Eco-Economy Offers Alternative to Oil, says Author

The availability of wind turbines, solar cells, hydrogen generators and fuel cell engines offer both energy independence and an alternative to fossil fuels, according to the head of a new environmental research organization in the United States.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-12-06 [] “For the first time since the oil age began, the world has the technology to wean itself from petroleum coming from the politically volatile Middle East,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. The global economy is out of sync with the earth’s ecosystem, Brown explains in his new book, ‘Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.’ In an eco-economy, renewable energy will replace climate-disrupting fossil fuels and a recycling economy will replace the throwaway economy. Wind turbines will replace coal mines and recycling industries will replace mining industries, he explains. This restructuring of the global economy has already begun, he adds, with the shift from fossil fuels to solar and hydrogen evident in the contrasting recent growth rates of energy sources. During the last decade, wind power grew by 25 percent a year, solar cells at 20 percent and geothermal energy at 4 percent annually, while oil expanded by only 1 percent and coal use declined by 1 percent annually, he says. Natural gas, which is destined to be the transition fuel from the fossil fuel era to the hydrogen era, grew by 2 percent per year. He notes that the restructuring is gaining momentum, with world wind energy use increasing four-fold from 1995 to 2000. Denmark generates 15 percent of its electricity from wind, the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein obtains 19 percent, while the Spanish state of Navarra is 22 percent from wind turbines. “Wind power has an enormous potential,” says Brown. Advances in turbine design have reduced electricity costs from 38¢ per kilowatt hour to less than 4¢ at prime wind sites, with further cuts coming. France will develop 5,000 MW of wind by 2010, while Argentina will develop 3,000 MW in Patagonia. Britain has accepted offshore bids to develop 1,500 MW and China says it will develop 2,500 MW of wind by 2005. Cheap electricity from windfarms can be used to electrolyze water and produce hydrogen, which can power gas turbines when the wind ebbs, he explains. “The farmers and ranchers who own most of the U.S. wind rights could one day supply not only most of the country’s electricity, but also much of the fuel used in its automobiles.” The use of solar panels is also expanding rapidly, with remote villages saving money by installing solar instead of building centralized power plants and grids. One million homes around the world obtain electricity from PV, and the new Japanese roofing material sets the stage for “dramatic gains in this new energy source as rooftops become the power plants of buildings.” “For many of the nearly two billion people without electricity, solar cells are their best hope,” he says. The challenge of the new eco-economy is “to shift from a linear flow-through economy to a comprehensive recycling economy,” he explains. Almost 60 percent of U.S. steel comes from scrap, and 72 percent of paper in Germany comes from recycling mills. “In an eco-economy, most energy is produced locally from wind, solar cells, hydropower, biomass and geothermal sources, thus offering a new grassroots development potential for developing countries, one that does not require spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil,” he explains. The key to restructuring the economy is to restructure the tax system, to allow ecologists and economists to identify all indirect costs associated with a particular product or service which, in turn, can be incorporated into market prices in the form of a tax and offset by a reduction in income taxes. “This restructuring of the tax system, which is the key to restructuring the economy, does not change the level of taxes,” says Brown, “only their composition.” The EPI has placed the book on the internet for free downloading.
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