David Suzuki… “Who says a better world is impossible?”

From our inbox to you: David Suzuki… “Who says a better world is impossible?”

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Who says a better world is impossible?

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

It’s ironic that anti-environmentalists and renewable energy opponents often accuse those of us seeking solutions of wanting to go back to the past, to living in caves, scrounging for roots and berries. They’re the ones intent on continuing to burn stuff to keep warm — to the detriment of the natural world and all it provides.

People have used wind and solar power for thousands of years. But recent rapid advances in generation, storage and transmission technologies have led to a fast-developing industry that’s outpacing fossil fuels in growth and job creation. Costs are coming down to the point where renewable energy is competitive with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy for worldwide electricity generation grew to 22 per cent in 2013, a five per cent increase from 2012.

The problem is that much of the world still burns non-renewable resources for electricity and fuels, causing pollution and climate change and, subsequently, more human health problems, extreme weather events, water shortages and environmental devastation. In many cities in China, the air has become almost unbreathable, as seen in the shocking Chinese documentary film Under the Dome. In California, a prolonged drought is affecting food production. Extreme weather events are costing billions of dollars worldwide.

We simply must do more to shift away from fossil fuels and, despite what the naysayers claim, we can. We can even get partway there under our current systems. Market forces often lead to innovation in clean energy development. But in addressing the very serious long-term problems we’ve created, we may have to challenge another “impossibility”: changing our outmoded global economic system. As economist and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a recent Guardian article, “At this advanced stage of environmental threats to the planet, and in an era of unprecedented inequality of income and power, it’s no longer good enough to chase GDP. We need to keep our eye on three goals — prosperity, inclusion, and sustainability — not just on the money.”

Relying on market capitalism encourages hyper-consumption, planned obsolescence, wasteful production and endless growth. Cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions requires conserving energy as well as developing new energy technologies. Along with reducing our reliance on private automobiles and making buildings and homes more energy-efficient, that also means making goods that last longer and producing fewer disposable or useless items so less energy is consumed in production.

People have changed economic systems many times before, when they no longer suited shifting conditions or when they were found to be inhumane, as with slavery. And people continue to develop tools and technologies that were once thought impossible. Things are only impossible until they’re not. We can’t let those who are stuck in the past, unable to imagine a better future, hold us back from creating a safer, cleaner and more just world.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

 

David Suzuki and Ian Hanington on “Clean-Tech is good for the economy and environment…

SGC Admin: From our inbox to you… David Suzuki and Ian Hanington on “Clean-Tech is good for the economy and environment”… 🙂

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Clean-tech is good for the economy and environment

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

What’s the fastest-growing sector in Canada’s economy? Given what you hear from politicians and the media, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the resource industry, especially extraction and export of fossil fuels like oil sands bitumen and liquefied natural gas. But we’re no longer just “hewers of wood and drawers of water” — or drillers of oil, frackers of gas and miners of coal.

Although extraction, use and export of natural resources are economically important and will remain so for some time, we’re starting to diversify. According to Ottawa-based consultants Analytica Advisors, clean technology, or clean-tech, is the country’s fastest-growing industry.

The firm’s “2014 Canadian Clean Technology Report”, found direct employment by clean-tech companies rose six per cent from 2011 to 2012, from 38,800 people to 41,000, with revenues increasing nine per cent to $11.3-billion. According to Industry Canada, mining and oil and gas sector revenues grew just 0.3 per cent in the same period, manufacturing 1.9 per cent and the construction industry 3.9 per cent.

At the current growth rate, Analytica estimates Canada’s clean-tech industry will be worth $28 billion by 2022. But with the global market expected to triple to $2.5 trillion over the next six years, Canada hasn’t come close to reaching its potential. It’s our choice to seize the opportunity. With just two per cent of the global market (matching our share of population), we could have a $50 billion clean-tech industry by 2020 — double the size of today’s aerospace industry.

Clean-tech also outshines other sectors on research and development investment, with $1 billion invested in 2012 and $5 billion from 2008 to 2012. That’s more than the combined R&D investments of natural resource industries (oil and gas extraction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing), and only $200 million less than the aerospace sector.

“If you look at the sum of the investments and revenues of all these companies, we have a significant industry today, Analytica president Céline Bak told the Hill Times. “Given the growth in investments today, it will continue to be significant and can grow into an industry comparable in size to other significant industries, like aerospace for example.”

The clean-tech sector is broad. “These companies are working on problems that we all care about, like how to use the constant temperature from the ground under our offices buildings for heating and cooling and how to replace expensive and polluting diesel power in our remote communities with clean affordable energy or transforming greenhouse gases into stronger concrete to build greener buildings,” Bak said in a Vancouver Sun article. Clean-tech comprises about 700 companies in 10 sectors across Canada, including renewable energy, water treatment, green building and development of environmentally friendly consumer products.

Many experts argue that putting a price on carbon, through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, is a good way to stimulate clean-tech, by targeting greenhouse gas emitters and encouraging technologies and measures aimed at energy conservation and renewables.

But we could lose out if we take the industry for granted — especially because 74 per cent of clean-tech companies here sell products and services outside Canada, with export revenues of about $5.8 billion in 2012 and 42 per cent going to markets other than the U.S. “High-performing companies are often bought by international players that take the intellectual property, manufacturing and jobs to other countries,” Bak cautioned, adding, “The world already looks to Canada for our clean technology solutions. Isn’t it time that we did too?”

And, while the federal government has strategies to track and promote the fossil fuel and aerospace industries, it has yet to do this for clean-tech.

Diversity in nature is important — ensuring ecosystems remain resilient in the face of threats. So, too, for the economy. It’s folly to rely too heavily on extracting and selling finite resources, especially those that cause pollution and contribute to climate change and other threats to the environment and human health and survival. Canada’s economic growth potential through clean energy is huge, but it needs to be given the same priority government gives other industries.

Clean-tech may not be the answer to all our problems, but it’s a sector that offers a lot of promise for our economy and environment.

For more information, please watch this video.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

 

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