

From Grist.org:
California defies Trump claim that environmental regulation kills economic growth

EcoOptimism’s take: Just more “fake news,” right? (It doesn’t get more EcoOptimistic than this!)

source: U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt

source: U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt

August 22, 2017

From Grist.org:
The eclipse was a test, and the solar industry aced it

EcoOptimism’s take: Chicken Little lives another day. CNBC headline on August 18 before the eclipse: “The total solar eclipse is going to knock out a lot of solar power.”

solar panels dark

August 14, 2017

From Environmental Network News:
Ozone Treaty Taking a Bite Out of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

EcoOptimism’s take: In my sustainable design classes, when I describe all our environmental issues and my students begin to get totally demoralized, I point out there are some bright spots. One of them is an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, that addressed ozone depletion (aka ozone holes) by reducing the use of chemicals causing the depletion. This 1989 agreement has been an enormous success and the ozone layer is now predicted to return to normal within this century.

Those ozone depleting gases, CFCs, are also one of the greenhouse gases causing climate change and this article says “In a twist, a new study shows the 30-year old treaty has had a major side benefit of reducing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S.”

The ozone hole has stopped growing. Source: NASA

The ozone hole has stopped growing. Source: NASA

August 17, 2017

From Yale Environment 360:
Renewable Energy Prevented 12,700 Premature Deaths Over Nine-Year Period, Study Says

EcoOptimism’s take: It’s great when environmental actions, as illustrated by the ozone article above, have side benefits.

“The expansion of wind and solar energy, and the resulting avoided emissions from fossil fuels, helped prevent up to 12,700 premature deaths in the U.S. from 2007 to 2015, according a new study in the journal Nature Energy.”

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

The Distillery: August 14, 2017

Triangles_Distillery_Text-smr

We can all use some positive news these days, especially on the environmental front in which science is considered evil, denial is an alternative fact and the EPA is now what I’m calling the Environmental Destruction Agency. And while I don’t want to gloss over the issues – there isn’t enough paint in the world to do that – I offer here The Distillery, a weekly (or thereabouts) selection of posts to help offset the PTSD of our current nightmare.

The posts I pick will be “real” in the sense that they aren’t pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as fun as those can be, but are evidence of EcoOptimism.

August 7, 2017

From EcoWatch:
Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

EcoOptimism’s take: Only a fraction of plastics gets recycled. The rest of this persistent scourge ends up in the oceans and distant beaches or, at best, in landfills to live on virtually forever.

They’ve even been found in the deepest place on Earth: the Marianas Trench.

And in case that’s not nasty enough, bear in mind this doesn’t take into account the resources (oil!) and energy required to make them.

Marine debris on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. Credit: Algalita.org

Marine debris on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. Credit: Algalita.org

August 9, 2017

From ThinkProgress:
America’s Wind Energy Industry Passed a Major Milestone

EcoOptimism’s take:  in 2016, wind energy passed the generating capacity of hydroelectric power became the nation’s top renewable generating source.

For all the talk naysaying renewable energy – it’s too expensive or too unreliable because “the sun don’t always shine, the wind don’t always blow” – it’s now the most rapidly growing and inexpensive form of energy. More efficient solar cells and new types of batteries will only further the trend, and the renewable energy industry is already creating more jobs than fossil fuels are.

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

Credit: Department of Energy via ThinkProgress.org

 

Surprise: Environmentalism Actually Boosts the Economy

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

One of the premises of EcoOptimism is that environmental actions and solutions complement the economy. Too often, the assumption – particularly within the business world and among conservatives – is that the opposite is true. They believe, sometimes fervently, that environmental rules and regulation are a drag on the economy, causing job losses and working against the interests of capitalism and growth.

But by almost all capitalist measures, environmentalism has proved to be an aid to the economy. I was struck by this with an assortment of posts all in one day. The first was a report stating the U.S. solar industry now employs close to 174,000 jobs and grew at a rate of 28% in the past year, nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy. Few sectors, including oil, can make a claim like that. In fact, 1.3% of the jobs created in the past year were in solar industries.

