The Tipping Point

It’s not often that you realize you’re in the midst of a radical change in the way the world works. It often seems that dramatic changes take place before most realize quite what that shift means for society. This, however, is not one of those times.

For thousands of years prior to the advent of the automobile, horses were both the vehicle and power plant of humanity. They were our cars, trucks, tractors, power plants and more. In the late 1800s in New York City, it was estimated that more than three million pounds of horse manure were produced per day, often rendering the city effectively uninhabitable. In 1894, The Times of London prognosticated, “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.” (source) Within less than two decades, however, the automobile had eradicated the function of the horse, forever altering our landscape and rendering fears of mountains of horse waste obsolete.

Though a respected publication like the Times could not foresee a future without a horse, many are well aware of the energy revolution that is taking place today. Plummeting renewable energy costs are radically reshaping the energy generation landscape, particularly in third world and island nations where fuel and infrastructure costs are significant obstacles. In fact, in many countries, large-scale solar installations are both being constructed and are producing energy for a fraction of the cost of traditional, more polluting energy plants.

The world’s largest solar installation was recently turned on in Morocco, though given the current climate it is unlikely to be the largest for long. It is expected to meet half of Morocco’s energy needs by 2020. India has opted for large-scale solar facilities over more traditional, non-sustainable energy generation technologies due to lower energy generation costs.

As panels become more efficient the advantage of solar over non-sustainable energy generation will continue to grow. Given the crises we now face due to carbon emissions, this sea change cannot take hold soon enough.

It is too much to hope that renewable energy will render the damage of global warming, like the byproducts of horses before, nothing but a distant memory. Unlike the cities of the early 20th Century, much of the damage from carbon emissions has taken hold and is unlikely to be undone in a few short decades. Then again, a publication held in higher esteem didn’t realize what was possible eight years after the invention of the automobile.

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