Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda?

November 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Is a Green Energy Revolution on the Global Agenda?

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Posted on Nov 18, 2013

Nod Young (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,”  suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware!  Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change,  they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels.  If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact,  we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floods, fires, droughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

A wave of serial eruptions of this sort would not be without precedent.  In the early years of twentieth-first century, for example, one government after another in disparate parts of the former Soviet Union was swept away in what were called the “color revolutions”—populist upheavals against old-style authoritarian regimes.  These included the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia (2003), the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine (2004), and the “Pink” or “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (2005).  In 2011, a similar wave of protests erupted in North Africa, culminating in what we call the Arab Spring.

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Like these earlier upheavals, a “green revolution” is unlikely to arise from a highly structured political campaign with clearly identified leaders.   In all likelihood, it will erupt spontaneously, after a cascade of climate-change induced disasters provokes an outpouring of public fury.  Once ignited, however, it will undoubtedly ratchet up the pressure for governments to seek broad-ranging, systemic transformations of their energy and climate policies.  In this sense, any such upheaval—whatever form it takes—will prove “revolutionary” by seeking policy shifts of such magnitude as to challenge the survival of incumbent governments or force them to enact measures with transformative implications. 

Foreshadowings of such a process can already be found around the globe.  Take the mass environmental protests that erupted in Turkey this June.  Though sparked by a far smaller concern than planetary devastation via climate change, for a time they actually posed a significant threat to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his governing party.  Although his forces eventually succeeded in crushing the protests—leaving four dead, 8,000 injured, and 11 blinded by tear-gas canisters—his reputation as a moderate Islamist was badly damaged by the episode.

Like so many surprising upheavals on this planet, the Turkish uprising had the most modest of beginnings: on May 27th, a handful of environmental activists blocked bulldozers sent by the government to level Gezi Park, a tiny oasis of greenery in the heart of Istanbul, and prepare the way for the construction of an upscale mall.  The government responded to this small-scale, non-violent action by sending in riot police and clearing the area, a move that enraged many Turks and prompted tens of thousands of them to occupy nearby Taksim Square.  This move, in turn, led to an even more brutal police crackdown and then to huge demonstrations in Istanbul and around the country.  In the end, mass protests erupted in 70 cities, the largest display of anti-government sentiment since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.


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