|Restructuring the global economy according to
the principles of ecology represents the greatest investment
opportunity in history. In scale, the Environmental Revolution
is comparable to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions
that preceded it.
The Agricultural Revolution involved restructuring the food economy,
shifting from a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting and gathering
to a settled lifestyle based on tilling the soil.
Although agriculture started as a supplement to hunting and gathering,
it eventually replaced it almost entirely. The Agricultural Revolution
eventually cleared one-tenth of the earth’s land surface
of either grass or trees so it could be plowed and planted to
crops. Unlike the hunter-gatherer culture that had little effect
on the earth, this new farming culture literally transformed
the earth’s surface.
The Industrial Revolution has been under way for two centuries,
although in some countries it is still in its early stages. At
its foundation was a shift from wood to fossil fuels, a shift
that set the stage for a massive expansion in economic activity.
Indeed, its distinguishing feature is the harnessing of vast
amounts of solar energy stored beneath the earth’s surface
as fossil fuels.
While the Agricultural Revolution transformed the earth’s
surface, the Industrial Revolution is transforming the earth’s
The additional productivity that the Industrial Revolution made
possible unleashed enormous creative energies. It also gave birth
to new lifestyles and to the most environmentally destructive
era in human history, setting the world firmly on a course of
eventual economic decline.
The Environmental Revolution resembles the Industrial Revolution
in that each is dependent on the shift to a new energy source.
And like both earlier revolutions, the Environmental Revolution
will affect the entire world.
There are differences in scale, timing, and origin among the
three revolutions. Unlike the first two, the Environmental Revolution
must be compressed into a matter of decades. The other revolutions
were driven by new discoveries, by advances in technology, whereas
this revolution, while it will be facilitated by new technologies,
is being driven by our need to make peace with nature.
There has not been an investment situation like this before.
The $1.7 trillion that the world spends now each year on oil,
the leading source of energy, provides some insight into how
much it could spend on energy in the eco-economy. One difference
between the investments in fossil fuels and those in wind power,
solar cells, and geothermal energy is that the latter are not
For developing countries dependent on imported oil, the new energy
sources promise to free up capital for investment in domestic
energy sources. Not many countries have their own oil fields,
but all have wind and solar energy waiting to be harnessed. In
terms of economic expansion and job generation, these new energy
technologies are a godsend.
Investments in energy efficiency will grow rapidly simply because
they are profitable. In virtually all countries, saved energy
is the cheapest source of new energy.
No sector of the global economy will be untouched by the Environmental
Revolution. In this new economy, some companies will be winners
and some will be losers. Those who participate in building the
new economy will be the winners. Those who cling to the past
risk becoming part of it.
Lester Brown is the president of the Earth Policy Institute and
the author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and
a Civilization in Trouble. He can be reached at http://www.earthpolicy.org.