reading response: toward a green economy

an old photo from my previous blog (when I felt the need to put everything in colored boxes) plus my husband hugging a windmill

Back in 2010, through a random series of events, Joe & I ended up on a driving tour through Sierck-les-Bains and Luxembourg, then into Germany. (Sorry I’m dragging us back to Europe again.) Our driver (also our landlord) was talking about the particular type of grape growing on the hills & the distinct white wine it would become. Joe & I were staring at the hilltop, where an isolated windmill sat.

We mentioned the windmill to our landlord, and suddenly we were driving up the hill. We parked in a gravel lot and found ourselves in the middle of a small renewable education center. The building, with both types of photovoltaic panels & half of itself built into the hillside, served as a sort of education center (but it was closed & we can’t read German).
Our ears hummed with the low whomp-whomp of the whirling blades. With no authority figure around, Joe decided to see how close he could get to the windmill. The answer? Close. He hugged it–this, we were sure, was as close as we would ever get to renewable energy sources.

It’s no surprise that our brief jaunt into Germany brought us face-to-face with green energy. At present, Germany is spending 8% of their GDP on renewables. Earlier in 2012, they announced their goal to get “80% of their nation’s energy from wind and solar.”

This afternoon under the windmill came to mind when I read Roseland‘s chapter on climate change. The bit that struck me most in the chapter was the brief mention of a study by the United Nations Environment Programme. As UNEP’s press release explains,

Investing two per cent of global GDP into ten key sectors can kick-start a transition towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy a new report launched today says.

The sectors? A great summary lists them straight away: agriculture, buildings, energy, fisheries, forests, manufacturing, tourism, transport, water & waste management. It goes on to explain that “[g]reening the economy not only generates growth, and in particular gains in natural capital, but it also produces a higher growth in GDP and GDP per capita.”

A Clean Technica article frames the two percent idea in a way I particularly enjoy–one that touches on the history and essence of sustainable development: Green energy is intrinsically connected to issues of human equality and food sovereignty. The article closes with this:

“A green economy was a low-carbon economy, and a departure from the ‘business-as-usual’ approach was needed when building it,” the information officer reported Efik as saying. “A ‘global commons principle’ should be applied and the benefits reaped from the green economy shared by all, emphasizing that the green economy was not only about the environment, but about reducing poverty and must be approached with an understanding that those concepts were all interconnected.”

Of course, this two percent can’t happen without serious international policy and support. Are he headed there? Could Obama’s second term (fingers crossed) be the moment when he returns to renewables? Time will tell. (Or you could tell me–I’d love your thoughts on this.) In the mean time, check out this piece on how your country compares on renewable investment.


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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11 Responses to reading response: toward a green economy

  1. momilby says:

    Freakin’ windmill huggers…

    I’m glad you brought up the indirect benefits of a green economy. I tend to take this approach:

    The articles you linked were all about the German energy transition being “risky” with huge “uncertainties”. It’s amazing how hard the current administration has driven this. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that overall, things work out. I’ve been reading about little kinks and bumps here and there, but in general, they’re doing it. We need a good model to follow. Seems like in the meantime, we can prepare our country by shifting public perception of status-quo emissions and community development so when we finally get the right people in office, the demand will be there.

    I tell you what, though – I’m investing in renewables if President Obama is reelected.

    And when I say invest, I mean all $300 in my bank account.

    • meganbetz says:

      I thought it was really interesting that I couldn’t find a positive article. Not that these articles are negative… but they’re so skeptical. (Granted, I tried to avoid my usual Grist/Guardian/Mother Jones sources and branch out.) I’m excited to see how this goes.

      I honestly voted for Obama because I thought a new energy grid was possible during one president’s administration (automatically giving him eight years in my head). I hope it happens–jobs, jobs jobs! Infrastructure! Public works! New private industry! Energy INDEPENDENCE (unless Saudi Arabia buys the sun or something). What’s not to love? I just. don’t. see it.

  2. csthurbe says:

    My sense is that the many concerns about wind power–sometimes related to engineering and sometimes related to economics–have only been partly addressed by most people writing about the power source. After taking Energy Economics and Policy last spring, it occurred to me that the crucial missing ingredient for wind is storage. There are other problems like aesthetics, cost, bird kills, and the like, but only lack of storage forces backup by another energy source and redundancy in power sources as a result. I actually worked for a year at a wind power company in Connecticut several years ago, and what I learned in Professor Carley’s class last spring is consistent with what I learned from my work experience. I like the enthusiasm in your post, but doubt that larger scale adoption of wind can go ahead–on a rational basis–without some technological improvements…. I’ll get to work on the storage device.

