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by John Brian Shannon | November 9, 2015
Climate scientists say we must decide (at COP 21) to dramatically lower our CO2 emissions or we lose our last opportunity to stop global warming at a scale never before seen.
How many climate scientists?
Houston, we have a problem
The question, “Is there any doubt that global warming could threaten plant and animal life on the planet?” no longer seems relevant due to the astounding amount of quality research done in recent years which proves we do, in fact, have a problem.
One wonders about the other question, “Are our politicians up to the task?”
Don’t lose hope! There are some inspiring examples of environmental stewardship in the world
100% Now: Albania, Bhutan, Belize, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iceland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nepal, Norway, Paraguay, Tokelau, and Zambia, are countries that produce virtually 100% of their primary energy generation (electricity) via renewable energy, while Samoa will hit that standard by 2017. (All of these countries produce a minimum of 95% of their electricity via renewable energy, and all of them have plans to meet their 100% target within a few years. As always, easy access to low-interest financing is one way to enable those targets to be met by 2020)
See: List of countries by electricity production from renewable sources (Wikipedia)
100% by 2021: Costa Rica will hit its renewable energy target by the end of 2021. At present the Costa Rican electricity grid is powered by 94% renewable energy, but many days of the year renewable energy production exceeds 100% of demand allowing the country to export surplus electricity.
100% by 2030: Denmark and Scotland and are well on their way to hit 100% clean electricity generation by 2030 — while the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, and Kiribati in the South Pacific expect to become 100% clean energy powered by 2050 including all transportation.
90% Now: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Laos all produce more than 90% of their electricity via renewable energy and have ambitious plans to increase those targets. Limited funding is a factor.
80% Now: Canada produces over 80% of its primary generation from renewable energy (hydro-electric dams and nuclear power stations, with assorted minor solar power and wind power installations) but has, so far, has no plan to convert the remaining 20% of its electricity generation to clean energy.
80% by 2025: Nicaragua has an aggressive renewable energy program to replace its primarily fossil fueled primary energy (electricity) with renewable energy. The country is blessed with radiant sunshine, healthy wind resources and volcanoes (geothermal) all it lacks is the financing to accelerate its planned targets.
80% by 2050: Germany, an advanced country of 82 million people gets almost 40% of its annual electricity from wind, solar and biomass power and has an ambitious two-track programme underway called Energiewende that is simultaneously a) shutting down all of Germany’s nuclear power stations by 2022 (completely decommissioning them by 2045) and b) replacing that lost power generation with wind, solar, and biomass power.
By 2050 Germany expects to meet 80% of its electricity via renewable energy, and further plans to curtail energy use by 25% due to additional energy efficiency. The scale and speed of transition to clean energy in Germany is astonishing and enjoys broad support among the public.
See: German Renewable Energy Leaves Coal Behind (JBSNews)
20% by 2020: In the United States, primary energy (power plants that produce electricity or district heating, or both) are the single largest source of CO2 pollution.
Although a slow starter, the United States has made rapid advances toward a cleaner energy grid. Early legislation such as the Clean Air Act (1970, amended 1990) has now been joined by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
See: How the Clean Air Act Has Saved $22 Trillion in Health-Care Costs (The Atlantic)
It’s notable that the U.S. now spends more than any country in the world on its transition to clean energy and is quickly switching out of coal (good) to natural gas (better) and renewable energy (best).
China has the second-highest spend on renewable energy globally and breaks global solar and wind power installation records every year. By a wide margin.
And yet, all of it together isn’t nearly enough to lower our present carbon emissions to a safe level
Not even close, as the carbon bender we’ve been on since 1988 is mind-numbing.
“By the end of this year, more than half of all industrial emissions of carbon dioxide since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution will have been released since 1988 — the year it became widely known that these emissions are warming the climate.”
“The Global Carbon Project (GCP) estimates that in 2014, we will release a record 37 gigatons (GT) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from burning coal, oil, and natural gas, and manufacturing cement. That’s a 2.5 percent increase over emissions in 2013, itself a record year.”
“This brings the total industrial carbon dioxide emissions since 1751 to an estimated 1480 Gt by the end of this year. And, remarkably, more than half of these emissions, 743 Gt, or 50.2 percent, have released just since 1988.” — Peter Frumhoff, Director of science & policy, Union of Concerned Scientists
See: Global Warming Fact: More than Half of All Industrial CO2 Pollution Has Been Emitted Since 1988 (Union of Concerned Scientists)
Most people are. Some 80% of North Americans want stronger government and corporate action towards cleaner energy, more efficient buildings and electric vehicles. Which is great.
But in 2014, some $548 billion dollars of subsidies were paid to the world’s fossil fuel corporations. And they’re in no mood to give it up.
Why would they?
Ever since large-scale coal, oil and gas extraction began around 1920, fossil fuels have been getting massive subsidies relative to their imprint on the economy.
If the plan at COP 21 is to remove those subsidies from the fossil fuel companies, then there is no point in anybody showing up there. At all. Because as far as plans go, that must surely be voted; “Least likely plan to succeed since there were rocks.”
If the plan is to legislate ever stricter air quality standards (to the point where it has any real effect on total global emissions) get ready to pay even more subsidies — perhaps double.
Yet, if that’s the plan, we might be wise to support it as we don’t have a second Earth to fall back on.
