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By Mae-Wan Ho, Sam Burcher, Brett Cherry, & Peter Saunders

“A must-read for saving the climate”

greenenergiesThe world can be 100 percent renewable by 2050.


  • A variety of truly green and affordable options already exist, and more innovations are on the way
  • Policies that promote innovations and stimulate internal market for decentralised distributed generation are key


In 2008, for the first time, more renewable energies capacity was added globally than conventional energies, and the trend continues

Wind energy alone can supply 40 times the world’s electricity or 5 times its total energy consumption. PV technologies are improving by leaps and bounds, and electricity from solar panels is already as cheap as electricity from the grid. Biogas from wastes has transformed rural China, and waste-incinerating community cookers poised to do the same in Africa. Air condition and energy from deep water, saline agriculture for food and fuel, and estuarine reef for tapping tidal energy are further options in addition to well established micro-hydroelectric and geothermal energies.

Promising developments on the horizon include thermoelectrics for recycling waste heat into electricity, artificial photosynthesis for harvesting and storing solar energy, and the potential for solving our nuclear waste problem by low temperature transmutation.

These are exciting times.  All we need to save the planet is for our leaders to follow the way of nature and the will and wisdom of the people.


Global warming is happening much faster than the IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predicted in its latest 2007 report. For one thing, its climate models failed to account for the rapid summer melting of the polar ice caps that’s been making headlines several years in a row.

The IPCC helped set the target of 450 ppm maximum of atmospheric CO2, which they thought would limit the global temperature rise to below 2 ˚C, and prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

But top climate scientists Jim Hansen and colleagues, using more realistic climate models and key data from the remote history of the earth, showed that 450 ppm is well beyond the danger zone, and we must even reduce the current 385 ppm atmospheric CO2 down to 350 ppm, or else face “irreversible catastrophic effects” [1]. And the head of IPCC Rajendra Pachauri now agrees [2].

The good news is that we can still do it. It is not too late. All it takes is to stop burning fossil fuels in order to bring 385 ppm back down to 350 ppm within the next decades. But we must act now, because 385 ppm is already within the danger zone, and we cannot afford to let it remain there for too long, or we push the planet past the point of no return.

That is why we need to commit ourselves to truly green energies as a matter of urgency


‘Green’ is environmentally friendly, healthy, safe, non-polluting, renewable, and sustainable.

Renewable energy, as defined by British Petroleum (BP) [3], is derived from natural processes that do not involve the consumption of exhaustible resources such as fossil fuels and uranium. But it could include industrial scale biomass, biofuels, or hydroelectric from large dams, none of which is sustainable.

‘Sustainable’ is the key to being truly green. But the word ‘sustainable’ has been hi-jacked so often to mean just the opposite that it needs to be redefined.

To be sustainable is to endure like a natural biodiverse ecosystem for hundreds if not thousands of years, thanks to a circular economy of cooperation and reciprocity that regenerates and renews the whole [3]. For the human species, it is the capacity to use natural resources responsibly and equitably, to meet the needs of all in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We have updated the usual Bruntland definition of sustainability [4] to incorporate the overriding lesson from nature that cooperation and reciprocity between the biodiverse inhabitants of the ecosystem are necessary for the survival of the whole; and this applies all the more so to ecosystem Earth.

Unfortunately, our policy-makers are by and large still engaged in confrontational politics, being misled by the Darwinian myth of competition and the survival of the fittest that will surely take us beyond the point of no return. History has taught us why civilisations collapse in the past when faced with ecological crises [5], simply through the failure to take the political decisions necessary for survival. Are we going to repeat history in the present global ecological crisis that has the survival of the entire human species at stake? Or will our political leaders in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change learn to cooperate and adopt the most appropriate green energy policies for us to meet the 350 ppm target.

As Germany has demonstrated so well within the past decade, the appropriate policies can trigger a dramatic growth in new renewable energies, with industry offering a variety of distributed, decentralized options that also give people autonomy and independence from big centralised power stations. The global shift to renewable energies is happening, and many politicians and energy experts see no difficulty in achieving a 100 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2050, which is what Germany intends to achieve [6], as the world’s first major renewable economy.

Green Energies is a follow up on Which Energy?, the first in the series of Institute of Science In Society's Sustainable World Initiative reports, and an elaboration of the theme of local food and energy systems presented in Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, the second report in the series.

Green Energies provides the public and policy-makers with the evidence for making the right decisions that will enable us to meet the 350 ppm target and 100 percent renewable energies by 2050. Time is running out, as are remaining resources. That’s why it is important at the outset to recognize and reject options that are not renewable or sustainable and dangerous, notably nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and biochar. Our capacity for truly sustainable and renewable energies is growing every day. It is neither necessary nor acceptable to export the burden of cutting carbon emissions to poor developing countries via carbon trading schemes. The developed nations must take responsibility for reducing their own emissions at home, while providing genuine financial and technological assistance to poor nations that have to cope with the worst effects of climate change.

Renewable energy is inexhaustible energy. Wind energy alone can supply 40 times the world’s electricity use or its total energy consumption five times over. An enormous potential also exists for solar energy, and electricity from locally installed solar panels is already as cheap as electricity from the grid. People everywhere are innovating and switching to renewables to save on fuel bills and saving communities as they are saving the planet.  In 2008, for the first time, more renewable energies capacity has been added than conventional energies and the trend continues. Local small scale and micro-generation are booming in the developed countries wherever feed-in tariffs have been introduced, giving people independence and autonomy, plus the flexibilities for upgrading as technologies improve.

At the same time, appropriate science at the frontiers has opened up new possibilities for recycling waste heat as electricity, harvesting and storing sunlight by artificial photosynthesis, and solving our nuclear waste problem by low temperature transmutation after we give up nuclear energy for good. These are exciting times. All we need to save the planet is for our leaders follow the way of nature and the will and wisdom of the people.