Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beating a Dead Horse

A substantial, if not most, of what we hear today about global climatic disruption concerns people trying to prove that it is actually occurring.
Well... we do not have to continue beating a dead horse. Climatic change caused by our civilization's excessive carbon dioxide emissions is a fact. Period. Let's move on.

Almost immediately after stating the obvious, two other things come into the picture of the environmentalists:
a) The "climate change deniers" (a label always mentioned with scorn).
b) The lack of political will from governments.

Climate change deniers are not dumb, they are only suspicious of what they may be committing to if they accept that anthropomorphic emissions are driving harmful change. Consciously or at the gut level, they know that combating climate change would entail less personal choices and a significant reduction in their standard of living.

Now, with respect to "lack of political will", governments cannot get too far ahead of their constituents. If they do, they seriously risk being removed from office at the drop of a hat. 

The fact is that moving to a low carbon economy would entail, in the short and medium term, very significant increases in the prices of energy and transportation that would cascade through the economy and create serious inflation, job losses and a general reduction of our standard of living (exactly what the climate deniers fear). 

In theory, governments could act very fast with measures that would significantly reduce carbon emissions in the short term, for example by applying heavy carbon taxes.  However, most of the population on Earth is not ready, or willing to accept these drastic measures. 

Some environmentalists keep preaching that the transition to a low carbon economy (through "renewable energy") can be fast and painless. They are performing a disservice to humanity because what they are saying is plain false. Solar PV and wind heavily depend on subsidies and the moment they are removed (e.g. see what is happening in Spain) they come tumbling down. Besides, their intermittency produces hidden costs that are masked by the conventional power grid but, if their penetration continues to increase these costs will be impossible to hide any longer. If the conventional grid is decommissioned, then vast and expensive storage would be required (storage that, by the way, wouldn't be too environmentally friendly). From a purely financial point of view it makes no sense because we will need to:
1. Duplicate the current fossil fuel installed capacity (including all the transportation equipment).
2. Replace it with "renewable" capacity.
3. Build the "renewable" storage capacity.

The reason today most of the energy of civilization comes from fossil fuels is not because of a perverse twist in human psyches; rather it is because they are, by far, the cheapest type of energy we have access to (at least as we now cost them which is to say WITHOUT considering the cost of extrenalities). Yes, hydro competes with fossil fuels but currently supplies less than 3% of our total primary energy supply and cannot easily be scaled much above that market penetration. 

Bottom line: we all have to begin telling the truth about the consequences of a low carbon economy. That means asking the population to volunteer for serious sacrifices and significant changes in how we live. 

In the short term, a low carbon economy would seem much worse than mitigating climate change effects, in the long run, it might be the only alternative we have. 

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home