Green Technology Can Defeat Terrorism

Small-scale on-site power generation technologies help protect the environment. Will they also help to protect us against terrorism? Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Byron Kennard argues that they can:


Small-scale on-site power generation technologies help protect the environment. Will they also help to protect us against terrorism? Our commentator Byron Kennard argues that they do.

Like every American, I am mourning the tragic losses that terrorists have inflicted on our nation. But I mourn too because I fear that in the aftermath of these attacks, environmental protection efforts will be sacrificed to the awful necessities of war. I am reminded of a remark Tolstoy once made to a young friend, “You may not be interested in war,” Tolstoy warned,” but war is interested in you.” War’s interest in the young is fully matched by its interest in the environment.

Apart from what the US does to go after bin Laden, we must also pursue peaceful solutions to this challenge. The best of these options is to vastly increase economic opportunity for the world’s poor. After all, it’s their desperation that provides the breeding grounds for fanaticism. As Jessica Stern, author of The Ultimate Terrorists, observes: “Force is not nearly enough. We need to drain the swamps where these young men thrive. We need to devote a much higher priority to health, education, and economic development or new Osamas will continue to arise.”

Economic development will be hard to achieve and will take much time. But in it environmentalists can find some solace. There are environmental ways to develop economies and often these make the most sense for the world’s poor. For example, two billion people in the world have no access to electricity. Providing them electricity for lighting, clean water, refrigeration and health care, and radio and television is perhaps the best single way “to drain the swamps.” The best way to make electricity available to the world’s poor is through on-site generating technologies that are the environment friendly.

These “micro power” devices generate electric power on a small scale close to where it is actually used. They include fuel cells, photovoltaics, micro generators, small wind turbines, and modular biomass systems. For instance, a micro generator the size of a refrigerator can generate 25 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a village in the developing world.

The environmental approach toward energy sufficiency in developing nations has been to utilize micro credit. That means providing poor people with affordable mini-loans to purchase on-site energy generators, or micro generation. Currently the US leads the world in exporting solar electric, small wind, fuel cells, and modular biomass systems to the developing world. Such exports of energy generation have become a $5 billion per year market, so this environmentally benign strategy is also economically productive. In short, electrifying the poor regions of the world will benefit our people, our planet and the cause of peace.