As far as we are currently able to judge, our best chance to halt the further escalation of the climate crisis through decarbonization of the economy depends on electricity and electrification. Given the current horizon of technological expectations, electric power and electric technology offer us the best chance of reconciling the insatiable desire for energy with the stretched and frayed environmental envelope.
Climate Change= weather, sun spots and volcanos have more impact tan the entirety of human years. The higher CO2 the better for plants and life. This ridiculousness, wind turbines polluting and killing wildlife and the mining of battery elements and the disposal of spent car batteries are more harmful to our planet than nuclear and clean burning plentiful gas. Open your eyes.
Chris Wright of Liberty Energy has listed five terms that are interfering with an intelligent discussion of the issues at hand regarding climate change: 1) “climate crisis” , 2) “carbon pollution”, 3) “clean energy”, 4) “dirty energy”, and 5) “energy transition.
There is no “climate crisis”. This is hyperbole. This is not to say that CO2 does not impact the climate. “Climate crisis” -- used in the first paragraph -- is a politically-charged term that does not lead to rational solutions. “Carbon pollution” is absurd. There are three essential elements to life: water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a greenhouse gas that supports life on earth and, in concentrations in the atmosphere, blocks outgoing infrared radiation, as do other greenhouse gasses, including water vapor. Is water vapor a pollutant?
The use of the term “clean energy” implies that wind and solar have no carbon dioxide footprint. This is patently false. And the use of the term “dirty energy” is another politically charged term implying that using hydrocarbons for energy creates significant pollution. This is objectively false. As Vaclav Smil has written about, all energy systems have trade offs. Wind and solar have positive attributes -- and negative environmental consequences as well, especially land use, but also, CO2 emissions necessary to produce them in the first place.
And finally, the concept of “energy transition” is highly misleading. Modern society cannot function without hydrocarbons. Society needs energy security, energy affordability, and environmental sustainability. It’s a balancing act, each with tradeoffs.
I am disappointed to read such a politically-charged piece by Adam Tooze who otherwise is a very accomplished writer.
Great article AT!
Stephen Hawkings, just before he died I think, had calculated that if mankind continued to raise electricity consumption at the present pace, the globe will be glowing by 2600.
'Climate change' is an archetypal scare for humanity: people originally 'emigrating' from Africa were possibly chased away because of harsher climate, Egyptian culture in the Nile valley was following the former Sahara turning into desert, and so on. It seems to me we are easily scared of 'climate change', so we forget to ask for a time scale of 'sustainable'. We go for any technical solution appearing, and don't notice that mostly solutions generating money for someone seem to proliferate. Changing habits is more difficult than buying a Tesla.
No matter how much we de-carbonize nations like India will keep on burning oil and coal for the coming decades. Just look at their live Air Quality Stats, these high numbers are there due to transport and energy generation , every day all year round.
Note: Red numbers usually mean visibility is limited to 1000 feet.
More people die every year from poor air quality from the burning of wood and animal dung for cooking. Replacing these kitchen fires with electricity - even coal-fired - will save many more lives than those saved by reduced air pollution from coal-fired power stations.
After reading this article and clicking over to #24 for a read, it appears the emphasis stays on bringing poorer nations / people up to a higher level of consumerism, while greatly reducing the carbon / greenhouse gas output of those and all nations. Bringing a nation's GDP up, and therefore raising the population's per capita annual income merely guarantees the production of more consumer goods which raises energy consumption in both the manufacturing country and the consumer country. How is this a path to sustainable climate? Yes, the development of networked electrical grids to allow more growth and an acceleration of that growth is necessary to building nations, if they are to follow the agricultural - natural resource exploitation - manufacturing - industrial - then finance path to G status. One major hurdle that will remain in the path to this New Eden is the embedded corruption native to most of these 2nd / 3rd world countries. Ultimately, the world continues rely on finding ways to bleed more and more money from the taxpayers of the richest countries for the ultimate benefit of a select few in each of the poverty stricken countries in question, with practically no accounting for the trillions of dollars that have already been and will be spent to "raise their standard of living".
Energy production, energy distribution, and ENERGY SALE have been the backbone of the world's economies for 130 years. The populations of the world's richest nations have become prisoners to those systems, just as those in the developing nations are soon to become, but at least they'll finally have a microwave, 75" Television, and agreat internet connection.
It is surprising that China still has social media presence as going green while building within China and outside (ex. Pakistan) 3x more coal plants than rest of the world combined. It reminds me of what “The Rock” says...”It’s doesn’t matter what you think”, China is Not a green country.
Some further considerations.
(1) Now that most of the cost of producing intermittant renewables and batteries is in components, especially minerals, and there will be shortages of these for decades, there is unlikely to be much decline in the cost of renewables. Indeed prices are going up, in part because of high energy costs.
(2) The absolutely colossal level of materials required for solar, wind, and batteries requires a 40-70 fold increase in mining. This is never going to happen as the environmental consequences will be unacceptable.
(3) The only plausible route to net zero with respect to both costs and what the public will accept is dramatic expansion of nuclear energy.
(4) This is technically easy and cheap provided regulations governing nuclear power become rational. At present they hugely increase the cost of nuclear power by valuing a life lost to radioactivity as being at least 100 times more valuable than a life lost to air pollution.
(5) The main obstacle to this is our exaggerated fear of radioactivity. Only when out fear of climate change exceeds our fear of radioactivity will we do what is needed to phase out fossil fuels.
It is amazing how much faith Prof. Tooze has in the power of technology to save the climate crisis (and capitalism). The world needs to “double this in the next 20 years”, and soon it will be “triple that in the next 10 years”, etc., without mentioning the problem of finite ecological sources and sinks…
Of course more investment are needed, but the climate crisis is not a simple balance sheet problem. More investment into renewables are welcome, sure, but any approach that does not consider demand-side solutions, i.e. sufficiency, is bound to fail.
Progress on the supply side, such as increased renewables, increased efficiency, etc., can only do so much when the underlying problem causing the climate and biodiversity crises is “our” excess consumption of energy and materials required to nurture a capitalist economy that needs to grow of perish of a slow or rapid death…
Anthropocene: the moment when humans stopped fearing catastrophes, and became one on their own.
You might try reading Vaclav Smil's book THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS and Nate Hagen's REALITY BLIND, or even Roger Pielke's substack, before pontificating about the global energy system and electrification.
Here is a link to a 9 year old sustainable energy book. http://www.withouthotair.com/c1/page_15.shtml
I quote the book, and remember this is nine years ago: "These possibly-safe emissions
trajectories, by the way, involve signiﬁcantly sharper reductions in emis-
sions than any of the scenarios presented by the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC), or by the Stern Review (2007)."
Returning to 2023, I propose "We" are nearly a decade over due for getting going on the cessation of fossil fuel CO2 emission."
My recent writing on this question is: https://www.lowco2america.com/2023/01/reducing-global-co2-by-limiting-air.html