September 17, 1989
A Message to the World:
Deadline, Now; Lifeline, 2000
The Green Energy Conference (Montreal, September 14-17, 1989) has concluded that the keys to global prosperity in the future are increased energy efficiency and abundant renewable energy sources. In contrast to what is stated in the Technical Program of the World Energy Conference, global prosperity is ultimately incompatible with a continued reliance on gas, oil, coal, uranium and plutonium, or on ecologically devastating hydroelectric megaprojects like the James Bay Project (in Quebec). The Green Energy Conference has accordingly launched a global campaign called Lifeline 2000 to have these principles adopted by as many governments as possible by the end of the century.
From a purely factual point of view, this conclusion is not news. Countless studies from many countries over the last fifteen years have shown that demand reduction (through efficiency improvements) is the cheapest, safest, most environmentally benign and economically beneficial energy investment strategy available. Nevertheless, few governments, if any, give efficiency improvements the highest priority in terms of money, resources, implementation, or staff.
Leadership in energy matters must be taken out of the hands of supply-oriented corporations, who see energy as a commodity to be sold, and put into the public domain. In short, we have a collective consciousness of what needs to be done, but not yet the collective will to do it. This situation must change, and fast. What is new is our determination to make it change, through the Lifeline 2000 campaign.
Energy experts with a supply-oriented bias -- and that includes most of them -- are no more likely to build energy-efficient societies than tobacco executives are to make people stop smoking. Energy policy is simply too important to be left to such experts. We need full and open public debate of all our energy options, including a wide range of demand-side options; henceforth we must insist on having such debate. Likewise, we require impartial and symmetrical criteria for choosing among our various energy options; such choices and the criteria on which they are based must also be open to public scrutiny.
Since the Arab oil embargo in 1973, energy policy has never been far from centre stage. What began as a problem of security of supply, however, has since evolved into a question of survival. It is becoming increasingly evident that our present energy policies are not sustainable -- not just because the fuel will give out, but also because the environment may collapse under the strain. We have only about ten years to change directions and get onto the right trajectory. We simply cannot afford to waste the next decade as we wasted the last one, fruitlessly waiting for the status quo to change. We must begin now to build a bridge to a sustainable future.
Participants at the Green Energy Conference believe that the sustainability of civilization is threatened in three major ways: degradation of the planetary environment, instability of the global economy, and inequity among the peoples of the earth.
Economic Instability. The staggering debt burdens in both over-developed and under-developed countries are frequently linked to energy megaprojects which are expensive, dangerous, polluting, and incapable of providing long-term jobs or economic benefits.
Inequity. One-fifth of humanity squanders the lion's share of the world's energy and resources, while the other four-fifths lives in indescribable poverty. If nuclear weapons ever became generally available (and they will, if nuclear power is successfully resuscitated) those weapons will inevitably be used if such disparities are allowed to persist.
In the field of energy, the Lifeline 2000 plan of action is offered by the participants at the Green Energy Conference as the best, fastest and most effective way of ameliorating all three of these problems. There is no supply-oriented scenario which will reduce acid rain and greenhouse gases as fast as an "efficiency/renewable" strategy. Such a strategy will also cost less and provide far more jobs and other economic benefits, freeing up disposable income for alternative investments and thereby stimulating economic growth. Finally, such a strategy will preferentially help the poorest individuals (who spend a proportionately larger fraction of their income on energy) and the poorest countries (which are often richer in renewable energy resources than many industrialized nations).
The obstacles to implementing the Lifeline 2000 plan of action are not technical or economic, but social and political. Governments have to start listening to their people and not only to energy supply companies. If they must have megaprojects, let them be "conservation megaprojects", with decentralized benefits for all, ensuring that the necessary expertise and financing is made available. Governments must stop subsidizing dead-end solutions such as fossil-fuel megaprojects, hydroelectric megaprojects (specifically Phase 2 of the James Bay Project in Quebec) and nuclear power developments. If such rudimentary steps are not taken soon, a sustainable future may not be achievable.