Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Political Will

We hear time and again in the climate discourse that what we need to solve the problem is "political will."

Well, maybe... but combating climate change through reducing our CO2 emissions is not something that can be done by passing a law or signing new regulations.

This is not a Manhattan Project, the Apollo Program or the Great Society of LBJ. It is probably the three of them combined and multiplied by ten, and even then...

We will not be free of fossil fuels by issuing an Emancipation Proclamation. If only it were that simple...

First, let's mention what we don't need respecting the transition to a low carbon economy:

1. To be told it will be easy. Because it won't.
2. To be told it will be cheap. Because it won't.
3. To be told it can be done fast. Because it won't.

Now, the first thing we need to understand is the MAGNITUDE of the energy we should transition from high carbon sources to lower carbon ones. And, by the way, the sooner we bury the "zero emissions" label, the better. No energy source is zero emissions. *

As we may see from the graph above, fossil fuels not only overwhelmingly dominate the energy market, but in absolute terms are the ones that are growing the fastest.**

Even though the OECD countries ARE taming their energy hunger, the non-OECD are increasing it as if they had an appointment. ***

And let's make no mistake: the overwhelming consideration for increasing energy consumption in these Non-OECD countries will be cost and ease of scalability.

The first thing we need to confront the climate challenge is to start telling the truth and this starts with Al Gore, Greenpeace, Paul Krugman and others. Here are some inconvenient truths:

a. Moving to a low carbon economy will be expensive. Very expensive. Thus the cost of energy for the final consumer will be higher, maybe even much higher.
b. If the cost of energy goes up, then the cost of almost everything else will also go up, including food.
c. After many trillions of euros of investment we will end up with less than we began with (lower carbon but more expensive energy). For the final user there would be little to see (except maybe much less pollution from coal burning).

All the people participating in a Climate March should go ahead and do it but be perfectly conscious that if they are FINALLY listened to by governments, THEIR cost of energy and everything else will go up. Is this a sacrifice they are willing to assume? Hopefully yes, but fully understanding what they are actually asking for and how it will affect them individually.

Now we are going to have to call names. It would be great just to leave this at the philosophical level but emissions won't drop just because we wish them to. No, we need MASSIVE deployments of low carbon energy. And here we have to face other truths (valid at least through the rest of this century):

1. Hydro was, is, and will continue to be the premier renewable energy.
2. Yes, wind and solar will conquer part of the energy pie but will almost certainly stay in single digits share of our global energy consumption. Why? Because they are intermittent, unreliable, diffuse and expensive.
3. (This is to some the worst of all the inconvenient truths), nuclear will have to perform the heavy low carbon lifting for our civilization. Sorry, but there is NO way around this. Make the math, it would be impossible in a financial / environmental sense to supply most of our global energy with renewables.

So, once it is boiled down to the essentials, this is the definition of political will respecting global warming:

Political will: paving the way for a massive, accelerated implementation of nuclear power.

All the rest is just talk, just platitudes, just expressing feel good words that change absolutely nothing.

Look around you! Is a massive nuclear power plant buildup currently happening in your country?

If yes, you are moving forward.

If no, it is business as usual and you are not going anywhere (except maybe to an overly hot planet).

Feel free to add to the conversation at Twitter: @luisbaram

Note: some people declare that renewable energy (solar or wind) is cheap but this is only because they piggy-back on the conventional energy grid (that ends up absorbing the costs of their intermittency). However, when all costs are considered, RE is expensive, intermittent and unreliable.





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