The New Energy Paradigm and Beating Climate Change in 1 Page
(As with previous articles, please note that underlined text contains hyperlinks to supporting sources.)
As fires and extreme temperatures rage around the world even people in denial should be waking up to the fact that human-caused climate change is not only real, it is upon us. This is backed up by the “State of the Climate” report published last week by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), which found 2017 to be the hottest non-El Niño year on record. CO2 levels are now at 408.96 parts per million (ppm) as of April, up 2.63ppm from a year earlier, and giving us only 15 years at the current rate before we hit the red-line 450ppm which the IPCC warns will result in catastrophic and irreversible damage.
For those who want visualizations of where we stand with CO2 and global temperatures, here you go:
This does not bode well, and the longer we delay returning CO2 levels to where they were for the last 800,000 years, the worse things will get.
As disturbing as this news is, there is still a path we can take to avoid the worst, if we hurry. In May, Costa Rica became the first nation on the planet to commit to banning fossil fuels entirely by 2021. The declaration comes after running on 100% renewable electricity for more than 300 days in 2017. This is real-world proof that the energy transition predicted in the newly released Bloomberg New Energy Outlook is not just possible, it is gaining momentum. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (“BNEF”) predicts that solar and wind will easily provide 48% of the world’s energy by 2050, which is a conservative estimate given their analysis excludes the impact carbon pricing and taxes will have on relative energy costs and the pace of the transition. A carbon tax that captures the true costs of fossil fuels would increase the pace of the transition and the adoption of renewable energy.
Notably, BNEF also found that even this large of a shift will be insufficient to keep global temperature rises below 2℃. 2℃ is the maximum temperature increase society can allow, and the Paris Agreement baseline, if we want to avoid the world becoming “ungovernable,” as indicated by former NASA climate research head James Hansen.
The fact is, despite the efforts of fossil fuel companies to obfuscate the facts and mislead the public, and after significant debate and research, there is a viable approach to keeping temperatures below a 2℃ increase. This approach relies on established technologies, not technologies that will almost certainly never live up to their hype like carbon capture and storage. Simply put, our best, and perhaps only, option is to follow Costa Rica’s lead, transition to 100% renewable energy and eliminate fossil fuels entirely across all sectors as quickly as possible. A transition to 100% renewable energy will:
- Cost approximately US$100 trillion at 2015 prices and take until 2050 to complete, an average of US$3.1 trillion per year between now and 2050.
- Eliminate the US$5.3 trillion in annual fossil fuel subsidies at 2015 prices once completed.
- Therefore, result in a net savings to society of more than US$2.2 trillion per year, with savings likely to be higher as renewable energy prices are falling significantly faster than inflation and will most likely continue to do so.
- Rely on intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind backed up by dispatchable sources of electricity such as batteries, hydro, and geothermal; this new paradigm will replace the old model of baseload and peaker plants.
- Save at least 4.2 million lives per year, and improve health for the 91% of the world’s population currently breathing air which exceeds the WHO safety guidelines.
- Require funding not just from traditional sources but utilize new approaches and financial tools to improve project bankability and tap the broader capital markets.
- Require everyone to drive electric cars, which may be the only cars available by 2040 or 2050 anyway, and are already competitive with internal combustion engines, costing on average only US$485 annually versus US$1,117 for gasoline vehicles in the U.S.
- Require shipping and aviation to switch to hydrogen fuel cells or batteries; a shift that is already starting to happen.
- Require industry to shift exclusively to electricity-based manufacturing using technologies such as 3-D printing, and electric arc and induction furnaces.
If we accomplish all of this, we have a good chance of beating the 2℃ target. If we also restore the planet’s natural carbon sinks by replanting the 3 trillion trees we’ve chopped down since industrialization, using for example these drones which can plant 100,000 trees per day, and we change our diets, then we may even be able to return our air quality and temperatures to the levels that existed for the 800,000 years prior to the 1950s.
If you want to do your part to help accelerate the transition you can join the Climate Reality Project, the Solution’s Project, RE100, or Go100%, buy electric for your next car, and eat less meat. You can also learn more by reading the sources linked to throughout this and my previous articles. Get informed, then get busy. We have a lot of work to do, and very little time left in which to do it.