|Luxury: indulge yourself. Sacrifice: save the planet.|
There are two aspects to the transition to a clean-energy economy. First, we need to clean up the way we make energy. Second, we need to use less of it.
People usually assume that if it's good for the planet, it's going to mean a sacrifice for us. But pollution and waste do not always enrich our lives. There's no inherent luxury in a drafty home or an hour-long commute in heavy traffic. If we get smarter about how we make and use energy, we can save time and money and live more convenient, enjoyable lives.
1. Change the way we produce and distribute energy.
We need to transition from coal-fired power plants to renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The technology has already been worked out, the costs are coming down as the industry expands, and renewable energy plants are already attracting lots of private capital. Most importantly, they are less expensive than new coal or nuclear plants, and they don't pollute.
We need to build a smart grid to distribute the energy we produce efficiently, and to bring power from the most effective production sites to the places that need it most.
2. Use energy more efficiently.
There's no reason the average American needs to use twice as much energy as the average European and still have a lower standard of living. Modernization is not about sacrificing to save the planet, it's about getting more for less. Most of the things we need to do to stop wasting so much energy will in fact make our lives more comfortable and convenient, and they'll save us all a lot of money in the long run.
The most important way to save energy is to transition from suburban sprawl to walkable urbanism. The largest unmet demand in real estate today is for homes in walkable urban neighborhoods, and we have a generation of young people who have no intention of starting and ending each day sitting alone in a car, stuck in traffic with nothing to do. The next generation is ready for electric cars, but they're not ready for the cost of maintaining and expanding the system of roads, let alone the congestion or the hours of wasted time getting from here to there. They want to be able to connect with friends on the train home from work, walk two blocks to an apartment with a doorman and a view, stop on the corner for groceries, and walk to dinner and a movie in the neighborhood.