Citizen Action Monitor

At our current rate of transitioning to renewable energy, it will take 400 years to transform the energy system

And, can you guess what percentage of the world’s energy is currently provided by renewables? See answer below.

No 2186 Posted by fw, March 21, 2018

Kurt Cobb

“I recently asked a group gathered to hear me speak what percentage of the world’s energy is provided by these six renewable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy. Then came the guesses: To my left, 25 percent; straight ahead, 30 percent; on my right, 20 percent and 15 percent; a pessimist sitting to the far right, 7 percent. The group was astonished when I related the actual figure: 1.5 percent. The figure comes from the Paris-based International Energy Agency, a consortium of 30 countries that monitors energy developments worldwide.”Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights

1.5%! YIKES.

And 400 Years to transform the energy system, according to the MIT Technology Review! DOUBLE YIKES.

But wait, wait – Kurt’s not finished with the bad news in his article, reposted below:

  • The US Energy Department projects that world fossil fuel consumption will rise through 2050
  • After decades of warnings, debates and clean-energy campaigns, little has been done to confront the problem
  • MIT suggests it would take total global mobilization maintained for decades to avoid catastrophic climate change
  • A rise of more than 2°C in global temperature is all but inevitable
  • We are beyond “prevention” of a 2°C rise. The best we can hope for is mitigation and management

If Canadians are counting on the Trudeau/Notley tag team to mitigate and manage Alberta’s oilsands/tarsands polluting carbon emissions we are indeed doomed. Just the other day I was astounded to read an article in the National Observer: Ottawa ‘determined’ to see Trans Mountain pipeline expanded: minister. Minister Carr is either wilfully or literally ignorant of the scientific facts and ethical reasons why Trans Mountain is a flawed and dangerous decision. Here’s the beginning of the article:

“Canada’s natural resources minister says Ottawa is determined to see the Trans Mountain pipeline expanded, despite an interprovincial dispute on whether the project should go ahead. Jim Carr said the federal government approved the project because broad consultations determined it was in the national interest and will help facilitate a transition to clean energy.”

Moreover, one wonders what “broad consultations” Carr is talking about. When Trudeau claimed his approval of the Kinder Morgan project was based on “rigorous debate, on science and on evidence” scientists questioned what he meant since their own research revealed “significant gaps in knowledge and research.” Of course there was no response to their queries. (For a true scientific/mathematical explanation of why wealthy countries must be carbon free by 2035 or many people will die, see Kevin Anderson’s Our chances of avoiding climate crisis are slim to none, says leading climate scientist.)

On March 4, 2018, investigative reporter Paul McKay’s penetrating critique revealed “Alberta’s huge tar sands/oil sands deposits cost too much to dig up, refine, and ship” and can no longer compete with global oil producers in a “cutthroat” field.  McKay asserts that Notley/Trudeau have failed to conduct basic due diligence and appear to be “practicing the darker art of deception.

Trudeau and Notley’s Orwellian climate plan is to reduce carbon emissions by increasing them.

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment and has a widely followed blog, “Resource Insights.” He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions.

Below is a repost of his article with my added subheadings. Or read his piece on his blog by clicking on the following linked title.

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The troubling realities of our energy transition by Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights, March 18, 2018

Cobb asks group to guess what percentage of world’s energy is provided by six renewables?

I recently asked a group gathered to hear me speak what percentage of the world’s energy is provided by these six renewable sources: solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal, and ocean energy.

Then came the guesses: To my left, 25 percent; straight ahead, 30 percent; on my right, 20 percent and 15 percent; a pessimist sitting to the far right, 7 percent.

The answer astonished them

The group was astonished when I related the actual figure: 1.5 percent. The figure comes from the Paris-based International Energy Agency, a consortium of 30 countries that monitors energy developments worldwide. The audience that evening had been under the gravely mistaken impression that human society was much further along in its transition to renewable energy. Even the pessimist in the audience was off by more than a factor of four.

I hadn’t included hydroelectricity in my list, I told the group, which would add another 2.5 percent to the renewable energy category. But hydro, I explained, would be growing only very slowly since most of the world’s best dam sites have been taken.

Why biofuels and waste are not counted as “renewables”

The category “Biofuels and waste,” which makes up 9.7 percent of the world total, includes small slivers of what we Americans call biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), I said, but mostly represents the deforestation of the planet through the use of wood for daily fuel in many poor countries, hardly a sustainable practice that warrants vast expansion. (This percentage has been roughly the same since 1973 though the absolute consumption has more than doubled as population has climbed sharply.) The burden for renewable energy expansion, I concluded, would therefore remain on the six categories I mentioned at the outset of my presentation.

At our current rate of transitioning to renewable energy, it will take 400 years to transform the energy system

As if to underline this worrisome state of affairs, the MIT Technology Review just days later published a piece with a rather longish title: “At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system.”

YIKES! — US Energy Department projects that world fossil fuel consumption will rise through 2050

In my presentation I had explained to my listeners that renewable energy is not currently displacing fossil fuel capacity, but rather supplementing it. In fact, I related, the U.S. government’s own Department of Energy with no sense of alarm whatsoever projects that world fossil fuel consumption will actually rise through 2050. This would represent a climate catastrophe, I told my audience, and cannot be allowed to happen.

After decades of warnings, debates and clean-energy campaigns, little has been done to confront the problem

And yet, the MIT piece affirms that this is our destination on our current trajectory. The author writes that “even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.”

What would it take to reduce greenhouse gases?

All this merely serves to elicit the question: What would it take to do what scientists think we need to do to reduce greenhouse gases?

MIT suggests total global mobilization maintained for decades to avoid catastrophic climate change

The MIT piece suggests that a total mobilization of society akin to what happened in World War II would have to occur and be maintained for decades to accomplish the energy transition we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But who would agree to embark on such a radical mobilization? Certainly not our current crop of politicians and largely misguided public

Few people alive today were alive back then. A somewhat larger group has parents who lived through World War II and so have some inkling of what such a mobilization would involve. It’s hard enough to imagine this group agreeing that their household consumption should be curtailed significantly for decades (through taxes, higher prices and perhaps even rationing) to make way for huge societal investments in vast new wind and solar deployments; electricity storage for all that renewable electricity; mass transit; deep energy retrofits for buildings; energy-efficient vehicles; and even revised diets that are less meat-intensive and thereby less energy-intensive. Even harder to imagine is the much larger group with a more tenuous or nonexistent connection to the World War II experience embracing such a path.

The ever-worsening climate crisis will not wait for humanity to take action

The trouble with waiting, of course, is that climate change does not wait for us, and also that it shows up with multi-decadal lags. The effects of greenhouse gases emitted decades ago are only now registering on the world’s thermometers. That means that when climate conditions finally become so destructive as to move the public and the politicians to do something big enough to make a difference, it will likely be too late to avoid catastrophic climate change.

A rise of more than 2°C in global temperature is all but inevitable

One scientist cited by the MIT piece believes that a rise of more than 2°C in global temperature is all but inevitable and that human society would be “lucky” to avoid a rise of 4°C by 2100.

We are beyond “prevention” of a 2°C rise; nevertheless, mitigation and adaptation are better than waiting

But since each increment of temperature rise will inflict more damage, the scientist says, we would be wise to seek to limit temperature rise as much as we are able (even though the odds are now overwhelmingly against staying below a 2 degree rise). No longer are we faced with prevention. [The best we can hope for is] mitigation and management. That’s still something, and it provides a way forward that doesn’t rely on an increasingly unrealistic goal.

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