Keywords: solar energy, sustainable development, world economy, sustainable economy, sustainability, solar power, renewable energy, natural capital accounting
Can the world make the transition to a sustainable economy driven by solar energy?
Whatever other factors may be necessary, in the end a sustainable world economy is possible only if there is a perpetual source of energy to drive it. We explore the ability of the world economy to replace fossil and fissile energy sources with solar-flux-driven renewable energy sources using a natural capital accounting procedure known as ECCO, in the form of the world model GlobEcco. It is found that the dynamics of substitution are favourable for the developed (First) world in that, with appropriate policies, a transition can be made before easily accessible oil and gas resources are seriously depleted. However, this is not so for the less developed (Third) world, owing to the latter's low capacity for wealth creation and its higher population growth, even when aid from the First World is increased by a factor of six. The interim conclusion of this study is that, given the database and solar capture technologies currently available, the transition from a world economy based on the depletion of natural capital to one that is truly sustainable is possible only if both coal and nuclear energy continue to be used as energy sources for at least the next 50 years. However, if the carbon dioxide/greenhouse effect requires the reduction of carbon dioxide output, then the transition may call for a period of material penury, even in the developed world, before the transition can be effective.