An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's ultra-popular 2006 documentary film about climate change, may not be entirely responsible for the current sustainability craze, but it certainly hasn't hurt. There is one big flaw with the film, however: Its doom-and-gloom position on global warming, realistic though it may be, is outright depressing. That's where Carl Fechner's The Fourth Revolution — Energy Autonomy comes in. The German documentary offers up the heartening news that the world could be entirely powered by renewable sources as soon as 30 years from now. But is the film providing false hope?
Fechner's film tries to offer solutions by showing a concentrated solar power plant in Spain that produces enough electricity for 100,000 people, a wind energy network in Denmark and solar power projects in Mali and Bangladesh. The film points out that two billion people have no access to electricity, a problem that could be alleviated in the years ahead with a greater use of de-central renewable energy that would have the added advantage of combating poverty.
We love that sort of positive thinking. Still, just because alternative energy has exploded in popularity over the past few years doesn't mean that the planet can be 100% powered by renewables in just three decades. It might be technologically feasible—a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers claims that Europe could get all of its power from renewable sources by 2050 if it pursues a multi-continent "supersmart grid." And as renewable energy gains in popularity, the cost of the technology will drop rapidly. But mustering up the political will to make such sweeping changes over such a short time period will be difficult. Impossible? No, but it's unlikely. So take Fechner's message with a grain of salt, but don't dismiss it entirely—it's an inspiring goal to keep in mind.