Glimpse of a green new future

Emily Benson's picture
Blog by
29 July 2011

Picture this. Petrol driven cars have long been phased out worldwide. They all have been replaced by electric vehicles. Noise and air pollution has largely been eliminated. As a result, cities are now quieter, calmer, cleaner. Properties along motorways and busy arteries of major cities have once again become desirable places to live. Petrol stations have now been replaced by a network of charge points where users can charge their vehicles for long-haul trips across the country. The charging stations are powered by renewable energy sources.

[flickr-photo:id=2697630497, class=right, size=m, caption=Car charging by Simon Aughton]

Sound like the stuff that dreams are made of? Apparently not. On the 27th July 2011 the world’s first national charging network for electric cars was launched in the UK. The network will allow Britain’s electric car drivers to travel the length and breadth of the country, with all the convenience of pulling into a motorway service station to top up. More importantly, all of these charging stations are powered by wind power. This is a glimpse of a new future, a glimpse of a green economy.

The Green Economy Coalition (GEC), housed at IIED, is keeping a track of ‘glimpses’ of a green economy and the good news is that this is just one of many such initiatives already underway around the world:

  • The state of Hawaii is investing in a country-wide alternative transport system using electric vehicles with exchangeable batteries
  • the state of Oregon, USA, has designed a Solar Highway, capable of producing 128,000 kWh of electricity per annum, which provides the energy generated for signals, buildings, metering and much more
  • Rwanda has produced one of the first buses in the world to run entirely on biodiesel.

Our essential economic sectors and services, including food, housing, transport, energy, cities and infrastructure create between them 70-80% of environmental impacts globally. So, transforming these high-impact economic sectors is one of the critical themes of change for accelerating the transition to a green economy.

However, the GEC’s understanding of a green economy is also one that goes far beyond just greening economic sectors. It also seeks to question and transform the role that such sectors play within a wider societal and environmental context.

For example, in transforming a transport sector to electric vehicles, we should also be asking the bigger questions: What are the components of the electric cars made of and how were such resources sourced? In what conditions are the cars manufactured, and how are the workers being trained and remunerated? How far have the cars been shipped from and to? What taxes or subsidies were involved for importing and exporting them? What is the longer term sustainability of the vehicles or the renewable electric grid?

A green economy isn’t merely about greening a product or creating new markets. It’s about transforming an entire economic system behind that product and behind those markets so that it works for people and for the planet. A green economy is about the big picture.

It’s this bigger picture that is defining the work and the ambitions of the GEC.

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