Renewable Intelligence and the New Energy Economy

By David Miron-Wapner

We took off in a storm from Ben Gurion Airport to attend the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference. If any conference should embody a new spirit and an aggressive push for a paradigm shift to the new energy economy, you would think this would be it – offering a clear hopeful image of a thriving human civilization.


As we climbed to the East, the storm clouds below fell off sharply into the Dead Sea, emphasizing the power that splits the great Syria-African Rift. The sun-drenched Arava opened to the south and I was reminded of a long-standing vision of a desert landscape full of solar electric systems. I sensed a rekindled hope that comes from being part of the early days of developing a bright, new sustainable energy paradigm.

I had taken Tim Flannery’s watershed essay/book “Now or Never – Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future” to re-read during the conference. I intended to use the prominent Australian scientist’s powerful cry for immediate action to try to spur a discussion, even if only among those with whom I might interact.

Instead of finding much talk of a shift in consciousness, except from my mentor and friend, Arnold Goldman, in accepting a well-deserved award for his pioneering contributions to the solar energy industry as the entrepreneurial force behind both LUZ and BrightSource Energy, one could perceive a kind of new “business as usual.”

Unfortunately, not many operate on the plane of vision, let alone being able to actualize it like Arnold. Somehow the new economics of renewables seems to share many characteristics with the old oil and coal economy, giving one pause for placing too much trust in our ability to navigate the rough seas ahead.

What is driving the ease with which venture capitalists, investors, bankers, and corporations who must serve their shareholders, but not necessarily society’s interests, now speak of how they will all make money in the solar economy? Is it a fear of unforeseen damages of climate change or of the economic chaos of peak oil? Does it really matter which, as long as the transformation is earnestly pursued? I believe that in order for the same substantive reliance on technology that led us into the climate crisis not to become the root of further destruction of the earth, we must in parallel develop a deep understanding of how the earth operates as a system to support of life. Only then can we intelligently become earth’s partner in sustaining our own life on this planet.

Given our current corporate-dominated global economy, I have no doubt that if industry is not able to profit from the transition to a new energy economy, the necessary actions to halt climate change probably won’t happen, though my view is skewed by my almost complete lack of faith in government to lead us forward than anything else. At the same time, it should come as no surprise that an international system still dominated by addiction to fossil fuels and focused on short-term profit seems to also be utterly failing to contend with the urgency of the tasks before us and the grave unseen dangers just beyond the horizon.

Only one major presenter at the Eilat conference, Dr. Dan Arvisu, the director of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, alluded to any sense of urgency when he said with confidence that we would achieve a sustainable energy future, the only issue was whether we would do it in 50 years, and therefore be able to more comfortably enjoy it, or 100 years when the climate would likely be far less hospitable for human life.

I am optimistic that a new consciousness will emerge as we confront the climate crises; an advanced, technologically progressive and sustainable civilization will thrive. To get there we must re-awaken our sense of being part of, not separate from the earth on which we rely for our life’s basic needs of clean air, water and food.

Our power of innovation and creativity are enormous; yet they must be directed with awareness as we apply our intelligence to design sustainable energy systems that do not insult and disrupt the earth’s natural systems that support life, rather are compatible and complementary to them.

As we approach the Passover holiday we again tell the story of Joseph’s courageous leadership borne of his unique understanding that past times of plenty would give way to an uncertain future. It is a classic parable of adaptation to a new extreme reality that no one could sense was on the way. May the stories lead us to an inner awakening so we may apprehend within each of us both a pharaoh, enslaving us in our own limitations of imagination, and a Moses to liberate our consciousness so that we may strive to live sustainably in greater harmony and balance with the environment.