The Green Recession Revisited
More than four years ago, in early 2009, I published a column saying that the great recession we had just entered would be a green recession. In February 2009, in a column titled “This Great Recession is Actually Green” I wrote:
“The view here is that when the U.S. does emerge from this recession in 2010-11 it will be a greener country with a new vision actually taking root in the realm of alternative and renewable energy. It will prove to be true that this recession will change habits, stop rampant consumerism, increase conservation and provoke investment in renewable and alternative forms of energy. It is ironic that this Great Recession will actually accelerate the country into a greener future faster than if it had not happened.”
It has been well documented that during the recession the amount of miles driven in cars in America actually dropped for the first time in decades. In addition, the number of people using public transportation reached numbers not seen since the middle part of the last century when the true love affair America had with the automobile began. Increased gas prices, unemployment and general economic hardship made people really think about the cost of transport for the first time.
It has recently been reported that in recent years, since the beginning of the great recession, America has actually led the world in cutting greenhouse gases. This has been due to three general trends. First the recession and desire to spend less as gasoline prices stayed high. Second, a growing awareness of the necessity of alternative energy, primarily solar and wind, in an age of climate change. Third, the dramatic changes and collapsing prices in the natural gas sector of energy.
In a very good article about this in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter writes that American emissions of CO2 have dropped 13% since the beginning of the recession in 2007. Even more significantly he points out that the United States uses 9% less energy for each $1 of GDP than it did five years ago and that total energy use has fallen about 5% in the same time frame. A no pain no gain scenario to be sure.
Back in 2007, the general view of scientists and energy experts – and of this futurist as well- was that overall energy consumption in the United States could be cut by 20-25% through conservation, retrofitting, insulating and applying basic knowledge of energy use and waste. Well, we have cut use by 5% so far. Given the recent realities of natural gas replacing coal and continued intelligent conservation and energy use, the United States will be energy independent before the end of the decade. This is something the country has spoken about for many decades and now this green recession has brought us close to that goal.
In that column I wrote four years ago, I listed four words that would define and shape the use of energy during the great recession: contraction, cleansing, reorganization and transformation. It is worth it to take a quick look back at these four words.
Contraction is obvious as economic activity contracts in a recession. In fact that is the definition of a recession. A deep fall in output and consumption obviously cuts energy use.
Cleansing is the ridding of the casino capitalism that existed in the first seven years of this century. The dramatic overuse of debt to fuel growth and consumption is now scar tissue on most of us. We now look back at this behavior and see is for what it was, completely unsustainable, in every sense of the word.
Reorganization is larger than just in the energy sector. As I wrote in a column two years ago, the best way to understand the recession of 2007-2010 was that it was a reorganizational recession between two ages. It was actually the rough transition between the Information Age and the Shift Age. Any full social, cultural, and economic reorganization will affect the energy sector.
Transformation As long time and loyal readers of this column know, on 01-01-10 I coined the name Transformation Decade for the 2010-2020 decade. The simple dictionary definition of transformation is “ a change in nature, shape, character or form” Well, as Porter clearly points out in his article, the entire US energy sector is in that process of transformation. This of course is a much larger concept for the United States and all of humanity than simply energy, but energy is one of the largest areas to be transformed.
As we now move fully out of the recession and into the slow growth recovery, at least in the United States, we can look back on the brutal economic contraction as a painful birth to a new energy landscape. One that is just a beginning, but a beginning nevertheless.
Note: Next week this blog will host it’s first ever guest writer, Jeff Cobb. Jeff, a friend and co-author of “Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education” is a thought leader about the radically changing education landscape. We recently recorded a podcast that has just be uploaded.