This is a good way to get 2012 rolling: A recent report reveals that for the first time renewable sources have outdone nuclear power in the United States.

“Renewable energy sources—wind, water, solar and others—passed nuclear generation as a share of U.S. power in September, according to the Energy Information Administration,” reports the San Francisco Business Times. “The EIA report showed 6.944 quadrillion Btus, or ‘quads,’ of energy generated from renewable sources in the first nine months of 2011, compared with 6.173 quads from nuclear power.”

Now, the “renewable” category here is a bit of a catch-all, since it includes sources that are somewhat dubious from a clean energy standpoint, such as biofuels. But, still, the fact that nuclear power is now contributing a smaller amount to the national grid than renewables is of major significance. We are on our way to a green energy future faster than many of us had imagined.

Many environmentalists, such as veteran anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, have been urging this course for a long time.

“When the No Nukes movement first started, it was hoped by many that solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, biomass, increased efficiency, and other renewable technologies would ‘someday’ be cheaper than nuclear power and fossil fuels,” Wasserman wrote last May for The Progressive" in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. “By all accounts, that day has come.”

The new numbers also lend credence to a report issued last year by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that energy from clean sources could account for four-fifths of the global supply within a few decades—if governments show the necessary will.

"The report shows that it is not the availability of [renewable] resources but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramon Pichs, co-chair of one of the working groups of the organization.

The interesting thing is that the Obama Administration has had a mixed record here, voicing support for renewables but at the same time refusing to give up its infatuation with nuclear power. Nuclear energy has been bested despite the White House’s ambivalence.

The United States needs to take its lead from a number of other Western countries that have ended their romance with nuclear power in the aftermath of Fukushima. Germany is shutting down all its nuclear reactors within ten years (with one-third of its power to come from renewables by then). The Italian people, by a margin of 9-1, last year rejected then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s attempts to reintroduce nuclear power in the country. And the Swiss government in May pledged to close all reactors by 2034. (Japan itself has promised to get off of nuclear energy, albeit on an ill-defined timeline.)

America’s lukewarm attitude toward renewables has cost it in the recent past.

“There are reasons to be concerned about America’s competitive position in the clean energy marketplace,” says a Pew 2010 report. “In all, ten G-20 members devoted a greater percentage of gross domestic product to clean energy than the United States in 2009.”

If renewables can perform so well in spite of such half-heartedness on the part of Washington, imagine what could happen it they were backed to the hilt.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Sufi Singer Bids to Become President in Africa."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter



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A huge win, it's also just a hit on the pause button. Here's some context and ideas about paths forward.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

White supremacist posters on campuses play on ignorance and fear within the very institutions that should be our...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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