Striving for a Green Economy: novel concept or novelty?

(Photo by Kalikasan Party)

According to the European Environmental Agency, “the green economy” is a concept that consists of balancing economic growth and environmental protection [1]. The idea is to incorporate the environment into economic development. Will the idea of the green economy be a solution to environmental sustainability? It is a novel concept but could it become a simple novelty instead?

The past year has had a lot of focus on sustainable activity. The United Nations 2014 Climate Summit took place to lead up to the 2015 Summit in which the UN will discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol [2]. Al Gore streamed an event called 24 Hours of Reality that listed a myriad of solutions to lower carbon emissions [3]. Even Pope Francis has begun emphasizing the need to turn our attention towards climate change [4].

Currently, President Obama has proposed designating 4.8 million hectares of Alaskan territory as wilderness areas [5]. Opposition to this proposal has to do with a large area of Alaska being put off limits for oil exploration. In addition, in the United Kingdom, MPs are in debate about a moratorium on fracking in order to meet emission reduction goals [6].

The question is, with our growth towards “the green economy”, how are environmental assessments responding to projects? As easy as it is to fall on oil and coal as our main sources of energy, there are numerous alternative and sustainable sources of energy. Does this trend towards green energy give more easily permission to green projects?

There are cases where a good idea goes wrong. An example is Germany’s transition to renewable energy and the implementation of wind farms in the mid-2000s. Striving for a cleaner source of energy had switched Germany from an energy exporter to importer due to the power strain on the power grid [7]. Due to a quick transition and poorly assessed plans on the output of energy, the power demand, and the unpredictability of wind caused the problem [7]. It continues with the need to expand and deliver energy impeded by activists who preventing approval of construction [7]. A similar problem occurred with a solar plant:

“[…] I will never forget those seemingly endless days of summer spent inside while it rained incessantly. Bavaria is like Seattle in the United States or Sichuan province in China. You don’t want to put a solar plant in Bavaria, but that is exactly where the Germans put it. The plant, with a peak output of 10 megawatts, went into operation in June 2005.

It happened for the best reason there is in politics: money. Welcome to the world of new renewable energies, where the subsidies rule—and consumers pay.”

– Vaclav Smil, writer for IEEE commenting on a proposed plan for a solar plant [8].

What we see here is not the fault of the type of resource, but the system and approval of a plan not well assessed. The poor planning leads to ineffective energy production which leads to an increase price in energy and loss in potential. We get caught up with the trend of green projects that we neglect some of the problems. In 2011, a project in Saskatchewan involving a wind turbine encountered skepticism such as:

 “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle because as soon as you announce a project is green, everybody stands and salutes the flag.”

– Councilor Pat Lorje  [9]

It is a fair point. People have the right to question a new project. In this case, they wanted to see the documents of the project assessment. Is it not their prerogative? If we want to advance towards a green economy, these projects need to be approved after proper assessment and planning. EA reports should not become more lenient to projects that are labeled “green”. I do not want to sound punitive but I would prefer to see few successful projects than many failed projects. Green is not the new black, it should be a way of living; let us judge it so.

[1] European Environment Agency, 2011. Europe’s environment — An Assessment of Assessments. From: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/europes-environment-aoa

[2] Brown P. 2014. New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/04/new-york-summit-is-last-chance-get-consensus-on-climate-before-2015-talks

[3] The Climate Reality Project, 2014. 24 Hours of Reality: 24 Reasons for Hope. http://climaterealityproject.org/24-hours-reality

[4] The Associated Press, 2015.  Pope Francis’ stand on climate change deepens distrust among US conservatives. NOLA. http://www.nola.com/religion/index.ssf/2015/01/pope_francis_stand_on_climate.html

[5] BBC News, 2015. Obama push to expand Alaskan refuge. BBC News: Science & Environment. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30985824

[6] Briggs H., 2015. MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets. BBC News: Science & Environment. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30955291

[7] Watts A, 2012. Germany in skeptical turmoil on both Climate and Solar/Windfarms. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/06/germany-in-skeptical-turmoil-on-both-climate-and-windfarms/

[8] Smil V., 2012. A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy. IEEE Spectrum. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/a-skeptic-looks-at-alternative-energy

[9] Eyre B., 2011. Green skeptics simply tilting at windmills. The Starphoenix. http://yourfairshare.ca/files/2011/11/Green-skeptics-simply-tilting-at-windmills.pdf