Enlightening and Empowering: REN21's Global Futures Report on Renewables

January 16, 2013
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by David Hales, President, Second Nature

The opening words of the Renewables Global Futures Report, “The future of renewable energy is fundamentally a choice, not a foregone conclusion given technology and economic trends”, are music to the ears of any educator.

At our best, we teach that the fundamental goal of sustainability is the freedom to choose our own future, and that education at its most essential is about creating the capacity to make wise choices.

The Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century, and report author, Eric Martinot, have created a report that is enlightening and empowering. It provides both context and perspective on one of the most critical aspects of the transition to sustainability.

When we founded REN21 following the Bonn Conference on Renewable Energy of 2004, we were convinced that clean, abundant, predictable, and affordable renewable energy was necessary to fuel societies that aspire to being sustainable, stable, and just. We knew the promise was real, and we all underestimated how rapidly it would be realized.

In 2004, global investment in new renewable energy capacity hovered around $40 billion; in 2011 it exceeded $260 billion – more than the new investment in fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined. China, a renewable energy backwater in 2004 is the global leader. Most of the new power capacity added each year in Europe is from renewables.

The purpose of this report is not to predict the future. It is to give substance to the range of choice which is ours. It is a composite picture of the possible.

We at Second Nature assert that a renewable future is the essence of realizing the potential in the human story. Renewable energy is not just a plug-in alternative to the imperatives of fossil fuel; renewable energy makes a very different story possible ... a story of more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, a story of empowered choices, a story which at its core is not driven by energy scarcity but by abundance.

The major challenges of the 21st century are all moral challenges: the gap between rich and poor, the increasing reliance on violence, both state-sponsored and indiscriminate, the impoverishment of our future in the service of today’s consumption. We have chosen the world which presents these choices in stark terms. The core lesson of education is that we can choose another path.

It’s early days yet; a future which is sustainable and just is not inevitable. Not only do we have to choose it as a vision, we have to choose it every day in our behavior. And education is critical to the choices we make. We cannot choose a future we cannot imagine, and we cannot achieve a future which is beyond our reach.

This report enlightens our vision and validates our choices. It is both a warning about the costs of business as usual, and a welcome to a world in which our children can live.

But don’t take my word for it – read it and choose for yourself.

David Hales
Vice-Chair, REN21
President, Second Nature