100% renewables: Is ambition easier than environmental incrementalism?

Every little bit helps.

That seemed like a mantra for many environmentalists when I was first getting into the green movement. From switching off lights to reusing plastic bags, we focused on individual action, and we begged for—and often cheered—incremental improvements from our governments, communities and corporations.

Yet a new kind of environmental action is emerging, one that is not afraid to champion all-out, systemic change. It's happening on many fronts:

• Engineers are mapping out roadmaps to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Utilities are committing to complete decarbonization, and reshaping their business models around renewables.
• Authorities are planning to "make cars in cities pointless."
• Mainstream builders are building homes with 90 percent lower heating bills, largely out of straw, at a comparable cost to conventional homes.
• Apple is buying up forests the size of San Francisco to promote sustainable forestry.

I could go on and on. In many ways, this is the same territory that TreeHugger Mike covered in his post on demand destruction. At some point, as clean technologies get cheaper and more viable, and as the cost of business-as-usual becomes ever more apparent, it becomes easier to go all-in for a low carbon future, rather than to split your investments between an out-dated energy model which will soon be obsolete, and a future which is already coming to pass.

In the same way that a gas-hybrid car made sense for us to champion ten years ago, but is beginning to give way to fully plug-in vehicles that are simply superior technology by many metrics, an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy that once looked pragmatic (and an improvement on drill-baby-drill) is beginning to look like yesteryear's thinking.

For a decidedly corporate take on this notion of going "all in" for sustainability, check out this talk from Steve Howard of IKEA—a company which just made a climate pledge more impressive than Sweden's, and which has clearly put all of its corporate chips in for a 100 percent clean energy future. In case you don't have time to view it, here's the money quote from Howard:

"A 100 percent goal is easier than 90 percent, or 50 percent. Because when you go for 90 percent, everyone in the company always finds a way to be in the 10 percent."

It's time to get ambitious.

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Global Climate Change | Renewable Energy

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