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

A related post compared this to the number of jobs created in fossil fuel industries last year. The oil and gas industry, including pipeline construction, added just 19,000 jobs, compared to solar’s 31,000. And according to the US Energy Information Administration, coal mining jobs fell by 11.3% in 2012, a year in which solar jobs grew by 13%.

Bear in mind that this is looking at only solar jobs and related growth, not the entire arena of renewables. Wind is another area of rapid growth compared to the rest of the economy. A new report from the advocacy group Oceana found that “offshore wind [in the Atlantic] would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.” As would be expected, pro-oil advocacy groups, who are promoting drilling for gas and oil off the East Coast, claim that that would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in revenue for states. Oceana says, though, those numbers are inflated because they are based on drilling in sites that are not economically viable. (Especially as the price of oil falls as it has in recent weeks.)

offshore wind stats

Furthermore, according to Oceana, drilling could put other jobs and industries, including fishing and tourism, at risk. This could have a much great economic impact: a potential loss of 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product. Wind, on the other hand, poses little risk. (Bird kills, while a concern, are smaller offshore and, in any case, are far lower than the aviary impact of air pollution and global climate disruption.)

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

All this makes renewable energy, to put it in Republican terms, a “job creator.” If only the Republican Party weren’t beholden to fossil fuel interests, perhaps they would see that and would see that this is, in EcoOptimism terms, a win-win solution.

The Elusive Silver Bullet

silverbullet

I just returned from Greenbuild, the annual conference and expo for architect, engineers, planners, builders and others involved in the green construction sector. The event, which has grown hugely in size (the opening plenary and dinner were held in the New Orleans Superdome!), was simultaneously over and underwhelming.

I went in part to cover it for the magazine Traditional Home, which has covered my work before. My job was to live tweet the things I found at Greenbuild that might be of interest to Traditional Home readers.

That turned out to be a bit of a challenge as many of the booths were displaying products that, while they were part and parcel of green building, were not photogenic or attention grabbing in obvious ways. (At the best of show announcement, I sat next to an editor, who groaned about the unsexiness of most of the winners, complaining they were making his job harder because they weren’t easy to write about.)

A window, even a triple paned one, doesn’t make for a sexy photo. Photo: David Bergman

A window, even a triple paned one, doesn’t make for a sexy photo. Photo: David Bergman

I did find plenty to tweet about (like this and this), but the experience reminded me that much of sustainability is not photogenic or headline grabbing. Wind and solar farms can be eye candy, as can futuristic concept buildings and cars. We tend, therefore to glom onto these images and adopt them as the goal, as the silver bullets that will solve our environmental problems.

But they’re not. Not because they aren’t good ideas, but because they are attempts at stand-alone solutions. There are, with the possible exception of a carbon fee, no silver bullet solutions. Our environmental issues are systemic ones and therefore need to be addressed systemically. That’s why a carbon tax is high on the EcoOptimism list. It addresses the systemic conjoined problems of climate disruption and consumption, not with a single “solution” such as solar panels, but by changing the game. By levelling the playing field of energy prices so that carbon emitters no longer get a free ride, it both makes “alternative” renewable energy sources the better economic choice and impacts our consumption patterns.

For instance, travel would probably become more expensive (at least until reliance on fossil fuels diminished) so maybe we’d stick closer to home, spending our money in local economies, having business meetings by Skype and having more time for family and friends. Not a bad tradeoff.

McMansions would become more expensive to heat and cool, encouraging the nascent movement toward smaller, more efficient and more urban homes. Out with two-story foyers and vestigial grand living rooms. In with homes that are better attuned to the ways we actually live. (I can hear the Agenda 21ers screaming now.)

But a carbon tax is not really what I wanted to write about. This post is about the false hope of – the desire for – a silver bullet. Much as I dislike extending the gun metaphor, the better approach is like buckshot. It’s deploying many tactics (yikes, more military terms), including the aforementioned solar and wind farms or the boring mechanical systems that dominated Greenbuild. It’s many tactics that, when taken as a greater whole, comprise a systemic approach: a change in overall strategies and mindsets.

