Democratize the Grid

The Bible tells us that on the Sixth Day, God created man, allowing him to live in the lush garden and be steward of the whole Earth. But God’s great mistake on that day was failing to demand a security deposit.

At last, though, humankind seems to grasp the fact that we’re perilously close to environmental catastrophe, and governments around the world are beginning to respond. A green transformation is under way as growing majorities of people demand everything from strict regulation of climate-change pollutants to aggressive development of a new clean-energy economy.

In the past few years, freelance inventors, small companies, co-ops, professors, backyard mechanics, and a few mad scientists have made tremendous strides in the development of alternative fuel technologies. These technologies are already cheaper than fossil fuels when we factor in the tremendous savings they provide in the health and environmental costs we are now paying for oil and coal.

This new energy can create a full-employment economy, including training and work programs for unemployed and low-income folks in our inner cities and rural areas.

For roughly the same price per kilowatt, renewable electricity can be produced by you with solar panels on your roof and wind generators in your community. Instead of building another centralized energy system that puts a handful of Exxons or Exelons in charge, the switch to green gives Americans a rare opportunity to restructure and democratize the energy economy so ownership is localized, financial benefits are broadly shared, and economic power is decentralized.

The Earth itself is telling us that there are very real physical limits to growth, that Earth’s “carrying capacity” for human activity is fast being surpassed. We can no longer allow economists, corporate chieftains, politicians, the business media, and others to tell us that every increase in our country’s Gross Domestic Product is happy news. We need to be sensible in our use of the Earth and restrained in our accumulation of things. Less really can be more.

This is an excerpt from Jim Hightower's column in the Dec/Jan issue of The Progressive, "Saving the Earth." To read Hightower's column in its entirety, along with this special issue, which contains interviews with Margaret Atwood and Bill McKibben and an article by Barbara Kingsolver, simply subscribe to The Progressive now! It costs only $14.97--which is 75% off the newsstand price.