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Joan Michelson

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Setting Unrealistic Expectations to Commemorate Earth Day

Posted: 04/23/2012 2:59 pm

How did Tiger Woods win the most PGA tournaments of any golfer between the ages of 20 and 29 in history by far? How did Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming Dara Torres win four Olympic Silver medals at age 41? How did 48-year old Scottish singer Susan Boyle come from obscurity to number one on the worldwide charts after improbably winning Britain's Got Talent (and bucking every pop music tenet (except "practice")?

In the face of achievements that boggle the mind, the question is: How should we set expectations? Do we set "realistic" expectations? Or does the lens of "realistic" focus us merely on mediocrity? Does "realistic" reduce our verve to be ambitious, go the extra mile, be more innovative, or push harder for the gold medal when no one thinks we can win?

As we commemorate the 42nd Earth Day, how long should we "expect" to take to grow a clean energy economy? Is it happening? Or not?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports in its 2011 Key World Energy Statistics report that world energy consumption by fuel changed the following amount per fuel from 1973 to 2009 (based on MTOE or metric tonne of oil equivalents):

-- Oil consumption decreased from 48.1 percent in 1973 to 41.3 percent of the world energy total in 2009.
-- Natural gas increased from 14 percent MTOE to 15.2 percent of the world energy total,
-- Coal decreased from 13.7 percent to 10 percent of the world energy total,
-- "Other" fuels increased from 1.6 percent to 3.3 percent of the world total.

However, the IEA also reported that coal emissions increased appreciably from 34.9 percent to 43 percent MTOE. This should set off alarm bells.

Change is coming, but is it fast enough and bold enough? People who participate and impel that change will benefit from it, and those that fight it do their communities (and themselves) a disservice. Here are examples of steps being taken to decrease our energy use:

1. California announced last month that all-electric vehicles may travel on the coveted HOV lanes, even with solo drivers, and get a $1,500 tax credit.

2. Walmart announced this week that it's increasing its "sustainability scorecard" tenfold from 10 categories to 100, and will be more aggressively monitoring their suppliers' sustainability performance.

3. The U.S. military, the world's largest energy consumer, is shifting to increased energy efficiency with a concerted effort and this week announced a collaboration with American Council on Renewable Energy to expedite it.

4. Schools are going green with a number of programs, including the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools program and its commitment to green every school in America within a generation.

-- Consumers are buying more hybrid and electric cars -- a record of 52,000 in March 2012 in the U.S. fueled in part by rising gas prices. But out of about 600 million passenger cars worldwide, that's only 3.6 percent. Transportation is the single largest energy consumer, at 61.7 percent, according to the IEA.

This progress is too slow and not audacious enough. We need Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG). What has to happen to flip the current energy paradigm, where oil is 3.6 percent of our energy consumption?

We have over seven billion people on the planet today, and the population is projected to reach nearly nine billion by 2040, according to the U.S. Census. That's the 28th birthday of a child born today. Your two-year old will turn 30 that year. It's not that far away. Especially as our dependence on technology increases and developing economies grow, energy consumption is the one thread that weaves through every aspect of our lives. It must therefore also weave through every choice we make -- personally, politically, and financially.

Where are the unrealistically bold expectations to match this enormous challenge? Earth Day Network, founded out of the first Earth Day, set a goal of collecting a Billion Acts of Green by the upcoming Rio+20 UN sustainability conference in June. That's a BHAG, and they are almost there with 997,897,021 as of this writing.

Women are the number one purchaser by far -- 80 percent -- and the top brand ambassadors. Therefore, women need to lead the way to a post-carbon economy.

Every purchase decision should consider the lifecycle -- production, contents, packaging and waste. New labels and indexes will be tools to help consumers and business leaders make better choices, but if we don't make many, many more energy efficient choices -- each of us every day -- they are useless... and we're in trouble.

So, what's your Earth Day resolution?

 
 
 

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