How Solar Could Change the World Order

How Solar Could Change the World Order

No one expected the internet to radically change the way we consume and create information two decades ago. The mobile phone revolution couldn’t have happened if the world feared mega telecom giants’ power to derail it a decade ago. These two revolutions give hope to the world that even the powerful coal and oil lobbies could be defeated by the solar revolution within the next decade: Perhaps even reversing the danger of global warming going out of control.

In his new book Dawn of the Solar Age – An End to Global Warming and to Fear (Sage Publications) senior journalist and author Prem Shankar Jha lucidly shows how Capitalism and the market economy have been subverting efforts of climate change pioneers since the last two decades. He argues how it is possible to reverse global warming if the shady nexus of politics and business is broken.

With poster boy of crass Capitalism Donald Trump on their side, Environmentalism may take longer and with time as the most important factor, the damage to the planet could be severe.

If the fossil fuel lobbies had not prevailed over climate interests since the 1980s, it was possible to prevent the Middle East political crisis including the fall of Iraq, Libya, the refugee crisis and the formation of ISIS.

Key Insights for India

  • India has made staggering progress in installing solar power base using the solar photo voltaic cell route. The author argues for that an aggressive solar thermal power strategy could yield bigger results. This could reduce dependence on hydro power for peak-load. We won’t need new giant hydro power projects coming up near the Himalayas. We won’t also need giant coal-based power plants – the main cause of air pollution.
  • Indian agriculture and industry are facing acute crisis today. This can be reversed if agriculture waste, especially from sugarcane and paddy are converted to fuel the transport sector. This will ease the burden of oil imports significantly and reduce air pollution in cities, especially around Delhi. The current use of ethanol as fuel is only 3%. It can be taken to 30%. Technology, funds and raw material are available easily – lack of policy direction is what is holding it up
  • A clever management of India’s sugar economy (second in the world after Brazil) could transform the lives of 100 million families and create thousands of jobs
  • Big opportunity exists from converting urban waste to energy. There are better options than incinerators like gasification. If exploited well, Indian cities can be garbage free in no time. What are we waiting for?
  • India may be a laggard in climate change efforts now, but it can be a global leader in less than a decade. Is anyone thinking about it?

Global Impact

With renewable energy meeting only 6% of energy needs the world is in a tizzy especially when unusual weather episodes have become all too common. The gap between hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon seems too wide. The fact that alternative solutions already exist should give some hope. But who is going to be the evangelist?

For example, according to the author “the true economic cost of solar thermal power is already one-third of the coal-based thermal power, one-sixth of nuclear power, and one-eighth of hydro-power. All of its ecological and social benefits are a bonus.”

The author brilliantly puts forth the case for accelerated investment in solar thermal and solar PVC projects and how they could significantly change the global political, ecological and economic construct.

His argument that the big push for electric vehicle too is not as climate-friendly as it is appears and makes a case for bigger push for bio-fuels instead.

In hindsight, Donald Trump’s unapologetic support to corporate America may well be a boon. It’s getting even the indifferent Americans agitated and this could fuel the possibility of a more earth-friendly policy-making in the US in the near future.

The author lucidly captures the harm done by US and Brazil by stupidly promoting ethanol instead of methanol as alternate fuels. The way this has ravaged agriculture resulting in shrinking of Amazon forests is horrendous.

Also how entrenched players pit unproven futuristic technologies as a game to delegitimize proven and disruptive new ones to earn millions of subsidies is an eye opener.

The internet and mobile revolutions were driven by disruptive technologies and entrepreneurship from outside the old order. However, the coal-oil business barons still enjoy staggering control over political power in both developed and developing (Including India) countries.

Since trust in governments has hit an all time low globally. There’s a fond hope that a handful of ‘good’ corporations that have the capability and financial muscle could derail the applecart. The big 5 IT companies, for example, have enough spare cash and imagination to put the old boys out of business. It’s clear that world is looking for saviors from outside the political-business system to save the planet.

A chapter on how global civil society – perhaps networks and cooperation between them – could push for faster migration to bio-fuels and solar –   could have made the book more appealing.

Amitav Ghosh, in The Great Derangement has provoked writers to use climate change in serious fiction so that the climate change movement gets the heft it needs.

While more than 21,000 titles show up on Google search on climate change, Jha’s book packs a punch and is an easy read – thanks to his journalistic style.  It gives the reader enough to pretend to be well-informed yet scares the hell out of her.

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