Since the ecological movement appeared on the scene in the 1970s, an irreconcilable conflict has divided those who want to protect nature, and who call for reductions in mobility, comfort and growth, from those in business and industry who defend people’s employment and purchasing power. Today, for the first time, this cleavage can be bridged, and the answer is clean technology. At last, technologies exist which can simultaneously protect the environment in a cost-effective manner and bring profits to companies.
The problem with our society is that, despite all the grand talk about sustainable development, we are a long way from making use of the clean technologies that are already available to us. Every hour, our world consumes around a million tons of petrol, not to mention other fossil fuels, spits back out into the atmosphere enough polluting emissions to disrupt the climate, and leaves half of the population stagnating in totally unacceptable living conditions. And yet, everything could already be so different…
Until now, renewable energies, often monopolized by fringe political parties, have lacked really dynamic promotional and marketing impetus. The ecologists will only be able to make their voices heard if they speak the same language as those whom they wish to convince. It is now urgent to leave behind the division that has led nowhere for 40 years, in order to finally unite ecology with the economy, environment with finance, and an overall vision with short-term political interest.
It certainly seems that if sustainable development has difficulty in becoming a reality, it is because it is still more often than not associated with crippling costs and a restriction of comfort or mobility. It is this idea that has to be corrected. Indeed, even if our behavior risks destroying the planet, nobody seems ready to sacrifice his or her standard of living. Our grandchildren will no doubt end their days without oil and they will then call us the “plunderers of precious resources”, but as human beings, we are generally more motivated by our personal, short-term interest than by long-term empathy for our peers or our environment.
This is what we wrote on our website in 2004:
“Since we cannot change the character of the human being, let us make an effort to adapt to the way he functions. Let us try to give him a personal interest to get into the way of thinking in terms of sustainable development. Let us prove that we are dealing here with an enormous new market with all sorts of economic and political outlets for those who understand how to invest in it in time. Let us point out the scientific interests, favor the pioneering spirit, let us promote a new fashion, in the positive sense of the word, which will enable renewable energy users to be held in admiration. We should not try to force the population to follow the path outlined at Rio or Kyoto against its will, but let us give priority to those who invent or use new technologies that respect the environment. It could quickly become out of fashion, even frowned upon, to consume too much petrol, to heat or cool down private or public places for no good reason or to consume non-recyclable products.”
Clearly this nudging approach hasn’t worked well enough!
A legal framework is needed more than ever. Clean technologies exist, but they will not come onto the market fully until governments have set very clear targets for energy efficiency and for saving fossil energy.
Then real evidence can be produced that protecting the environment is profitable.
In July 2010, HB-SIA became the first solar-powered airplane in history capable of flying through a complete day/night cycle without fuel, thereby establishing 3 World Records.
The solutions developed for the solar airplane employ technologies of today, which are available to every one of us, and not futuristic technologies. If they were used extensively in our world, they would allow us to halve the amount of fossil energy our society consumes and generate half of the rest with renewable sources.”
We are dealing here with a symbol, as solar airplanes are unlikely ever to carry 300 passengers, but it is a symbol that affects all of us. In fact, aren't we all on Earth in the same situation as the Solar Impulse pilot? If he does not have the right technologies or wastes his energy, he will have to land before the rising sun enables him to continue his flight. And as for us, if we do not invest in the scientific means to develop new energy sources, we shall find ourselves in a major crisis, which will prevent us from handing over the planet to the next generation.