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Do We Have All the Renewable Energy We Need to Power the World?

A leading researcher says we have enough wind and solar to power the world. Are we willing to do what's necessary to transform our society?

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“I think in some sectors it will naturally evolve very quickly like electric cars because they're so efficient,” said Jacobson. “In other sectors, if we don't push faster, then they're just going to change really modestly or not fast enough. I'm pretty optimistic that once people understand what's going on with the problems, in terms of climate, pollution, energy security, and once they understand there are technical solutions available and the economic solution is available, they will galvanize around those solutions.”

All the finger pointing can’t just be aimed at our elected officials—there has to be broad public support. Renewable projects should still be subject to environmental review, but barring that, it’s no longer acceptable to say that wind turbines or solar panels are too ugly to look at, especially by people who get electricity from coal, oil and gas yet share none of the burden of its extraction or burning.

When we talk about powering our future with renewable energy we have to understand that we’re still talking about impacts—but we have to weigh those against the impacts of continuing to power our world with ever more extreme methods of fossil fuel extraction.

This isn’t simply a matter of changing how we get energy. It means shifting the power dynamic in this country (and across the world), and literally putting power back in the hands of individual people and communities.

At this point, Mark Jacobson’s optimistic goal of 100 percent renewables by 2030 or even 2050 looks out of reach. But what if we aimed for 50 percent for starters, and focused our economy on resilience instead of endless growth? The right wing might kick and scream, but I doubt the world would come to an end. If we keep burning fossil fuels, however, our fate isn’t likely to be very pleasant.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.

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