Tokelau, an independent territory of New Zealand, is a small three island archipelago of about 1,400 residents about 300 miles north of American Samoa in the South Pacific. In October 2012, the Polynesian nation turned off the last of its diesel generators and became the first country to use solar power as its only energy source.

The sun is setting on fossil fuels

“We know that the longer the fossil fuel industry gets its way, the worse climate change will be, and the more sea-level rise will threaten our islands,” wrote Mikalele Maiava, one of its residents.

About 9,300 miles west of Tokelau is Saudi Arabia. Beneath its sands is an estimated 262.6 billion barrels of oil, the largest reserve in the word. But Saudi Arabia isn’t counting on oil as its sole form of energy. Within the next two decades, Saudi Arabia plans to have 41,000 megawatts of solar energy, enough to generate about one-third of the nation’s electricity. Nuclear, wind, and geo-thermal energy will provide an additional 21,000 megawatts, according to Khalid al-Suliman, vice-president of Renewable Energy at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. The project is expected to cost about $109 billion, and save about 523,000 barrels of oil a day.

On Saudi Arabia’s northern border is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Beneath its sands is the world’s seventh largest oil reserve. About 75 miles south of Abu Dhabi, its capital, is the world’s largest solar power plant. The 285,000 parabolic mirrors generate about 100 megawatts of energy, enough to meet the energy needs of 20,000 homes. The solar power plant reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 175,000 tons a year. The UAE is planning to build additional solar plants.

India, a world leader in wind-generated power, is likely to develop what will become the world’s largest solar energy system. The first phase, being developed on a 23,000 acre site, is expected to be completed by 2016, and will provide about one gigawatt of power. The 30-year plan will allow India to provide one-eighth of its energy needs, through solar power.

Two-thirds of the world’s increase in solar energy in 2011 was in Europe; a two mile section of track between Paris and Amsterdam allows trains to run entirely on solar power; Germany’s solar energy plants produced as much power as 20 nuclear power plants.

Denmark, with the addition of 3.6 megawatts of offshore wind turbines early this year, has more than a gigawatt of wind energy, providing about one-fourth of all power to its citizens. Denmark plans to increase wind power capacity to provide about one-half of all domestic energy needs within the decade.

By the end of 2012, there were 1,662 off-shore wind turbines, generating enough electricity to power 10 million homes in 10 European countries, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). The EWEA believes that within a decade, off-shore wind turbines could provide electricity to about 39 million homes if countries continued to push for wind energy and rely less upon fossil fuel energy. With political and economic support, according to an EWEA analysis, “The energy produced from turbines in deep waters in the North Sea alone could meet the EU’s electricity consumption four times over.” It would also mean phasing out more than $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy suggests, “Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050.”

A significant increase of non-fossil fuel energy would produce a cleaner fuel source, reduce workplace accidents and significantly reduce the well-documented health and environmental effects of fossil fuel energy; it would also increase employment, one of the basic reasons why politicians say they like natural gas drilling.

There is some evidence that Americans are beginning to understand the need to abandon fossil fuel energy and prepare for a world of renewable energy.

Lancaster, Calif., a city of about 160,000 in Los Angeles County, was the first American city to require all new houses to produce a minimum of one kilowatt of solar energy, beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

Wind turbines already provide about one-fifth of all power in Iowa and South Dakota.

About three-fourths of Americans want to see more development of solar and wind energy, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March. So, who doesn’t want to see renewable energy replace fossil fuel dependence?

Conservatives and Republicans tend not to want to reduce fossil fuel energy and develop more renewable energy, according to Gallup. The Gallup poll reveals that 78 percent of Republicans want to see more of an emphasis upon fracking and natural gas as a primary energy source.

That’s probably because conservatives don’t like change. It scares them. They understand coal, oil, and gas. They don’t accept solar, wind, and geothermal energy.

But, most of all, most investors in fossil fuel energy—and that includes the frack-at-any-cost Pennsylvania legislature and its governor—have received campaign funds or are heavily invested in fossil fuel energy.

If the oil-rich countries are developing solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy, maybe they know a lot more about the future. After all, there aren’t any more dinosaurs who are willing to sacrifice their lives so that lobbyists can influence politicians.

Dr. Walter Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the effects of fracking upon health the environment. He also looks at the trail of money from the gas industry to politicians, and the claims of economic benefits from fracking.

Photo by Martin Nikolaj Bech under Creative Commons license