What can be done to make clean energy a more popular political priority? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
I believe the best way to make clean energy politically popular is to educate the political leaders about its economic, environmental and national security advantages and about the environmental consequences of continuing the use of fossil fuels. At this point I must tell a true story that illustrates the environmental point. Back in 1994, I was invited to give a keynote lecture on Solar Energy at an energy conference in Beijing, China. During a luncheon, the Energy Minister of China sat next to me and was trying to pick my brain. Without going into the long discussion, his question was focused on how they could increase their exports of solar panels to overtake Japan. I told him that my advice for them was to increase the use of solar panels in China before thinking of exporting and that they should not make the same mistake as the other industrial nations of increasing fossil fuels, especially coal. His answer to me was that they have a right to use coal as much as possible and no one from outside should lecture them about environmental consequences. In answer to this I told him that they had all the right to use coal or any other fuel as much as they wanted, but in my view, they would regret it in the future. Well, China continued to increase their power capacity largely based on coal for the last two decades. At this time, China’s power capacity is larger than the US power capacity and about 25% of the power capacity of the whole world, but 80% of that comes from coal. Three years ago, I was invited to give a Keynote lecture in Beijing, but this time on Air Quality. Those of you who are familiar with the present air quality in Beijing, may very well understand the reaction of the audience when I recalled my conversation of 1994.
In educating the political leaders, you need to have very powerful arguments that will persuade them. Just saying that using clean energy is the right thing to do is not going to be very persuasive to a large fraction of the political leaders.
The first point to make with them is the economic advantage as it relates to costs and local jobs. Many studies in the recent years have shown that installing solar PV panels locally creates 7 times more jobs than by the same amount of power production in a central power plant. Solar panels have drastically come down in cost and are therefore cost effective. The only problem is that all the costs have to be paid upfront for solar while the energy from the sun comes free as long as your panels work. So if right financing is available, it is very simple to see that solar would be cheaper than conventional power. So you need to push for the policy options that provide for tax incentives and right financing options.
We all know the environmental consequences of using fossil fuels. When it comes to the impact of fossil fuels on air quality, political leaders in some of the countries should be able to make the connection and be easy to persuade to favor clean energy. However, the part that political leaders don’t understand ( even though they may say they do) is how climate change is bad for us. What they don’t understand is how a fraction of a degree change in global temperature could have any consequences to worry about. So first we need to understand ourselves how a fraction of a degree change in temperature can have enormous bad consequences for us. Without going into the details, let me say that one of the consequence that is already causing enormous damage is the emergence of new viruses and diseases. When I saw the emergence Ebola and Zika viruses which have already affected so many lives in Africa, South America and USA, first I did not see a connection with Global Climate Change. But then I remembered, that in the 1998 volume of “Advances in Solar Energy” that I edited, a professor from the Harvard School of Public Health had written an article on the emergence of microorganisms with the increase in the global temperatures. In that article, he mentioned that in future you would see the emergence of viruses, such as, Ebola and Zika at places that had never heard of these viruses. Indeed that is what we have seen in the last 5 years. These are just 2 of the many examples of viruses emerging around the world. So instead of talking about just an increase in Global Temperature, you need to relate that to the emergence of new microbes and diseases and the impact of these diseases on the lives of people.
Finally, there is also an argument about the security of the country. Today, the root cause of many global conflicts is the import and export of fossil fuels. On the other hand, nature provides clean renewable energy to every country in the world, which does not have to be imported and therefore inherently leads to security.
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