Is a “green revolution” inevitable?

August 15, 2008

Denmark’s Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard delivers her speech during the Malaysia-Danish Energy & Environmental Forum in Kuala Lumpur January 25, 2007. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA)Is a global “green revolution” unstoppable, even with an economic slowdown?

That’s what Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard (left) predicts, saying that a huge shift to renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, from fossil fuels will survive flagging economic growth.

She has to puzzle over the outlook since she is set to be host of a U.N. meeting in late 2009 in Copenhagen at which the world is meant to agree a new climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Many nations have been reluctant so far to spell out what they are willing to do to slow global warming. It’s a bit of the “you first”, “no, you first” trap.

“The green revolution is going to come anyway,” she told me for a story about how far a gloomier economic outlook may dampen action to fight climate change, and how far high oil prices will help.

Is she right? (Many Danes have bet on the revolution — Vestas is the world’s number one wind turbine maker).

In the 1970s the oil crisis spurred huge interest in renewable energies — U.S. President Jimmy Carter even had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. His successor, Ronald Reagan, took them down, and that ‘revolution’ ran out of steam as oil prices fell (below $10 a barrel in 1986).

Since then, of course, almost all climate scientists have concluded that fossil fuels cause global warming. So a shift to renewables is not just about current high oil prices ($111 a barrel), or worries about smog pollution.

Is the revolution coming?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Unfortunately, I do not see a “green revolution” as inevitable. In the absence of strong economic incentives, such change is a matter of political will; and it seems to be very hard to convince people of the _necessity_ of a move to renewables. How can you tell a poor man to buy the more expensive fuel? How do you tell Russia it mustn’t pump its oil? How do you tell Americans that even though there’s plenty of oil, we have to stop using it?

Posted by Karl | Report as abusive

Karl, you have made excellent pragmatic points.

Posted by buffalojump | Report as abusive

Karl, there isn’t plenty of oil. The world oil market will force better efficiency and more environmentally responsible city planning as it becomes increasingly expensive to attain. Expensive oil will force Americans to change their lifestyles.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive

How much stronger economic incentive do we need than the inflation and unsustainable foreign debt (to countries that would bury us) strangling our economy.

There is plenty of economic incentive if the real cost of fuel is reflected at the pump.

Do you really think we spend a fortune deploying troops to the middle east because we care so deeply about democracy. As for “the war on terror”, I would suggest that world-wide house to house searches (by our English language only) military is not a viable solution.

Posted by Jeffrey Tischler | Report as abusive

Countries that embrace energy progress will gain authority. Countries who don’t won’t. I am just glad the US is not the so called leader anymore, and I hope that US reps get out of the way in upcoming meetings, if there is anything morally valuable left in their system, that is.

Posted by julie | Report as abusive

well it is called green because you have to be green behind the ears to belive this bull.If you really belive this then stay home turn off your a/c, cut your power off, and don’t drive anywhere.and leave us hard working Americans alone to pursue our dreams

Posted by Terry | Report as abusive

Terry, What is there not to *believe*, pick up any chemistry book, the simple physical processes and theories are very provable as well as pretty straight forward.

Hard work for what? For the next few generations, then whats left? All your *hard work* is for nothing other than your own personal foreseeable future. I wish people like yourself were a dying breed, the lemmings.

Must have huge houses, plenty of toys, recreational vehicles, sports complexes, sporting events, the obligatory group of friends who have the same perception because majority rules and your unfortunately aware of it.

I’m an American who has loved my country, served my country and defends its purpose, freedom, equality and the right to say the words I’m writing at this moment without persecution. SO please save the un American rhetoric, I’m simply disgusted at what our species has become, big headed, parasitic, “intelligent” lifeforms on this planet

However, what to many forget we haven’t really been here to long, this particular geographical location as a nation and this particular planet in the solar system as a species. so keep an open mind, these ideas are new…Very much like your religion was only 2k+ years ago. I digress, but not really…I just feel your opinion is the same as every other Cristian in this country(primarily the leader), and that once you get past your moral high horse and come to terms with reality and logic, thats science by the way, you would see the truth about what we are doing to our species. Yep, our species, thats the only thing we need to save, this planet will exist long after we force it to an uninhabitable state. for us anyway!

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

Consider yeast. It devours glucose and excretes alcohol until it has so polluted its environment with alcohol that all the yeast are dead. Will humanity, with its vanity and aspirations, prove any different? I wonder. Think of this the next time you drink champagne.

Posted by RLM | Report as abusive

Inevitable? The environment has always taken a backseat to the economy. What if a new strategy merged these two: the profit incentive turned green.

In the three months of the oil price hike last summer, more was achieved for the environment by markets than by the entire environmental movement over three decades.

Major North-American companies closed SUV plants virtually overnight and announced new hybrid and electrical car models, also virtually overnight. The alternative energy industry became the new wave of the future.

There following book does propose a strategy that would use the power of markets for the environment and result in large-scale change globally.

It could put an environmental revolution within our hands. The introduction is on the website below:

Henderson, Mark C. (2008). The 21st Century Environmental Revolution: A Comprehensive Strategy for Conservation, Global Warming, and the Environment.

Publisher: Waves of the Future

Tags: global warming,

Posted by Pierre Champagne | Report as abusive