Posted on November 4, 2011 by Charles Tisdale
The October 16 New York Times asked the question: Where Did Global Warming Go? Congress is considering legislation to reduce the authority of EPA. Some presidential candidates argue that the Environmental Protection Agency has caused significant damage to the American economy, and some have suggested its abolition. Questions have been raised about the failure of a large solar energy company despite a massive loan guarantee by the United States government.
In the midst of all these headlines, I was surprised to read that the European Union has adopted a rule which requires a shift to renewable energy. This rule will turn buildings into “power plants” to collect and store energy from sun, wind, and other non-fossil fuel sources. Rule 116 of the Rules of Procedure calls upon EU Institutions to:
- Pursue a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020,
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020,
- Produce 33% of electricity and 25% of overall energy from renewal energy sources by 2020,
- Institute hydrogen fuel cell storage technology and other storage technologies for portable, stationary and transport uses and establish a decentralized bottom up hydrogen infrastructure by 2025 in all EU Member States, and
- Make power grids smart and independent by 2025 so that regions, cities, SMEs and citizens can produce and share energy in accordance with the same open access principals as apply to the internet now.
Germany is the leading early adopter of the program to turn buildings into small power plants that will collect and store energy.
How did this happen in the EU? Are Europeans more concerned about global warming? Or is it the high cost of oil?
Oil prices affect the cost of everything. If Europe can reduce its dependence on fossil fuel, it can improve its economic condition. Retrofitting existing buildings and developing new technologies to collect energy from non-fossil fuels provides jobs. Having each building become a small “power plant” uses lessons learned from the internet practice of sharing information and working collectively to produce a better product than the top down vertical development approach.
Where did the EU and Germany come up with the plan to turn buildings into power plants to store energy and to reduce their dependence on the price of oil? They listened to an American economist, Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin wrote The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World. Rifkin’s views may not be accepted by many in America, however, his book and his teachings are worth considering. Rifkin’s ideas are the basis for the EU Rule.
What happened to global warming and the U. S. green economy? The New York Timessuggests that Americans prefer larger cars and less government intrusion while remaining skeptical of science.
Yet American history shows that we have always believed that there is another frontier for our pioneering spirit to conquer. Some Americans believe that the next frontier is safe development of shale gas and North American oil reserves, as opposed to renewable resources. This approach requires far less change than the development of alternative fuel sources in the manner dictated by the new EU rule. The reserves seem plentiful and can displace energy imports. However, their use continues the rise in green house gas emissions.
Is the problem in our current political system? Is our focus on winning at all costs preventing any consensus on significant long term changes necessary to develop sustainable alternative approaches to energy?
Perhaps it is the American character. Traffic congestion is a problem in major cities all over the world. The most significant changes to eliminate traffic congestion include bans or significant restrictions on driving in London, Milan, Florence and other European cities. American cities resist restrictions on driving. Europeans value walking and pedestrian access far more than Americans. Americans still believe that the convenience of driving is more important than reducing traffic congestion.
Whatever the answer is to these questions, it appears that Europeans are implementing a green economy that will benefit all of their citizens regardless of whether there is global warming. Shouldn’t America consider this as well?