A more effective plan would be to leave fossil fuel subsidies at their present level and begin to match renewable energy subsidies to the fossil fuel subsidy rate, based on the barrel of oil equivalent (BOe) standard and let the market work on a level-playing-field basis
In that way ‘fossil fuel companies’ would morph into ‘energy companies’ — instead of remaining coal-only, oil-only, or natural gas-only companies.
Stand back and watch the CO2 emissions fall through the floor if that ever happens!
Standardizing renewable energy subsidies to match coal, oil and natural gas subsidies, means that real and profound change would begin to take place throughout our energy sector.
It should be pointed out that a very good case could still be made for keeping natural gas alive and thriving (with no change to existing subsidies) to fuel the transportation sector.
See: Energy Darwinism – The Case for a Level Playing Field (JBS News)
Because of the (over-hyped) variability of renewable energy (the Sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow) a massive shift towards natural gas (hundreds of times cleaner than coal, BTW) or battery storage will be needed to balance electrical demand. Perhaps both.
Natural gas (CNG) cars and trucks are affordable right now and can use the present distribution system as gasoline and diesel vehicles, while battery technology approaches the point of affordable battery systems for cars and trucks.
See: Clean Energy: Renewables & Natural Gas Powered Electricity Grids (JBS News)
Although there is reason for hope at COP 21 in December, the few examples above represent only a handful of nations acting on the scientific warnings about global warming
There are almost 200 nations that must become convinced of the need to act on climate change this December, and many of them will be negatively affected by sea level rise, desertification, drought/heat waves, premature deaths caused by air and water pollution (China 410,000 per year, the U.S. over 200,000 per year, and Europe over 400,000 per year).
See: Air Pollution Costs the West Almost $1 Trillion/yr (JBSNews)
Now that we have broad and deep consensus by climate scientists that global warming represents an existential threat to our planet, all that is required is the will to act.
Let’s hope our politicians are bigger than the looming environmental maelstrom our civilization faces.
by John Brian Shannon | January 19, 2015
What’s lacking in the world these days is a grand overriding global vision, one that large numbers of people can buy-into.
The entire world bought-into Perestroika and Glasnost, culminating in the end of the Cold War and the only reason it ended, is those policies appealed to large groups of people worldwide.
The imagination of the global public was captured *and only thereby* did the Cold War end. Ergo, voters put the people into office who shared their dream of ending the Cold War.
Similarly, did South African apartheid end.
Someone created a vision to which many millions of South African and global citizens could buy-into and people voted into office those who would carry out their wishes on the matter.
So many other examples exist; ‘The New Deal (FDR), Victory in WWII (Churchill), the Moon Shot (JFK), civil rights (MLK), Playing the China card (Kissinger), the PC (Steve Jobs / Bill Gates), I could go on at length. But you get my point.
Stifling individual visionaries is non-productive. Yet it seems to be the new norm.
Not all visionaries are perfect, not all visions are inspired, but it was a visionary who created the wheel, not an incrementalist. We can all see the profundity of that vision.
He or she, may not have created the best wheel at the time, but the manifestation of that vision has moved our civilization by orders of magnitude.
Under the umbrella of a grand and popular vision, the will of millions (perhaps billions) of citizens can be galvanized toward a common cause. The Moon shot is a great example of this — but in the absence of a grand overriding vision, civilization eventually falters. Everyone on the planet can be ‘part of the solution’. Unless we bungle it, that is.
Presently, the grand overriding vision is to attack suspected terrorists and to degrade the status of ordinary Muslims in our own, and their own, countries. That’s not a vision. Nor is it wise.
And slamming Vlad Putin in the media is not visionary.
“Demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” — Dr. Henry Kissinger
What we need now is a real vision that most everyone can buy-into. We need ‘Larger than Life’ stuff — not this B-movie script stuff.
One script that millions and perhaps billions of people could buy-into, is an accelerated change-up to renewable energy and high fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.
For example, 50% of all electricity produced in the world by 2020 should be sourced from renewable energy. And a 95 MPGe standard for new vehicle fleets.
Let’s not fool ourselves, doing so would NOT be as difficult as the Moon shot, NOT as difficult as ending the Cold War in practically a matter of months, and NOT as difficult as ending South African apartheid within a handful of years.
Still, it would be a grand enough and difficult enough vision to capture the world’s attention and galvanize people towards a unifying and noble cause.
Reaching 50% of our energy needs with renewable energy is a vision and a goal that everyone could feel good about and thereby want to buy-into.
We can take a profound step towards this worthy goal by acting on one of the following choices:
- Remove the $600 billion dollars of annual fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years
- Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies
- Institute a carbon tax that reflects the actual cost to society of fossil fuel use
Any one of these plans would work.
I favour the (2) option — “Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies” — with equal subsidy amounts for renewable and non-renewable energy in every year to 2050. To be followed by complete cessation of ALL energy subsidies (renewable and non-renewable) on January 1, 2051 for a truly level energy playing field after that date.
We’d be leaving a cleaner world to our future generations and saving our economies trillions of dollars in environmental costs and healthcare costs.
And all that’s stopping us from that worthy and noble goal is a lack of vision and will.
In 20 years, wouldn’t it be great to look back and say;
‘By replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy, billions of people are now breathing clean air, enjoying increased lifespan and quality-of-life, and we’ve saved trillions of dollars in carbon/climate mitigation costs.’
And those old enough at the time could say; ‘We built that.’