Friday, November 03, 2006

Something new under the sun

When Buckminster Fuller heard politicians talking about the energy crisis we were apparently experiencing back in the 1970's, he noted that there was no such thing. Rather than an energy crisis he realized we were really facing what he called "a crisis of ignorance". Even back then Bucky knew that "It is now technically feasible with presently proved technology, to adequately service all humanity by the vast overabundance of our cosmic energy income -- from the Sun, vegetation-produced alcohols and Sun-derived win power and wavepower." Bucky was convinced that this could be done without undermining the Earth's ecological integrity. He even proposed the construction of an integrated global grid to distribute the electricity (generated primarily by wind) -- thereby creating a system of international green energy interdependence. (GW)

Allies Dressed in Green

By Thomas L. Friedman
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 27, 2006

Heidelberg, Germany

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Western allies have been asking: What will replace the threat of communism as the cement that holds together the Atlantic alliance? Some have argued terrorism, but I don’t think so. I think my German friends have the best idea: the issue that will and should unite the West is energy and all its challenges.

After all, nothing is a bigger threat today to the Western way of life and quality of life than the combination of climate change, pollution, species loss, and Islamist radicalism and petro-authoritarianism — all fueled by our energy addictions. And no solution is possible to these problems without concerted government actions to reduce emissions, to inspire green innovation and to shift from oil to renewable power.

Therefore, green is not just the new red, white and blue — the next great American national security project — it should also be the color, focus and cement of the Atlantic alliance in the 21st century. As a German official remarked to me, “The whole issue has the potential of becoming a big trans-Atlantic project at a time when we have no other good big project that [embodies] a vision.”

The intertwined environmental and energy challenges we face today are so acute that they can no longer be addressed by “virtuous individuals hopping on a bus instead of taking the car,” argued Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian. “This is a job for government.”

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently gave a major address on how “energy security will strongly influence the global security agenda in the 21st century.” And Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, just delivered a speech declaring that climate change “is not just an environmental problem. It is a defense problem. It is a problem for those who deal with economics and development, conflict prevention, agriculture, finance, housing, transport, innovation, trade and health.”

The fact that the foreign ministers are making this their agendas suggests that energy will soon move to the heart of the alliance’s agenda. As Mr. Freedland put it, “If climate change is a foreign policy problem, foreign policy can surely be part of the climate change solution.”

However, for what I call “geo-greenism” — thinking about green in strategic terms — to become the new core of the alliance, European greens will have to become more “geo” and the U.S. government more “green.”

European Green parties have tended to wrap their environmentalism in a very high-minded tone that was always more moralizing than strategic. For instance, Europe’s Greens led the global campaign against genetically modified crops, which will be critically important if we want to grow more of our fuel — à la corn ethanol or soy biodiesel. The Greens in Germany also forced the previous government to agree to phase out Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2021. That would mean uninstalling 30 percent of Germany’s energy capacity. It would be great if it were all replaced by wind or solar power, but it will most likely be replaced by coal.

Jürgen Hogrefe, who was spokesman for the Green Party in Lower Saxony, Germany, in the 1980s, is today a senior executive with EnBW, a German energy company with nuclear plants.

“The Green Party has been extremely important for German society,” he said, helping to transform the post-Nazi society into a more liberal domain. But an antinuclear stance has been at the core of the party, and now that the German mainstream has embraced a green agenda, the Greens need to rethink nuclear energy. “The Green Party should redefine itself,” added Mr. Hogrefe. “In some fields they are very modern party. ... But concerning nuclear energy and ecology they are stubborn, not open enough to see what is happening around the globe.”

One reason President Bush has failed to become the leader of the West is because he has failed to lead on green, which has become so important to all our allies. I doubt that he’ll redefine U.S. policy in his last two years, but the issues around climate change and energy conservation are now rising so fast it’s impossible to imagine that his successor won’t — whoever it is. And once that happens, it is impossible to imagine that living green, instead of fighting reds, won’t become the new glue of the Atlantic alliance.

Or as Hermann Ott, head of the Berlin office of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, remarked to me, “We don’t need aliens to unite our world, we have a problem right at the center” now — and the solution is green.


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