By Roger Diamond

I see there is a new “race” between the US and China. This time it is to create as much green power as possible. The hype around this new race is good, with even the US president opening his mouth on the issue. Big green NGOs such as 350.org
are getting in on the action, promoting youth groups and green internet chat rooms to build up the momentum on this. This is all great and good, until you open the green packet a bit further and find that inside it is still very black. The same black that we’ve been running off for the whole of the 20th century — the black of oil and coal. Renewable energy generation globally sits at about 1% for true renewables like solar and wind. Hydro-electric power is another couple of percent and biomass (predominantly firewood for burning) adds another few percent. That leaves more than 90% of all primary energy generation coming from non-renewable coal, oil and nuclear! The green race is a race to paint a collapsing building green.

Futhermore, the green paint itself is just another form of energy consumption. Offset as much as you like, Balis, Copenhagens and Kyotos cost the earth a lot in plain old resource use. Sure, it’s better to have high-ranking officials talking about tackling climate change than talking about how to drill for deep offshore oil, but in the end I wonder if any of the hot air will reduce airline exhaust emissions in any significant way. The race for green power may become a publicity event, with internet space and hard media being used to build up the hype. At the end of all this is a pile of junked laptops, cellphones and a mountain of fly ash at the coal-fired power stations used to power the data servers that keep our electronic web alive.

Publicity and awareness are necessary, but isn’t it time for action? South Africa has basically nothing to show for
renewable power generation, despite so much talk at Johannesburg WSSD 2002, government policies and position papers on
renewable energy, Eskom’s similar documents and all the various NGOs and private people talking about it. OK, let me not be
one-sided — there has been some progress. A lonely few individuals have had solar water heaters installed, a few big industries are putting co-generation technologies in place and of course we’ve all changed our incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents, or have we? I still see more halogen downlighters, which should be called downheaters, than CFLs in most homes and certainly in hotels and restaurants. Big cars are still popular and most days that I ride my bicycle along Main Road in Cape Town I am the only one powering my own way down the road.

We’ve got to green ourselves to the core. Change our colour inside. A slap of green paint and some feel good changing of
light bulbs or offsetting those ski holiday air tickets isn’t going to save us. The US and China are not on a race to generate
green power for their countries — they’re on a publicity stunt to produce another 0.1% in wind power while another 20% (of
their current generation) coal power is being built behind the scenes. The core of these economies is as dirty as ever.

Greening needs to be more than skin deep, individually, nationally and globally.

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