Deep down inside, do people want what's best for themselves, or what's best for everyone?
This question lies at the heart of my current escapist-reading-before-bed novel Next History: the Girl Who Hacked Tomorrow.
The novel's 20-year-old heroine stakes her salvation (and that of humanity as a whole) on the answer to this question in a bet made with the devil.
Strangely enough, this got me to thinking about New Year's resolutions. There's something about the turning point between old and new that leads people to think about making transformational changes in their lives.
The most commonly made resolutions focus on health and well-being -- to stop smoking, eat better, get more exercise, spend more time with family and friends, and so forth.
Sometimes they focus on more outward ambitions: to change jobs, get out of debt, or pick up a new hobby.
But how many people make resolutions aimed at the kind of changes that are not just best for themselves, but best for everyone? Is there a way to do both?
The most transformative change of all -- go 100 percent renewable!
Perhaps the most beneficial, transformative change of all would be one which leads us to a future powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
To some this may sounds about as plausible as a couch surfing, overweight, beer chugger resolving to run the New York marathon. But in fact we're already taking the first steps in that direction.
According to WWF, based on existing trends renewable energy is on track to deliver half of our electricity needs globally in around 17 years (PDF).
And a recent technical study commissioned by my organization, the Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA), shows that we can phase-out net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And there are scenarios which show how this could be done by going for 100 percent renewables.
Creating political will
In fact, The only thing slowing us down is the lack of political will. The countries winning the clean energy race all have one thing in common: effective national laws and policies which create the incentives to adopt smart energy solutions.
So how can we build political will? By demonstrating that we do not accept the prevailing energy paradigm based on fossil fuels. By demonstrating that we oppose getting embroiled in more energy wars.
By demonstrating we will no longer accept offshore oil spills which destroy our oceans and coastlines. By demonstrating that we reject any form of energy production that contaminates our drinking water.
By demonstrating that we will not tolerate our mountaintops being blown off for the coal that lies underneath. By demonstrating that we will not abide any more nuclear accidents.
And by demonstrating that we find it unacceptable for millions of people to die each year as a consequence of producing and using nuclear and fossil fuels.
Admittedly, that's a lot to ask from a New Year's resolution. But we can start with some tangible commitments and encourage others to do the same.
This New Year's, why not resolve to take steps in our own lives to reduce our energy consumption, to use energy more efficiently, and to get our energy from renewable sources wherever possible?
Five simple steps...
Here are five simple ideas which anyone can do, even if you don't own your own home, have the money to trade in your gas powered car for an electric one, or have the roof space on which to mount solar panels:
Replace your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs, saving both energy and money.
Go one day without meat each week, which would not only reduce your carbon footprint, but would also save you 84,000 gallons of water. For that matter, why not do it two or three days a week, or more?
Unplug your lights and electronics when you're not using them. It's incredible how much energy we waste that way.
Consider replacing your dryer with a clothesline. This is do-able even in a wet climate like Amsterdam's where I live, as long as you have a bit of warm space inside to hang some lines.
If you live in a place where this is possible, how about resolving to commute exclusively by bike or public transportation? And if you're a frequent flyer, you could resolve to fly less. Consider the advantages of "slow travel" as climate scientist Kevin Anderson has described. (He actually took the train to Shanghai from the UK in order to attend a conference.)
Apart from reducing your own fossil fuel consumption, you could support projects featured on Solar Mosaic. Turn your 2014 New Year's resolution into a pledge to "Put Solar on It" -- if you make the pledge, Mosaic will give you the tools to make it happen.
And fulfilling your pledge will be easier and more fun if you're not alone, so join a campaign, and find loads of new and different ways to make your voice heard. Check out the GCCA's Action Center for ideas.
Going out upfront and public
Whatever you decide to do, do it publicly! Psychology studies show that that making a public commitment -- for example sharing your New Year's resolution with friends and family -- significantly increases the chance that you'll follow-through on it.
If you do it on Twitter or Facebook, consider using #Resolution100 to demonstrate your commitment to a 100 percent energy future.
This is our chance to show that we care about what's good for the world. While we may not be bargaining with the devil, we are most certainly bargaining with our children's future.