Lighting the Way

Dream Green is featuring the Sustainable Living department at Maharishi University of Management in our latest Dream Green show.  The leading lights of the department are Lonnie Gamble and David Fischer, both of whom have done so much to promote the creation of a sustainable future.  It's fascinating to hear Lonnie talk about sustainability and renewable energy.  His commitment and depth of knowledge are truly impressive.  But we all know that even if we accept the need and logic of creating a sustainable future it's not necessarily happening at a pace that will ensure we avoid suffering a resource crunch and the negative consequences of polluting technologies.  Climate change is, for many, a clear case of the harmful consequences of not reducing green house gas emissions.  For others the argument is that the climate may be changing due to a warming planet but what the real cause is we just can't say.  There are two sides of this debate and we encounter this in our conversations with the people who are contributing to this series.  I have heard a few times that rather than seek to regulate industries and push harder for renewable energy we should use technology to adapt to the changing circumstances.  The corollary of this view is often an aversion to the regulation of industry and support for all forms of energy including coal, natural gas and nuclear.  Economic and technological arguments used to persuade us that the only reasonable path forward is one that keeps regulation light and allows for new nuclear and coal fired power stations to be built in order to continue to provide the majority of our electricity needs.  Solar and wind have their place and will increase as a percentage of energy output but really can't compete with the constant and concentrated source of power you get from coal and nuclear.  This seems quite logical and indeed there would need to be very large-scale investment in renewables and the electricity grid in the near future to have any chance of securing a majority of energy in Iowa or the US from renewables.  Contributors to the series like Lonnie Gamble, Fred Kirschenmann and David Osterberg (coming later) all point out in response to this that when the cost of energy from coal and nuclear and even natural gas is calculated, the cost of their impact on the environment should be included in the calculations.  If this were done, then the real cost of power generated from these sources would be much higher – thus making renewables even more competitive.   In fact, new coal and nuclear power stations will be hugely expensive and cost a great deal more than the previous generation.  Add to this the problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel and pollution from coal, and the balance, according to the green side of the debate, is firmly in favor of a massive re-assignment of state and federal resources towards renewables.  In fact, the argument runs, the problem is not that wind technology and solar technology can't really compete with fossil fuels and nuclear, it's that the necessary investment to make them even better has never really been forthcoming.  A clear and forward thing energy policy would help.  If this had been done a couple of decades ago these technologies would already be far more developed.  In countries such as Germany and China proactive policies from the government have indeed led to rapid progress in their solar and wind industries and the use of solar and wind energy.  Was it worth it?  Well check out the top solar and wind companies today.  And where are most solar panels and wind turbines being made?  No points for guessing right.

Cleary the debate over energy policy is going to rage on.  In the meantime Lonnie and others focus on what can be done on the grass roots level and demonstrate how efficient, clean and practical renewable energy can be, especially if you combine its use with energy efficiency techniques and technologies.  We go on a tour with Lonnie through the new Sustainable Living Center and he shows us this combination at work.  By the end of the tour you can't help but think, this is the future for sure, it really won't be long before all these ideas are applied everywhere.  But will it be?  I guess that’s in all our hands.