By Barbara Kessler

Despite dire warnings about calamitous climate change and precipitous declines in earth’s natural resources, human beings are not frozen on the train tracks waiting for impact. In turns out we are pushing back energetically at the forces that state-of-the-world.jpgwould consume the planet, according to a Worldwatch Institute report released this week.

Entrepreneurs, governments and nonprofits are “inventing the Earth’s first sustainable global economy” and “field testing a remarkable array of economic innovations that offer surprising and hopeful new opportunities for long term prosperity,” according to the report, “State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy.”

This is not the “doom and gloom” we often hear in mainstream media reports, explains Tom Prugh, a co-director with Gary Gardner, of the report. The project brought together work by more than a dozen researchers and experts in energy, industrial production, species conservation, investment and sustainability.

The cumulative report is “completely, totally hopeful,’’ Prugh said. “That’s what’s so striking about it…This crisis had tapped reservoirs of imagination and unleashed waves of innovation.

“People are starting to get the message. NGO (non-government organizations) like us and some governments have been banging the sustainability drum for some years, decades now. But business is catching up to that now.”

“State of the World” recognizes that the present global economy is “destroying its own ecological base.” But it also sees an emerging “economic transformation that is more profound than any seen in the last century,” in the words of Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin, and it turns a spotlight on the progress being made in several quarters.

Some examples from the report:

  • Industrial production is being revolutionized by discoveries that environmentally sound practices can also save money, as DuPont learned when it saved $3 billion in the course of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to below 1991 levels.
  • “Clean tech” has grown dramatically to become the third largest recipient of venture capital, trailing only the Internet and biotechnology.
  • 27 major corporations, including Alcoa, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, General Motors and Zerox, are actively urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation regulating greenhouse gas emissions — “something that would have been unthinkable two years ago.”
  • Corporate research and development spending on clean energy technologies reached $9.1 billion worldwide in 2006.
  • Total global investment in renewable energy climbed to $52 billion in 2006, up 33 percent from 2005 (preliminary figures show that $66 billion was invested in 2007.)
  • Venture capital and private equity investment in clean energy totaled $8.6 billion in 2006 – 10 times the 2001 level.
  • Germany’s investments in renewable energy are so deep now that the country has announced it will shut down its hard coal industry by 2018.
  • Norwegian salmon farmers have discovered a way to increase the production of farmed salmon naturally by introducing “cleaner fish” that consume waste in the ponds. Disease drops and salmon yields increase by double or better.
  • China’s Grain for Green program redistributes tax money to encourage farmers to keep hillsides forested.
  • Collective community produce gardens — the ultimate local produce — have increased in the United States (to about 18,000), as have farmers’ markets, which more than doubled in the last decade to reach about 4,000.