Speaking of mankind's race to oblivion, I recently read a report that concluded that, with population en route to 9+ billion, in order to reach the UN's development goals to end poverty and, even with the development of alternative energy, by 2050 we'll need about three times more energy than we consume today. More people of increasing affluence and consumption, it concluded, will still require vastly more fossil energy than we're burning today - possibly all of it.
How do we square this with the consensus that holds if we're to avoid breaking through the 2C 'never exceed' target we'll have to leave 80 per cent of known fossil energy reserves untouched, in the ground?
That might have been on Myles Allen's mind. The Oxford professor of climate dynamics says we have to go for climate capture and sequestration technology and bugger the cost.
Prof Allen said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions by other means, such as renewable energy generation, was important but would not get the world to its target of releasing no excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That goal of ‘net zero emissions’ was enshrined in last December’s Paris climate deal.
He added that sacrificing economic growth in the short term in order to pay for incremental emissions reduction could be counter-productive, if it prevented economies from growing to the extent needed for them to invest large amounts in CCS.
Prof Allen pointed to the UK, where current emissions reductions are slow, at an average of a few per cent a year, while economic growth measured by GDP is also averaging a few per cent a year at most, on long-term averages. He contrasted this with countries such as India, where economic growth is much higher, but emissions measured per capita remain low.
There it is. "Economic growth" as the solution to all our problems. We're already consuming renewables at 1.7 times the planet's replenishment rate so let's jack up the rate by which that's already increasing. Better yet, Doc Allen's thinking is that we shouldn't limit CCS just to underground caverns. We can pump more carbon into the oceans. Forget about the acidification problem. What's a little (lot) more dissolved carbon in our sea water?
This illustrates our conundrum. We're running out of good or even bad workable solutions. The proof of that is when you get CCS advocacy from guys like professor Allen. He focuses on one problem - neutralizing atmospheric carbon - but his solution does nothing to address overpopulation and even worsens our already lethal levels of over-consumption, perhaps even at the cost of our already acidified oceans.
Does it really matter whether we trigger another mass extinction through overpopulation and/or overconsumption and/or ocean acidification but we succeed at sequestering our atmospheric carbon emissions? Of course not - dead is dead. These are all existential threats. Solving one doesn't matter if you remain even more vulnerable to the other three or four (add war into the mix).