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5 of the Best TED Talks About Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy
Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay shares his country's mission to put happiness before economic growth and set a world standard for environmental preservation. TED / YouTube screenshot

Let's be real: Renewable energy is super cool. Harnessing virtually limitless energy from the natural world? Check. Without releasing dangerous carbon pollution into our atmosphere? Double check.

Around the world, cities, states, countries, and companies are making the switch to clean, renewable energy to help stop climate change. Better yet? It just makes good economic sense.

Here are five eye-opening TED Talks that show how renewables are taking over every corner of the world — from Bhutan to Costa Rica, back to Germany, and more.


This Country Isn't Just Carbon Neutral — It's Carbon Negative | Tshering Tobgay

Quotable Moment: "The point is this: my country and my people have done nothing to contribute to global warming, but we are already bearing the brunt of its consequences. And for a small, poor country, one that is landlocked and mountainous, it is very difficult. But we are not going to sit on our hands doing nothing. We will fight climate change. That's why we have promised to remain carbon neutral."

A Printable, Flexible, Organic Solar Cell | Hannah Bürckstümmer

Quotable Moment: "This is pointing towards a future where buildings are no longer energy consumers, but energy providers. I want to see solar cells seamlessly integrated into our building shells to be both resource-efficient and a pleasure to look at."

The Thrilling Potential for Off-Grid Solar Energy | Amar Inamdar

Quotable Moment: "There's a revolution happening in the villages and towns all around us here in East Africa. And the revolution is an echo of the cell phone revolution. It's wireless, and that revolution is about solar and it's about distributed solar. Photons are wireless, they fall on every rooftop, and they generate enough power to be sufficient for every household need."

A Small Country With Big Ideas to Get Rid of Fossil Fuels | Monica Araya

Quotable Moment: "How do we build a society without fossil fuels? This is a very complex challenge, and I believe developing countries could take the lead in this transition. And I'm aware that this is a contentious statement, but the reality is that so much is at stake in our countries if we let fossil fuels stay at the center of our development. We can do it differently. And it's time, it really is time, to debunk the myth that a country has to choose between development on the one hand and environmental protection, renewables, quality of life, on the other."

How China Is (and Isn't) Fighting Pollution and Climate Change | Angel Hsu

Quotable Moment: "China is very much in the driver's seat determining our global environmental future. What they do on carbon trading, on clean energy, on air pollution, we can learn many lessons. One of those lessons is that clean energy is not just good for the environment, it can save lives by reducing air pollution. It's also good for the economy. We can see that last year, China was responsible for 30 percent of the global growth in green jobs."

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Reposted with permission from our media associate The Climate Reality Project.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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