Posted on Mon, Sep. 09, 2002

Look at us, the Axis of Energy Evil

LATE one night in the cavernous Johannesburg hall where world leaders were holding their World Summit on Sustainable Development, I ran into the well-dressed Mohsen Esperi, Iran's delegate in charge of energy issues.

I asked him why his country was opposing the proposed summit target of a 10 percent increase in renewable energy. He replied that Iran only wanted balance. I asked him to explain and he simply responded: ``I love oil.'' Then he turned and walked toward his colleagues from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Ironically, at this world summit, the United States and two of the ``Axis of Evil'' countries -- Iraq and Iran -- were joined tightly together in opposing significant expansion of solar energy and other renewable energy technologies. This same ``Axis of Evil'' joined Washington in also opposing summit language that U.S. delegates thought might be construed as protecting a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy.

While there were hundreds of speeches on sustainability, two of the most basic requirements for preserving global well-being -- women's full empowerment and renewable energy -- were deprived of vital support because of the unholy alliance between OPEC nations and Bush administration hard-liners.

Outside of the more extreme fundamentalists, two things in this world are taken as obviously crucial: Stabilize the global climate and slow population growth through empowerment of women.

The business-as-usual scenario projects a world of 9 billion to 11 billion people inhabiting an increasingly unstable world of gyrating climate changes. The international delegates in Johannesburg did embrace a summit commitment to halve the number of people who live without clean water and decent sanitation. That is important and long overdue. But, at the same time, they refused to make any bold moves that would put the world on a path toward genuine sustainability.

That would have required substantial investments in solar, wind and biomass, and a great push for energy efficiency.

The costs of renewable sources are coming down, but not fast enough to permit rapid and widespread use. For this to happen, subsidies are needed to create the needed economies of scale. Several nations at the summit, together with dozens of energy activists, called for a Solar Investment Fund and a 10 percent renewable energy target -- 10 percent of world energy use from renewable sources by 2015.

The beauty of this proposal was that it would transfer clean energy technology to hundreds of millions of poor people who live without any electricity in remote areas of Africa and Asia.

By helping in this way those who live on less than a dollar a day, the rich world would help those most in need, protect the environment and bring down the costs of solar and other renewable fuels so that people everywhere would be able to make the transition to a clean energy future.

Yes, it would require billions of dollars, but this is a fraction of the current worldwide subsidies given to oil and coal production, which could and should be reduced to free up the necessary funds.

The world is at a crossroads. The kind of thinking that put us where we are will be totally inadequate to take us where we must go. The World Summit on Sustainable Development offered that opportunity, but our leaders missed it -- to our country's detriment and to the benefit of oil-producing nations, some of whom we identify as the ``Axis of Evil.''

Jerry Brown, a former California governor, is now mayor of Oakland.

2001 bayarea and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.