Time and again current developments generate new and alarming announcements. In April 1994, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that global energy consumption would increase by 50% by the year 2010 -- and inevitably emissions as well since the IEA, too, still thinks in terms of giving priority to conventional energy technologies. The decisions of the Rio Climate Convention are thereby reduced to so much waste paper. Within the next 25 years the number of cars on the roads in China is expected to reach over 400 million. Apart from a climate catastrophe, we will be threatened with an oxygen shortage if this motorisation takes place on the basis of conventional energies. In international aviation, a doubling of the number of flights is anticipated within the next ten years, even though current air traffic is already an attack on the earth's atmosphere and ozone layer. A new investment offensive in atomic energy is planned by the Atomic Energy Agency, primarily in Asian countries, and by Euratom in the countries of the former Soviet Union -- even though these countries do not possess the most important precondition for the use of this most dangerous of all conventional energies -- political and social stability. The dependence of most developing countries on the import of expensive conventional primary energies robs them of any chance of healthy economic development. Many developing countries pay more money for oil imports than they earn in foreign currency for all their exports. But still 80% of development loans in the energy sector are spent on the use of conventional energies.
In other words, those responsible for energy policy and the energy industry breed a madness which is then implemented with highly efficient methods. We need an offensive for renewable energies, a global ecological SDI Initiative -- a Solar Development Initiative for all renewable energies. Developing countries will only be able to take this path if the industrialised countries tread this route too: decisions for the developing countries are taken in Europe, North America and Japan. This offensive will involve mobilising public opinion, educational establishments, political institutions and international organisations -- along with the mobilisation of industry and the building trades. All those who come with the same old cost argument against renewables energies must be told, in no uncertain terms, that the consequences of the use of conventional energies are already too expensive to pay for. The longer we wait before introducing renewable energies, the more expensive the future will become for everybody.
A contribution is not enough
One thing is of overriding importance for this mobilisation: it must be made clear to the world that renewable energies can satisfy all the energy requirements of humanity. As long as the point of view dominates that renewable energies can only meet a limited amount of the energy demand -- some five, ten or fifteen per cent -- then the senseless priorities we have today will remain. There will be no chance to alter priorities if we do not succeed with a "strategy revolution" to radically change existing infrastructures and the thought patterns which are defined by these infrastructures.
Anybody who considers renewable energy as merely supplementary, as an additive form of energy, does not grasp the decisive point. This point can never be reached by those who merely think of exchanging conventional energy forms with the technologies of renewable energies within the current structures of our energy supply.
Many obstacles to renewable energies are no more than blockages in the brain. The power to imagine other structures is lacking. Wind power is a particularly obvious case in point. Wind energy has already proved that it can compete with conventional energies. Now add mass production of wind turbines to this scenario, along with the facts that they are becoming more efficient to operate and easier to install, they last longer, and that further technical development is likely, then it is perfectly conceivable that wind generated electricity can become significantly cheaper than every other form of conventional energy.
This vision, though, cannot be realised because wind power endangers the production monopoly of centralised nuclear or coal power stations, because it needs a new grid infrastructure and because it changes the character of the landscape. In an unholy alliance with the atomic and coal industries, nature protection groups are protesting against wind turbines and blocking an ecological energy reform. A confrontation is developing between nature protection and ecology -- even though every nature lover must realise that it is not possible to protect nature without renewable energies superseding conventional energies.
Stop making excuses
Taking the offensive means realising that it is fatal to make excuses for the fact that wind turbines change the landscape. It is and will remain impossible to operate turbines invisibly. The age of the fossil fuel and atomic industries has dominated and often destroyed the landscape. The solar energy age will also have to dominate the landscape, but it will not destroy it. Just as the sun's rays and the power of the wind cannot be hidden, in the same way solar plant and wind turbines cannot be concealed. All those who are not prepared to accept change in the landscape must bear the responsibility for a darkening of the landscape, for the destruction caused by the increasing number of storms, for our forests continuing to die off, the pollution of the water and for the smog in cities.
Let's get serious means that the proponents of renewable energies must cease to make excuses for what they are doing. On the contrary -- all those who refuse to grasp the chance for a sustainable future should be seeking their excuses. For the next generation will charge them and call them to account.
Hermann Scheer is a Member of Parliament in Germany and President of the European Solar Energy Association, EUROSOLAR