That’s what it will take to solve this multipronged combination of serious problems. No one technical feat or government regulation—excepting perhaps carbon fees — is going to address climate disruption, ecosystem health, human health, social equity and the economy. They’re solvable; as the EcoOptimist, I’d better believe so. But they need to be addressed as intertwined issues, attacked on multiple fronts. (I just can’t seem get away from these military metaphors.)

In that sense, Greenbuild, as visually dull as parts of it may have been, is on the right track by putting lots of mini solutions out there. On occasion they get tied together, as happened with the demonstration house built for the show. Designed and constructed for the Make it Right foundation, the house pulled together ideas ranging from solar panels and state of the art insulation to locally procured furnishings. And the finished “LivingHome” will be dismantled and then reassembled in New Orlean’s Ninth Ward before being turned over to new inhabitants. (Parsons the New School for Design, where I teach, did something similar with its “Empowerhouse” entry in the Solar Decathlon.)

The LivingHome was more photogenic. Photo: David Bergman

The LivingHome was more photogenic. Photo: David Bergman

These aren’t exactly systemic solutions. A single house can’t be. But they’re steps along the path to rethinking and reanalyzing approaches to problems. Now if we can just please have a carbon fee, the stage will be set for some truly systemic answers.

Some Earth Week Optimism

Hunter Lovins speaking at The New School.

Hunter Lovins speaking at The New School. Photo: David Bergman

 

Amidst some intense deadlines, I’d started a couple of EcoOptimism posts in the past few weeks, and then discarded them because they weren’t, well, optimistic.

In my EcoOptimist-in-chief role, I sometimes find myself in a hypocritical position when I rail on a topic without presenting at least the silver lining. So I canned the critique of a new chair that was eco but, in my opinion anyway, quite ugly and counterproductive to the perception of ecodesign. And I bit my digital tongue when I began a rant on yet another round of climate deniers’ contorted and illiterate BS.

My malaise was released the other day when, concurrent with the completion of a major deadline, I attended a talk with green business expert Hunter Lovins. A prolific author and speaker, Lovins keynoted a New School student–organized event called (and I’ll try to reign in my non-EcoOptimist snarkiness here) Sustainapalooza.

The gist of Lovins talk was a twist on the old phrase “what’s good for GM is good for the country,” modernizing it into “what’s good for the environment is good for business.” Or to put it the other way around, in Lovins’ words, “the assault on the environment is also an assault on the economy.” Citing sources and businesses including the Harvard Business Review, Unilever and even Goldman Sachs, she emphasized that companies focusing on environmental performance are also leading in economic performance, particularly in the long run.  (That long run vision is strengthened, as Lovins noted, by the decision of people such as Paul Polman of Unilever to stop filing quarterly reports, a policy I’ve long advocated since the pressure of quarterly reports only serves to encourage short term thinking at the expense of looking at the bigger picture.)

Central to her talk was what she and John Fullerton have labeled The Regenerative Economy or, as they titled it in their FastCo article last fall, “transform[ing] global finance into a force for good.” In its current state, she explained, “our economy has become a financial system that expects human beings to serve its dictates and desires, rather than serving basic human needs and delivering prosperity in ways that can long endure.” In other words we work for the financial system instead of the financial system working for us. The needs of the financial system determine the economy, which determines the impacts on the planet when it should be the other way around.

A slide from Lovins’ presentation

A slide from Lovins’ presentation

 

Lovins cited a plethora of stats that support the premise of EcoOptimism:

  • A greener economy could create between 15 million to 60 million jobs worldwide over the next two decades. It represents a potential $10 trillion dollar economy.
  • The regenerative energy economy employs almost 3 million people TODAY – more than fossil fuel.
  • Green jobs increased five times faster than jobs in any other industry
  • Switching to renewables will cost 2% – 6% of world GDP – a bargain compared to the 20% of GCP that climate change impacts will amount to.
  • Companies in the Dow Jones sustainability Index outperform the general market.

Lovins’ talk was not without realism. She referenced the conventional business stance and the political climate (or would that be anti-climate?). And she criticized herself. “If I was any damn good at this,” she commented, we’d have made more progress. That’s unfair self-criticism, I’d say, being as she’s far from the only one who’s been unable to break our socio-political quagmire. But let’s not detract from the optimism here by diving back into that topic.