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How can renewables help to create a better civilization?

Jeremy Leggett

The following is a statement by Dr Jeremy Leggett, Executive Chair of SolarAid, to the Start Up Energy Transition Tech Festival, Berlin, 20th March 2017:

I speak today about the wider context of all the wonderful innovation and creative disruption we are hearing about from around the world today. My message is about how to maximise its impact, in the singular times in which we live. The first is to inspire allcomers with what that civilization – let us a call it a solar civilization – looks and feels like. The second is to fight as hard for that vision as fossil-fuel diehards fight to keep alive their ruinous status quo.

We bring alive the solar civilization with every kind of renewable and/or efficient carbon-reducing installation we develop, finance, and construct. Each one – whether as small as a watt-scale solar lantern or as large as a gigawatt-scale renewable-energy park – increases climate resilience, air quality, prosperity, health, community, and common security, among other things. We need to instal more and more of them, faster and faster.

We must fight for a solar civilization by recognising the malign forces that are gaining ground in modern liberal democracies and confronting them with our vision. These forces – of nationalist, populist demagoguery, often led by aspiring despots – tend to back fossil fuels, and are often financed by diehard fossil-fuel interests. They tend to make no secret of the fact that they see us as their enemies, and we in return should not seek to appease them.

The business case for refusing to normalise these forces, never mind the social case, is absolutely clear today. The populists ask us to back fossil-fuel technologies that either are, or soon will be, more expensive than most of ours. These technologies will not help the poor in the long term, they will only enrich an elite few in the short term, and then only temporarily.

The duty to shareholders is increasingly clear. The populists ask them to take impossible risks of wasting capital and stranding assets. 

The duty to wider stakeholders is axiomatic. When the vast majority of scientists warn the populists that their actions risk the very liveability of the planet, they exercise perverse denial, reject and mock expertise, and deploy what they call alternative facts and we call lies.

SolarAid will be seeking to collaborate with any and all who agree with these sentiments in the battle ahead. We would love to hear from you if you think like us.