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Sustainable Development – On the Way to the Second Solar Civilization

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Industrialized societies once embraced a vision of sustainable energy that called for fission breeder reactors, controlled fusion reactors, and futuristic concepts for energy transport. A more realistic and fundamentally more attractive vision calls for a portfolio of technologies relying primarily on indigenous and distributed sources rather than a single solution based on huge central energy generation complexes. Major ingredients in the new sustainable energy portfolio are the technologies known as “renewables”. Over the past twenty years several have quietly become “real”, both technically and economically.

Wind turbines, central station solar thermal plants, solar photovoltaics, and biomass and urban waste fueled power plants are all now ready to compete with fossil fuel based systems, in spite of the market structures that still favor fuel based choices. Not only is their use expandable and sustainable, but there is still room for major improvement of these technologies, unlike the “leamed out” fossil and nuclear technologies we rely on now.

A vision is nothing; its fulfillment is everything. We must make good choices now if we are to put in place the new sustainable infrastructures in time to avert the consequences of our current profligate and unsustainable resource use.

Specifically, our energy policies must be informed by an overarching ethic that emphasizes stewardship versus ownership. Likewise, we must engage a relentless practice of energy efficiency involving informed decisions at every level of production, delivery and use.

Cost-effective efficiency technologies not only mitigate environmental harm and strengthen regional economies, but they open the economic window for renewable sources as well.

Further, we must carefully attend to business and economic issues, learning lessons from commercialization successes and failures, and tearing down barriers to renewables and efficiency that are imbedded in current markets.

Government R&D priorities and risk sharing policies must also change, creating new structures for risk sharing in commercialization and market regulation, and a balance between funding for “efficiency technologies” and “supply technologies”.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 1994

More about this publication?
  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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