Alternative energy technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years and, while it wasn't part of our national conversation during the Heavy-Oil Harper era, the rest of the world was paying attention.
I was somewhat surprised, pleasantly so, when in August, 2014 the world's largest private bank, UBS, wrote to institutional investor clients advising them to get out of conventional power generation utilities. The bank's experts concluded that it would soon "be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and store surplus energy in their own buildings - even without subsidies." On the heels of the UBS report, Tesla unveiled its breakthrough home power storage system, the PowerWall. This was the indispensible missing link in making the bank's projections reality.
Writing in Foreign Policy, McKibben summarizes what's been going on with the developments in technology and why it may buy mankind, indeed all life on Earth, some critical extra time, which we're going to need more than most of us imagine.
"The action happened not in Paris, but in the streets and in engineering labs over the last half-decade and has changed the equation markedly since the failed talks at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009. Those talks weren’t just a failure, they were a fiasco — the world’s leaders came together and then came apart, with bizarre and frantic improvised meetings that produced a one-page memorandum with no targets or timetables. No nothing, except a vague pledge to keep the planet’s warming below 2 degrees Celsius. It made Munich look like a diplomatic masterstroke.
"Paris will go better. Not well enough to save the planet, but maybe just well enough to save our chances of saving the planet. Here’s why.
"First, engineers have upped their game. It’s been remarkable to watch the sudden acceleration of renewable technology in the last five years. We aren’t talking technical breakthroughs — we’re talking quantum improvements in manufacturing and installation: Germany’s smart decision to lead the renewables revolution led to Chinese manufacturers learning how to make cheap panels, which in turn led to tomorrow’s hoped-for technology becoming today’s no-brainer. The price of a solar panel has dropped over 80 percent since 2008. That’s the key destabilizing economic fact of our moment.
"That’s historic, that’s remarkable — and that’s also a disaster. A world that warms 3.5 degrees would not be a world with civilizations that resemble ours. In fact, even the longtime negotiating goal of 2 degrees (the only thing that participants in Copenhagen actually agreed on) is clearly too high. We’ve heated the planet 1 degree so far since the industrial age began, and the U.N. said in November that that has produced a world where 4.1 billion people have been affected by extreme weather disasters over the last 20 years. So far this fall we’ve seen the highest wind speeds and the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in a storm in the Western Hemisphere. We’ve seen two rare cyclones plow into Yemen — and they came a week apart, dropping the normal equivalent of 10 years of rain in a few hours. We’ve seen — well, I could go on. The point is, 1 degree has been enough to melt most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic, fundamentally destabilize the Antarctic ice sheets, and make the oceans 30 percent more acidic. And we’re hoping for 2 degrees? And aiming for 3.5?"
"After Paris, the score will be more like 60-30. Reality is beginning to catch up, but it’s not halftime anymore. We hope it’s the end of the third quarter, but there’s reason to believe it’s actually much later in the game. 2015 looks set to be the hottest year ever recorded and October the hottest month we’ve ever measured — indeed it smashed the old record by such large margins that nervous climatologists called it “stunning,” “shocking,” and potentially the start of a new, even more dangerous, phase for the planet’s temperature.
"So that’s Paris. We won’t win the climate fight; we won’t even come close. But at least we’ll know the score — and we’ll know how much we have to do in the next few crucial years."
McKibben offers us a pretty grim, sober assessment of how much and how little we can expect from the Paris climate summit. Reminds me of Churchill's line: "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning."
There's no chance we're getting out of this unscathed much less unchanged. Our readiness to accept, if not actually embrace change will determine how harsh the future will be for our kids and grandchildren. The sooner we act, the more effectively we act, the better it will be for them.