BOOK OF THE YEAR: Clean Break—Transitioning to 100% Renewables
Energiewende might be the most important German word to ever enter our American vocabulary.
Thanks to journalist Osha Davidson's riveting new ebook, Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation—and What Americans Can Learn From It, the story of Germany's Energiewende or power shift will hopefully become a driving part of our own energy lexicon.
As we transition into President Obama's second term, and as coal consumption in the global energy market continues to climb, Clean Break is the most inspiring and downright revelatory book to cross my desk this year.
Never has a book been so timely; rarely has a book on a country's journey to a clean energy future unfolded with the verve of a page-turning bildungsroman, with all the facts and figures to lay out a roadmap for our nation's own transformation.
Written with the skill and intrigue of an investigative journalist tracking down a mystery, Davidson takes us on a fact-finding journey to Germany's corridors of power—from politics to the prairies to the Black Forest—to understand how Europe's most important industrial power has managed to meet such an ambitious plan for renewable energy production. Davidson is the author of several books, editor of the Phoenix Sun online website, and long-time contributor on energy and environmental issues.
In a series of clear-eyed dispatches that should be required reading for policymakers, policy wonks and consumers alike, Davidson presents some basic tenets of any plans for a power shift in our own dirty energy ways. Here are three—of many—that leaped out at me:
Getting beyond a "discussion" about climate change:
Such a massive power shift may sound impossible to those of us from the United States, where giant oil and coal corporations control the energy industry and the very idea of human-caused climate change is still hotly contested. Here in Germany, that debate is long over. A dozen years of growing public support have driven all major political parties to endorse the Energiewende. If a member of parliament called climate change a hoax or said that its cause is unknown, he or she would be laughed out of office.
"The fight now, to the extent that there is one, is over the speed of the transition," Jens Kendzia told me as we stood on the Reichstag roof.
Decentralization and democratizing our energy policy:
"The solution to our energy problems, from nuclear to climate change, can't be a centralized one," Eva Stegen explained to me as she piloted us through the cloud-banked mountains of the Black Forest in her three-wheeled electric car. As communications director for EWS, Germany's first clean energy cooperative, Stegen had no doubt explained all of this many times, but she is so enthusiastic about the Energiewende that she answered my most basic questions as if she were hearing them for the first time.
"Einstein said that the way that leads into a catastrophe cannot be the way that leads out," she said, rounding a corner in the little, neon green car. "Centralized power is the problem. So we needed to find a new way. And that is what the EEG gave us."
Turning cities into communities of the future:
A trip across Hamburg is like visiting the launch pad of Germany's renewable energy revolution or Energiewende. Planners call it the "built environment," a term that includes buildings, parks and the transportation system that connects them. How a city handles these ho-hum elements determines everything from energy usage to greenhouse gas emissions to the quality of life enjoyed by residents.
Without this carefully designed platform, the Energiewende would have never left the ground. So my subway ride wasn't just a way to explore Hamburg's built environment, it was an essential part of it, starting with my short walk to the U-Bahn stop. Ninety-nine percent of Hamburg residents live within 300 meters (328 yards) of a rail or bus stop, a figure that bests any major city in Europe or the United States. It's also one of the primary reasons Hamburg was crowned European Green Capital in 2011. Germany's second largest city, which is also its busiest port, shows "how an industrial city can help lead the green revolution," as an editor at Architectural Record put it.
Germany's plan is not infallible, of course, nor is it alone in its goal to operate on 80 percent renewable power by 2050—Scotland recently announced its intention to become 100 percent renewable by 2020.
But as Davidson expertly shows, Germany's Energiewende demonstrates that the issue of climate change and transitioning off dirty fossil fuels should no longer be seen as "a problem," as one analysts explains, but a "task" to be accomplished.
Clean Break is a huge leap in making that task a vital part of our American energy policy.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.