By Laurie Guevara-Stone
Over 200,000 gallons of oil spilled across South Dakota farmland. Delhi declares a public health emergency as its air pollution gets so bad it’s equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. More than 3 million U.S. citizens still without electricity months after the worst hurricane in recorded history hit Puerto Rico. These are just some of the most recent news stories describing how we are destroying the planet. And as we face all these fossil-fuel-related disasters, President Trump decides to pull out of the Paris climate accord. It’s easy these days to be filled with despair.
However, there is actually reason for hope. We have a simple answer to these challenges—renewable energy. We have plenty of sun and wind at our disposal. And you don’t have to be a tree-hugging liberal to support investing in renewables. Besides being cleaner sources of energy, solar and wind are now just as cheap if not cheaper than conventional fossil fuels. A recent report from the financial firm Lazard found that in the United States “the full-lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear.” In fact, a Rocky Mountain Institute study—Reinventing Fire—showed how the United States could save $5 trillion by transitioning off of oil and coal and to renewable energy.
And renewable energy is more resilient and secure—it is not susceptible to volatile oil prices, we don’t need to import it from unstable countries, and we don’t need an army to ensure our access to it. In other words, it makes good business sense to invest in renewable energy. That’s why some of the biggest corporations in the country—Amazon, Google, Walmart, General Motors, Dow Chemical, Target, 3M, the list goes on— are turning to renewables. In fact, last year renewable energy and natural gas together produced half of U.S. electricity supplies, while coal produced only 30 percent.
Renewable energy is also democratic—it is available everywhere. Germany, one of the world’s solar leaders, gets as much annual sun as Seattle or Alaska (in fact its sunniest region gets less sun than almost anywhere in the lower 48 states). Even so, Germany has over four times as much solar energy per capita than the United States. And one day last April, 85 percent of all the electricity consumed in Germany was produced by renewable energy. Sure, Germany has a very pro-renewables government while we are stuck with a president with archaic ideas and his hands in the pockets of the oil and gas industry. But that is proving to not matter as much as one might think.
Even though it would be nice to have the federal government on board, states and cities are stepping up and taking action on their own. Twenty U.S. states and more than 50 major cities have signed America’s Pledge to abide by the Paris Agreement, reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewables. And over 1,300 businesses representing $25 trillion in market capitalization and over 500 universities have adopted greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets. While the headlines might be filled with discouraging climate woes, there is actually a lot happening behind the scenes to be hopeful about.
So don’t despair. The answer, in fact, is blowin’ in the wind.
Laurie is a writer/editor for Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and has over 20 years of experience in renewable energy technologies. Prior to joining RMI, she was the International Program Manager for Solar Energy International where she organized renewable energy trainings around the world. Laurie has also led renewable energy and energy efficiency tours of Cuba with Eco-Cuba Network since 1996.