Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Falling Dangerously Behind the Power Curve

The good news:

Alternative energy is making great strides...

The sobering news:

even as it continues to fall ever further behind the growth in fossil fuel consumption.

National Observer climate change scribe, Barry Saxifrage, has a way for deflating our alternative energy dreams. He's an avid supporter of alternative, clean energy but warns that reality shows clean energy losing to fossil fuels with no end in sight.

I read lots of articles these days pointing to the rapid expansion of renewable energy as a reason to be hopeful about our unfolding climate crisis. Unfortunately, the climate doesn't care how many solar panels and wind farms we build.

What determines our climate fate is how much climate-polluting fossil fuels we decide to burn. Renewables are great but only if they actually replace oil, gas, or coal. Sadly, rising renewables haven't stopped our fossil fuel burn, or our atmosphere's CO2 from continuing to rise. Instead, the new business-as-usual is one in which we keep expanding both renewables and fossil fuels at the same time.

The best available science says we need climate pollution "reductions of 90 per cent or more between 2040 and 2070." (see International Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment report.)

But the latest energy data clearly shows we aren't reducing fossil fuel burn. Just the opposite. We keep cranking the tap open wider every year. In a recent article, I dug into the latest "BP Statistical Review of World Energy" to illustrate the climate-sobering fossil fuel side of this story:

- Fossil fuel use continues to rise every year
- Fossil fuels continue to supply at least 85 per cent of global energy use
- Oil and gas are expanding more than other energy sources

Using the BP statistical review, Saxifrage came up with this graphic:

The orange line shows the increase in global energy demand since 2009.

Compare all that new demand to the top green line showing the increase in renewable energy. As you can see, renewables expanded only enough to cover about a quarter
(more like a third) of new demand.

The lesson in this? Hans Joachim Schellnhuber meant exactly what he said at the conclusion of the 2015 climate summit in Paris. He warned that our only hope of achieving the target of limiting anthropogenic global warming to 1.5 degrees depended on an "induced implosion" of the fossil energy industry. By "induced" he meant direct government action to rapidly shut down the extraction, sale and consumption of fossil fuels. A massive, collective effort by the world's governments to drive a transition to alternative clean energy.

The simple fact is that we can't win this by believing in unicorns - or Trudeau or Scheer or whoever becomes the next NDP leader.


Lorne said...

I have long been of the view, Mound, that two things, both interconnected, doom us regarding climate change: our governments' absolute refusal to instill in their populations any sense of urgency over the crisis, and their related refusal to take any of the drastic actions needed to avert disaster. This is implicit in The Observer article.

A small carbon tax will accomplish absolutely nothing, but it gives our government the cover of pretending to be active on this file.

The Mound of Sound said...

This World Energy Council report demonstrates that our predicament of projected growth in consumption of fossil fuels is essentially nihilistic. We face impossible growth not only in overall numbers but in per capita consumption. We cannot or choose not to divide the resource pie equitably now and the chasm between haves and have nots will probably worsen as the ranks of the haves are swelled with newcomers.

When Justin and Cathy made such a splash in their debut at the Paris Climate Summit I wondered if they, or most other leaders, had even heard Schellnhuber's warnings about the need for an "induced implosion" of the fossil energy system. That's not going to happen when the political thinking holds that economic growth must never be impaired by adaptation or mitigation initiatives. That subordinates climate change in priority to the very forces worsening the problem.

As you suggest the proof of this lies in the gestural responses we get such as paltry, ineffective proposals for carbon taxes.


Hugh said...

The $50 per ton target Federal carbon tax would mean $8 carbon tax per fill up, I figure. We'll just pay it.

The govt needs to start rationing to cap gasoline and diesel sales, then ramp it down say 5% every year.