by David Sweet

There was a killing this month, but no blood was spilled, shots fired, or screams piercing the night, and it was not reported to the police nor mentioned in the newspaper. As the world’s economies started to crumble in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, the green movement suffered a catastrophic, if not mortal, blow.

When people have jobs, food and prosperity it is possible to contemplate a greener existence. But when trillions of dollars of wealth evaporate overnight and economic panic sets in, priorities are instantly rearranged. Higher pursuits, such as charitable giving, foreign aid and sustainability fall to the bottom of the list, if they are allowed to remain on the list at all. While the concept of ‘green’ arose well after Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of needs was first presented, it would likely be at (or near) the top of the needs pyramid, and lost in the scramble to meet the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter in these times of economic crisis.

In macroeconomics there is much discussion of the trade-off a society must make in determining whether to produce guns or butter. But of course, we want guns and butter. We do not want less of either. All things being equal, we also would prefer to have both produced in a green or sustainable manner. The fallacy is that if we move to a greener economy we must also reduce the size of the pie — that efficiency is somehow a drag on the economy.

However, as has been documented time and time again by WADE research, clean does not have to mean expensive. Decentralized energy technology can actually reduce delivered power costs, sometimes by as much as 40%. And this is the glimmer of hope for keeping green alive. In a high-priced energy environment, efficiency is good business — it is profitable and it is the key to survival.

In the US Presidential Election campaigns much has been said about the need to create new jobs to combat rising unemployment figures. Green jobs in the energy sector have been a major focal point. When you look at the experience elsewhere, it is easy to see why. In 2007, Germany had 250,000 people working in clean energy jobs, almost double the number from a few years back in 2004. This is a direct result of increased investment in clean energy, which arose from policies creating incentives for investment in clean energy.

Germany is proof that it pays to be green. It is not a question of whether governments can afford to invest in clean energy, but even in the face of massive deficits, they can’t afford not to invest in clean energy.

While it may not be easy to be green, we know that ‘green is good’. It is also good business. Ultimately, that is what will breathe life into green energy technology during this downward spiral in the business cycle, and help us begin the upward climb.

David Sweet
Executive Director
World Alliance for Decentralized Energy
dsweet@localpower.org