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NOTE: This article was originally posted as a newspaper column in the Your Ecological House© series on Christmas Day, 2022, when thoughts of gifts were in the air. But it is also a good starting place for 2023, when we could be beginning to reach a turning point in the struggle to save the planet.

“Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase…” Faith Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency

Since time immemorial, humans have celebrated the winter solstice, the return of the light that heralds the Earth’s renewal following the year’s darkest day. The oldest celebrations we have knowledge of featured sacraments, feasts and gift giving — just as today’s holiday season does.

The sacraments, originally sacrifices, were meant as gifts to the Earth and the powers that ruled it, both as thanks for its prior sustenance and as entreaty that that the gifts would be returned in the form of future abundant, or at least adequate, provision upon which human life depends.

For millennia the human population and Earth’s capacity to support it were more or less in balance, and one could say or believe that the invocations worked. But in recent centuries our extractive technologies have advanced to the point where we’ve fooled ourselves into abandoning our belief in reciprocal renewal, and thought of gifts from the Earth as a one-way transaction, where we take and take and it gives and gives. 

The results of this illusion are seen all around us in massive deforestation and the Sixth Extinction, overpopulation engendering poverty and political instability, and pollution, especially atmospheric pollution, which is heating the planet at a rate unprecedented in geologic history.

These trends have made the future of the planet and humanity seem darker and darker, just as the tilt of Earth on its axis brings progressively darker days to each hemisphere in its turn — until the nadir passes and the pivot back toward the zenith begins.

But as humans have often shown, their indomitable spirit can turn their darkest hour into their finest hour, and, to accentuate the growth of planet-wide environmental awareness in recent years, this year might be looked upon as the turning point where we finally began to return Earth’s perennial gift of renewal — with our own renewables and more.

“Energy security concerns caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have motivated countries to increasingly turn to renewables such as solar and wind to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels…”

Because energy underlies the material basis of civilization, perhaps this year’s most important gift to Earth and ourselves is the sudden acceleration of our commitment to renewables. The International Energy Agency, the acknowledged global leader in energy financial analysis, titled the summary of its December 2022 annual report, “Renewable power’s growth is being turbocharged as countries seek to strengthen energy security.” According to the summary, “Energy security concerns caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have motivated countries to increasingly turn to renewables such as solar and wind to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, whose prices have spiked dramatically.”

The summary goes on to say, “This massive increase is 30% higher than the amount that was forecast just a year ago…,” and concludes, “…renewables are set to account for over 90% of global electricity expansion in the next five years, overtaking coal to become the largest source of global electricity by 2025. Global solar PV capacity [alone] is set to almost triple during the 2022-2027 period, becoming the largest source of power capacity in the world.” 

Two other major environmental breakthroughs, still being gift-wrapped, come from Brazil and the United Nations. In October, Brazil elected Lula da Silva as its President, and he intends not only to protect the Amazon rainforest but also to ally with Indonesia and the Congo to protect tropical rainforests worldwide. Then, at December’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt, the world’s nations finally broke through a seemingly intransigent impasse and voted to establish a fund to compensate nations that are vulnerable to, but mostly not responsible for, global heating for their loss and damage from it.

We’ll unwrap these last two gifts in upcoming posts, but for now, let’s celebrate our renewed commitment to renewal at our ecological house.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared previously in other publications as part of an ongoing series called “Your Ecological House,” written by Philip S. Wenz, the publisher of Firebird Journal.

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