Global energy expert José Goldemberg responds to sustainable energy question

Professor Jose Goldemberg from the board of Washington’s Sustainable Energy Institute recently responded to an Eco-Business reader’s sustainability question as part of a joint question and answer initiative with the Global Energy Prize.

Question: Overcoming current failing systems

We are not really developing towards an energy conserving, energy efficient and sustainably developed world! Our understanding and efforts are half – hearted: there is a lack of scientific unity and creditability, and there is neither sufficient political will nor adequate public awareness or support for mass movement.

To succeed in sustainability requires the energy and the endurance to deal with “long emergencies” like climate change, ozone depletion, acid-rain, forest depletion, overpopulation, organizational stress and under-capacity. And the entire present effort is not rooted in a consistent and coherent larger framework, sometimes called the big picture.

Renewable energy is the sector that gets the most attention when we talk about a sustainable economy, but it is not the only one which is likely to grow. Civil engineering, conservation and efficiency technologies, mass transit and the manufacturing technologies that support it, local agriculture, design and manufacturing for durability, and distributed health care services are a few of the sectors that could show dramatic job growth in a sustainable economy.

A sustainable, non-material-intensive, non-energy-intensive economy is a radically different model than we have, or that many of us can imagine. It would mean the loss of vast numbers of jobs, in trucking, mining, highway construction, and others that sustain the current model. For people to accept this, much less welcome it, they would have to first see offsetting the losses and increase in jobs that provide equal or better real incomes.

In other words, the positive vision and the business opportunities that a sustainable economy offers are very real, but it will be much harder to achieve and cause much more disruption by self-interest groups than most of its advocates may realize … unless organized by a pragmatic and wise scientific and political leadership!

Under the present scenario that sustains the current model of non-sustainable development and economy, how do you switch over to real sustainable development guided by balanced growth and clear vision … and what is the practical way towards the dream of energy and food security, and sustainable development and growth?

  • Anup v Bagla, Environment, Energy & Sustainability Specialist

Response: Back to basic supply facts

The present energy system is heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Approximately 80% of the energy in use today comes from these sources. This is why this system is not sustainable and cannot last. Fossil fuel reserves are finite and will not last more than one generation.

They are the main source of pollutants today and some of them, oil for example, come from politically unstable regions such as the Middle East.

One can improve the efficiency of the use of fossil fuels, and this will extend the life of present reserves. However, there are limits to that strategy. Even so the energy consumption in the OECD countries would be 50% higher than it is today if serious energy efficiency measures had not been introduced since 1973.

Only renewable energy resources can solve the problem of sustainable development.

José Goldemberg, a professor of physical sciences at the University of Sao Pãulo, sits on the board of Washington’s Sustainable Energy Institute. In 2007 he was named by TIME magazine as one of its Heroes of the Environment for his pioneering work in discovering the biofuel potential in sugarcane, now a major source of energy in Brazil and the rest of the world.

About the Global Energy Prize

The Global Energy Prize was established in 2002 by a group of Russian scientists, with the support of major energy corporations. This international award is granted for outstanding scientific achievements in the field of energy which have proved of benefit to the entire human race. Since its inception, the award has been granted to 22 scientists from Great Britain, Iceland, Canada, Russia, the USA, Ukraine, France, Germany and Japan. Awarded annually, the prize fund amounts to 30 million roubles (approximately $1m USD) and is divided among the Laureates. The President of the Russian Federation participates in the awards ceremony held in St Petersburg each year, which is accompanied by a Laureates’ Week celebrating the work of the winning scientists.

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