New Energy for a New Era

What the world needs is an energy revolution.

by Carolyn Chase


want you to imagine this scene: It's a damp morning during the Christmas season in London. The city awakes to see streets swirling with a thick gray mist. But this is no ordinary London fog. As the clouds roll through the streets and seep into the houses, men, women and children are gasping for breath. Within hours, hospital emergency rooms are crammed with people complaining of stinging lungs. When the fog finally lifts five days later, thousands are dead.

It sounds incredible, doesn't it? A doomsday scenario dreamt up by a Hollywood writer, and something that hopefully never could happen. But, of course, it already has, in 1952. In fact, that scene was simply the worst of the so-called "killer fogs" or "pea-soupers" that repeatedly struck London, Liverpool and other areas of England and Wales after the Second World War. They were caused when warm masses of air trapped smoke and fumes, primarily generated by coal heating. The 1952 fog which killed more than 4,000 people and contributed to the subsequent deaths of another 8,000 ultimately prompted the British Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act in 1956.

If the killer fog of the winter of 1952 was an environmental "wake-up" call for Britain and the west, perhaps the burning of the Indonesian rain forests in 1997 and 1998 will prove to be the alarm that awakened the developing world to the importance of environmental conservation. Like Londoners in the early 50s, thousands of people today are dying prematurely, while the health and productivity of countless others are impaired.

Now imagine these cities with more cars, and with each person using more and more energy. Because this is precisely what will happen as a result of rising income levels and urbanization. The world now has almost 6 billion people. Two billion more will be added by 2025. Primary energy usage is likely to grow by more than 50 percent by then, as the children of the billions of people now without commercial energy services are added to electricity grids and acquire cars, trucks or motorcycles. Consumers everywhere seem to want what we have in the developed world: the comfort, convenience and mobility which energy makes possible. Life gets a lot better with energy.

We've embarked on the beginning of the Last Days of the Age of Oil. Nations of the world that are striving to modernize will make choices different from the ones we have made. They will have to. And even today's industrial powers will shift energy use patterns. So I believe it's time to prepare our selves for the "new look" of the energy industry of the 21st Century.

The volume of carbon emissions in the atmosphere has increased by as much as 30 percent since the 1970s. Some experts predict that, over the next century, temperatures might rise by a further 1 to 3.5 degrees centigrade and that sea levels could rise by between 15 and 95 centimeters. And the general public takes environmental issues much more seriously than it did 20 years ago. Greenhouse gases and global climate change are now significant issues of international import. As the 21st Century unfolds, these concerns will feature even more prominently in the global arena because the environment is no longer a concern solely for the Western elite.

Energy companies have a choice: to embrace the future and recognize the growing demand for a wide array of fuels; or ignore reality, and slowly but surely be left behind.

Who is this speaking? Did you think it was the biased remarks of another tree-hugging environmentalist? It turns out that everything up until this paragraph of this column happens to the public remarks of none other than Mike R. Bowlin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ARCO, delivered February 9th, 1999 at a conference in Houston Texas.

ARCO wants to be known as the "Clean Energy Company." Bowlin observes: "There will be a demand for cleaner energy."

What the world needs is an energy revolution a swift transition from outdated, polluting energy sources to an energy system based on superefficiency and clean, safe, renewable energy sources.

The world's energy system is a technological dinosaur. Not only are fossil fuels such as coal and oil outdated and inefficient, they are also the source of serious problems: smog, oil spills, and global warming, to name a few in addition to great wealth, prosperity and political power.

Twenty-six years after the first oil embargo; 13 years after Chernobyl; seven years after the United Nation's Earth Summit in Rio; two years after the Kyoto Climate Conference no country on earth has made a serious commitment to a renewable energy future. The time is long overdue to begin constructing energy systems based on solar, wind, biofuels, and other sustainable sources. Global, national, local and individual energy choices can be made today that produce far less carbon dioxide and zero radioactive waste.

Renewable energy from the sun, wind and other sources will not only help the environment, but will also save money, create new jobs, and protect human health.

  Carolyn Chase is Chair of the City of San Diego Waste Management Advisory Board, and a founder of San Diego EarthWorks and the Earth Day Network. For more information on the Earth Day 2000 New Energy for a New Era Campaign, visit