Lessons from a leading green economy

Environmental sustainability can at times seem like an insurmountable task, one which would require immense economic and personal sacrifice too overwhelming to consider. Canadian author Chris Turner has set out to demonstrate that not only can this be accomplished, it can be done in a way that serves to improve quality of life and bolster economic prosperity.

On Nov. 22, local not-for-profit Sustainable Waterloo hosted Turner for an event titled “The German Leap: Profiling the World’s Leading Green Economy,” a profile on Germany’s success at creating a sustainable society.

Primarily in the past decade, Germany has undertaken a feed-in-tariff program which has revolutionized concepts of environmental sustainability. The key to their success, claims Turner, has been crossing the gap in a single leap.

“Germany has not simply said ‘let’s change power sources,’ they said ‘how do we get to fundamentally sustainable ways of life?’” Turner said.

The gap, he says, between the current dependence on non-renewable energy sources and unsustainable ways of living, to environment sustainability, cannot be bridged without commitment to radical, absolute change.

“A lot of times, we think about the little things that we can do, and that’s a lot of pain for little gain,” Turner explained. “It’s not a big jump in terms of the way you live your day to day life and how you operate a business so much as the foundation it sits on, and what it thinks of as the bottom line, sort of embraces sustainability as a concept wholly.”

The switch toward using and developing non-renewable energy technologies has created positive impacts beyond the immediate environmental concerns. According to Turner, renewable energy development is a $50 billion industry in Germany, which has created 300,000 new jobs within a decade.

Conceiving of how making the leap is possible has been difficult for some countries to understand due to the fact that success continues to be measure on the same “yardstick,” said Turner. “We have developed a whole lot of tools for measuring economic success … that are designed basically to continue to reward us for staying on the same track.”

German ingenuity has far exceeded these conceptions. Turner gave the example of entirely sustainable German villages and housing complexes which actually make more energy than they require.

He added, “That’s something that you wouldn’t have been able to measure with the old yardstick, the idea that houses can perform as power plants.”

The German experience is proving that renewable power sources can be more than just a supplement for existing energy sources; they can provide the entire basis to power the system. This contradicts the common belief that “you couldn’t possibly power an industrial economy entirely with renewable energy,” said Turner.

Turner concluded optimistically, “I think that, more than anything, is Germany’s lesson for the world: that there’s really … nothing at all really to fear about making that leap, and really kind of going all the way.”

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