Solar conference sheds light on economy

The transformation to a green economy is under way and promises to be a fundamental shift with profound consequences. It will eclipse the industrial revolution in scale and importance. It is the means by which we can revitalize society and heal our world.

The green economy acknowledges the true cost of doing business. It values the role of nature and does not "externalize" the destruction of our environment. Factoring in the true cost of doing business, whether it is creating energy, building homes, driving cars or flying across the country, causes us to do things differently. It is really about having an honest marketplace. A green economy is based on economic truth.

From an environmental, resource and energy perspective, we haven't been very truthful with ourselves for quite a while and we're seeing some of the consequences. Some of them are deadly serious.

All of our decisions, whether they are individual or collective, have consequences. For example, rising gasoline costs are a consequence of peak oil, created by rising demand and the rapid depletion of a finite resource. In fact, any energy derived from a finite resource will follow a similar path. Since energy is fundamental to human society and affects every aspect of our culture, we cannot afford to base our future on dwindling resources, especially those with huge environmental costs. Remember, we must be truthful in a green economy.

At the recent Solar 2008 conference in San Diego, organized by the American Solar Energy Society, there was an abundance of truth-telling. Several plenary sessions featured world-class experts on climate change, renewable energy, green building, public utilities and social equity. The messages from Solar 2008 were somber and exciting, serious and inspirational.

On the somber, serious side, the main topic was climate change. The growing body of scientific knowledge clearly illustrates that the issue is worse than most scientists imagined and that it continues to accelerate. There has never been a more urgent need for decisive leadership, committed action and major change.

There was also exciting news. The solar industry is growing more than 40 percent a year and is poised for quantum leaps in production and innovation. Renewable energy has turned a significant corner and will play a major role in driving our green economy. While new sources of clean, renewable energy are created, green building and efficiency will stabilize energy demand. Smart grids also will control load growth while simultaneously improving services. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs will be created.

The changes we need are massive and they must happen quickly. This is a challenge, but it also represents an incredible opportunity, brilliantly presented at Solar 2008 by Van Jones, founder and president of Green For All, based in Oakland, Calif.

Jones is clear about his vision for the future of the green economy and its potential to transform society.

"The next big play in the economy is going to be greening the economy -- turning away from the suicide economy to a sustainable economy," Jones said. "Let's make sure those communities that were locked out in the last century's pollution-based economy are going to be locked in to this new, clean and green economy.

"We are focused on green-collar jobs," Jones continued. "There are millions of buildings that need to be weatherized, there are millions of solar panels that need to be put up, there are wind farms and solar farms and wave farms that need to be built, so that we can have energy without destroying the planet. That's a lot of work and there are millions of people who don't have work. I believe the moral challenge of this century is to connect the people who most need work to the work that most needs to be done. That way, we can fight poverty and pollution at the same time."

The audience was riveted by this man's vision and passion. He spoke about the importance of jobs for urban youth. "Giving urban youth meaningful, dignified pathways out of poverty. This is no longer just about business opportunities for rich people or consumer choices for the affluent. It's about jobs for poor people, health for poor people, wealth-building opportunities for low-income people."

The key to a successful green economy is full participation, by people from every part of society. It leads to eco-equity. "This new green wave of new products, of new services, new technology -- this new green wave will lift all boats," Jones remarked.

"Given what I know about global warming; what I know about peak oil; what I know about the coming pandemics; we are going to choose to evolve. We may not be able to change our hard-wiring, but we can choose to love each other much more passionately, starting right now. Much more passionately ... starting right now ... than we dare to."

Green living is for everyone. Let's make sure that happens.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, specializing in renewable energy, green building, alternative transportation and lifestyle choices for both residential and commercial clients. The company is committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. Rypka can be reached via e-mail at More information relating to this column is posted at