Are you as sick of Earth Day stories as I am? Then I implore you to read The New Grand Tour, a long and masterful piece of reporting in The Walrus.
Chris Turner, author of The Geography of Hope, takes a trip around the clean-energy and green-economy innovations of present-day Europe. It’s an inspiring piece of reporting, with stops in pedestrian and bicycle haven Copenhagen, a ride on Spain’s AVE high-speed rail network, and a visit to a solar generating station. Turner visits with a couple who live in a passivhaus (like the new one in Whistler, btw). They lay out their energy bills on the kitchen table to show how the economics make dollars and Eurocents, given the right enabling policies.
In 2008, Harald Müller and Barbara Braun paid €398.69 (about $560) for their electricity consumption and €332.81 for their heat consumption. The same year, they were paid €3,750.29 for the electricity produced by the solar panels on their roof. Their net revenue totalled €3,018.79. They estimate that they’re still a few years from fully paying off their household power plant, but by 2012 or so they’ll be looking at more than a decade of pure profit.
This is the rub. “Going green” is not about hemp shopping bags and grapefruit-based cleansers, folks. It’s about public infrastructure and liveable cities. It’s about public policies that turn every rooftop into a cash machine.
Scared of subsidies? Then maybe it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that, according to an Ecojustice investigation, Canada’s oil and gas industry enjoys roughly a billion dollars a year in handouts. In 2006, the United States oil and gas industry received USD$3.06 Billion in federal subsidies, while the nation’s coal industry received USD$2.8 Billion.
The Stern Review estimated that the fossil-fuel industries globally receive about USD$150 billion per year. Subsidies for renewables and incentives for energy efficiency together receive about UDS$9 billion.
In other words, we’re already paying subsidies. And we’re not getting much out of them but deep trouble.