Published on January 21st, 2013 | by Adam Johnston0
A Newer World: Book Review
A Newer World: Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done To Solve The Climate Crisis, which came out late in 2012, is a joyful, optimistic, yet sober look at the accomplishments society has seen in sustainable development over the past 25 years.
Often, environmental books give a really grim outlook on the situation without a solid economic solution to the problem (read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth), or pan realistic solutions (read Ozzie Zehner’s Green Illusions) we face.
However, environmental professor at New York University William F. Hewitt provides something rare that has not really been seen in much contemporary environmental literature — hope — while melding the realities of climate science, politics, and economics all into one.
For starters, Hewitt notes that international conferences such as those in Copenhagen and Cancun were not complete failures on climate change, given the complexities of global economic and political systems, and the steps forward they brought. This included 73 countries after the Copenhagen conference proving how they would reduce carbon emissions in both the near term and by the middle of the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the author illustrates the progress made with the UN Green Climate Fund for developing countries. The fund was underwritten thanks to $30 billion promised from developed countries to be used through 2012. Hewitt also noted that countries agreed prior to the Copenhagen conference to have $100 billion yearly by 2020 given to developing nations for climate mitigation and adaptation projects.
Even on the most contentious issue — carbon pricing — gains have been made, despite the ongoing bickering on Capitol Hill. Hewitt points to regional carbon pricing schemes in providing a map forward. One example includes the eastern ten states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). As of 2011, greater than $900 million have been raised through auctions, with 80% of the proceeds going to clean energy projects.
Meanwhile, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), involving California and four Canadian provinces (Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia), had its first reporting period starting in 2012, and lasts for three years.
But the most interesting argument in the book was the massive gains seen in clean technology and renewable energy. In 1996, there were 6.1 GW of installed wind power capacity, which rapidly grew to 197 GW by the end of 2010, according to the book. By 2015, installed wind capacity is expected to reach 459 GW according to the Global Wind Energy Council, Hewitt notes. The author suggests wind energy is now a part of mainstream energy generation, thanks to reaching grid parity in many areas of the world.
Solar, in the meantime, is also making advances thanks to its dropping costs. Hewitt says: “The technology, the solid business case, and the dire environmental necessity inherent in the threat of global climate change — all of these are driving solar power toward realizing its extraordinary potential.” (p.38)
He points to the abundant resources solar energy can provide, as much as 1,700 exajoules (EJ) for photovoltaics and 8,000 EJ for concentrated solar power (CSP) by 2050, showcasing the potential for global solar power.
Advancements in biomass, hydropower, marine, and geothermal are also giving more clean energy options than has ever been possible before. Hewitt suggests these sources could fulfill all the world’s energy needs while avoiding the risk of pollution that threatens the globe.
While he acknowledges the positives, there is much work to be done on climate issues, including advancing carbon pricing schemes and improving lifestyles (bicycling and energy efficiency). Hewitt’s sharp, pragmatic, and hopeful view on how far business and world governments have come on sustainable development issues provides something rare: a message that shows how far we have come in environmental issues given the complexities in global politics and economics.
A Newer World is worth a read for those tired of dire messages, for those who want hope in the face of our fast-paced, complex global economic system.
Image Credit: University of New Hampshire Press