    • meganbetz says:

      I’m optimistic. I acknowledge the storage problems & have been anxious to see what happens there–we’re getting better with solar. But I think that it could be used well–using wind immediately during peak usage hours, running them based on avg usage/energy needed. (I have no experience; I’m just thinking of how I avoid paying for my own electricity.)

      I think if anyone can do this, though, it’s Germany. Do you think they can hit 80%?

  3. John Hiestand says:

    Yeah Germany is a super progressive, renewable energy fiend. But, I don’t agree with their recent shutdown of 8 nuclear plants to add renewables. This stemmed from the Fukushima hysteria, which resulted in no deaths or serious injuries due to direct radiation exposures. Most of these nuclear incidents never result in cancer instances in individuals exposed that are higher than the base rate. We are exposed to more radiation living within 50 miles of the IPL coal plant than we would be from a nuclear reactor. If you like bananas, sorry, mucho radiación. With all the radiation we are exposed to every day, I don’t see why advanced, modern nuclear reactors with their minuscule footprint are not factored into progressive energy portfolios. The Steingraber talk on fracking yesterday really revealed the horrible pollution, health effects, waste disposal costs, and radiation from natural gas life cycle processes. I wish the USA and other countries would take another look into nuclear as a realistic alternative for baseload power.

    • meganbetz says:

      WOW. I am not very well versed in nuclear energy/radiation, so thanks for that. My main problem with nuclear is that I still see it more as a transition from coal/oil than a long term solution.What happens when, like coal, we run out of uranium? And how water-intensive is nuclear compared to other current sources? (These are genuine questions that I thought you may be able to answer; they’re in no way snarky or rhetorical.)

  4. Stephanie says:

    I am a big wind energy supporter. One of my favorite sites driving from Chicago to Bloomington is driving through the windmill farm near Lafyette IN. It not only lets me know I am halfway to Btown, but also reminds me that there are others out there using renewable energy, helping to reinforce me on why I am driving four hours back to school to work my tush off. One thing I noticed around Chicago, since it is pretty windy here, is that there are smaller wind turbines. These are called vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs) and produce enough energy to power smaller corporate buildings. More importantly, they are cheaper, smaller, and efficient. Hopefully we will start seeing these more and more around the country.

    For more on VAWTs click on this link below

    • meganbetz says:

      I love vertical axis wind turbines for several reasons–they’re more affordable. They help buildings own (both in money terms & cognitively) their energy. And they can be PRETTY and DECORATIVE! Double–triple?–win! Several buildings in St. Louis use them as art installations, lighting them up at night.

  5. algress says:

    In light of Dr. Brabson’s excellent lecture today, I was curious as to how the US compares to Germany in terms of wind potential. Like Brabson’s world map of solar potential which states the US is generally more advantageous to solar than cloudy Germany. I found this:

    Again, we see Germany is nothing exceptional in terms of mega wind availability as compared to the US. But, just like solar energy, they’re leaders.

  6. naomiariel says:

    First, your experience in Germany sounds nothing short of amazing. I don’t think I will ever get that close to a windmill, but a girl can dream. Second, I am glad that you’ve highlighted the framing through the lens of an economic argument (in GDP), and as used countless times – in jobs. However, I my optimism for real policy change is increasingly cautious because I still cannot wrap my head around the science of ‘clean coal.’ I admit that, no matter what I read, I still do not comprehend the feasibility, but I know that leaders on the Hill depend on coal jobs in their home states and despite the number of jobs or the economic arguments made for renewable energy sources, those are different jobs, with arguably different skills and change is scary and might even lead to defeat in the next election. I first saw this campaign when I was working on the Hill in 2009 and they seemed to make an appearance more than any other group in this area. Would love your thoughts and please change my cautious optimism to hopeful optimism from a policy perspective.

    • meganbetz says:

      I KNOW, Naomi. I wish I could make you more hopeful, but… a moment of confession: I’m a pessimist & tend to think the U.S. is doomed. (Thoughts of the election sends me into shallow breathing, panic attacks, fits of rage.) That just means we need to be the ones talking to policy makers & their constituents! (Until we BECOME the policy makers that communicate with their constituents effectively, OBVIOUSLY.) 🙂

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