During yesterday’s Sustainable Industries Economic Forum, keynote speaker Paul Hawken suggested that it will take a somewhat monumental effort to get back to 350 ppm in our atmosphere (we’re at 387 right now). His list was daunting. We’d need one new olympic sized pool of bioalgae fuel production every second for 25 years, for example. He said that while being a ‘doomer’ has a negative connotation, the facts are the facts, and that there is a role for this kind of startling statistic. An audience member asked the question that was on all our minds: “It seems untenable. Do you have hope that this can actually happen?”
The old Ford plant in Richmond, CA, is a good example of how we can mobilize when needed. It switched from building cars to building tanks in no time flat when WWII broke out. When it was shut down as a manufacturing plant, it was then reengineered to create local manufacturing of eco-friendly goods.
In fact, if we were to mobilize on a concerted effort, our power and capability would likely surprise even the skeptics among us. If, for example, we took all the energy used to create newspapers in the world and used it instead to create solar panels, we could get it all done in 11 days. Of course, there’s the issue of ingredients of the solar panels, and logistics of their distribution and installation, but it serves as just an example of how quickly we can make change when we want to.
What is happening, he said, is extraordinary. So many people are getting on board with sustainability so quickly. “We’re moving in that direction and the momentum is growing and likely to be unstoppable,” said Hawken (paraphrased).
One of the panelists at the Economic Forum, however, took issue with this answer. “Crisis leads to change,” said Matt Cheney, CEO of Renewable Ventures. “Yes, that part is true. But there is a disconnect between this optimism in our community and what’s actually happening in Washington. When it comes to energy security, which is comparable to our national security, our Department of Defense probably has plans to invade every country in the world, probably even Canada, to help secure our energy future. However, our Department of Energy is lacking a plan to implement wide-scale change that everyone knows we need in terms of energy efficiency.”
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill)