Earlier this year when Bill McKibben's Rolling Stonearticle "Global Warming's Terrifying New Mats" came out, we decided to post it on our band's Facebook page. We'd always been fans of Bill, and his clear determination that we finally know who's to blame for climate change felt important and extremely timely. We were completely unprepared for the amount of backlash we were about to receive. What followed was one of the longest comment chains we've ever had, filled with negativity and a seemingly endless circular argument spouting from two sides of a very polarized field of participants. One person disagreed with us so deeply that they informed us we had "just lost a fan." I knew these issues were hot with diverging interests, but something about that really brought it home: Why would somebody judge my music for anything other than… music?
I was motivated to dig deeper than I ever had before to verify my overwhelming gut feelings on sustainability, or at least better understand what's really going on here. What I discovered blew my mind — it turns out these issues aren't actually as polarized as I thought.
The raw numbers show us that especially with the the latest innovations, an integrated approach combining efficiency retrofitting, cogeneration and renewables has the ability to create tons of jobs, and make tons of people tons of money. We can set aside our "altruistic" notions of saving planet earth, Right vs. Left, good vs. evil and alternative energy still comes out on top. Add all that we stand to lose by continuing to overload our atmosphere with c02 (i.e. climate and societal stability) and it becomes even more of a no-brainer.
"There is a goldmine in energy efficiency. We just have to choose to tap it," says Wendy Goldsmith, CEO of Bioengineering Group (and coincidentally my new friend). She and her peers have been innovating for nearly 20 years, stocking up heaps of usable technologies that can save us all money: heat waste collection systems which turn smokestacks into steam turbines that can power small cities, drain water recycling tanks which turn shower or dishwasher heat into electricity that feeds right back into the building's heating and cooling needs, solar tubes, heat pumps and thermal batteries — all of the above woven into highly-integrated efficiency retrofitting strategies that can cut staggeringly large percentages off utility bills for individuals, businesses and municipalities. These services cost a lot upfront, like any infrastructure, but the return on investment is huge, meaning entities willing and/or able to invest are making big sums of money over years of splitting energy savings with building owners.
Our government knows this. Despite utter silence on global climate change during the presidential debates, Obama recently signed the Better Buildings Initiative which rewards businesses for reducing their energy use and is estimated to produce 300,000-plus jobs. Even the U.S. Department of Defense has been embarking on initiatives to reduce fossil fuel usage and green their facilities. They're requiring all new constructions to achieve net-zero efficiency standards, and have set aside $7 billion to invest in renewable energy. They've identified it as a concern of of national security and military vulnerability.
California knows this, and has become a leader in our country. They got 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources in 2009, and that number is climbing each year. Californians will be needing less energy and paying less for what they need. And as the cost of solar plummetsexponentially roughly every 18 months, we could all be profiting similarly, if only we had more political will.
Germany knows this and has garnered such political will to initiate a rapid transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. They've vowed to be the first nation to do it, and have started something of an arms race, with China and Japan and much of Europe heartily joining in. Saudi Arabia has already invested $100 billion, or 41 megawatts in solar, enough to power four New York Cities.
Last night before we went on stage in Baton Rouge, I overheard a man at the bar chuckle and say "I'm not used to seeing people put winter coats on after a hurricane," as he stared at the television screen. I find a disturbing irony touring through the heart of hurricane territory — Florida and Louisiana — while our friends and family back home struggle in the aftermath of Sandy. It seems like public acceptance of global climate change might be rounding a corner, but as we face what has been called the "biggest challenge of all humanity," it's more important than ever that we find common ground.
Learning about all of these usable innovations has been a revelation for me, as party facilitator/joyous moment creator. Maybe because it evokes images from science fiction stories I've read of technologized humans and nature living in a seamless balance. The post-digital dew collectors of Dune the desert planet, aware of every movement around them, not wasting a drop. Maybe it's because I'm deeply reminded of what a powerful renewable resource the human brain is. In the quiet laboratories of our perilously divided country, the math-minded people are having productive conversations and working across disciplines to think us into a healthier global future. For the rest of us, the 99 percenters, eco-martyrs, heresy-crying religious conservatives and capitalist fat-cats alike, it's time we follow suit. We may not have the power to invent technology, but we do have the power to think, care, talk, trust, and sympathize.