Of Course We’re Heading For an Era of Renewable Energy

Michael Klare is wrong. He wrote a pessimistic piece on Al Jazeera last month titled “How to fry the planet”. The subtitle is “Don’t imagine for a second we’re heading for an era of renewable energy.”

I am imagining exactly that all the time. And I’ll say it again. We’re heading for an era of renewable energy.

Of course renewable energy will eventually replace fossil fuel. We are burning the stuff over five million times the rate of reproduction, so it will run out sooner or later. It takes 5.3 million years to restore the fossil fuel humanity is burning in one year.

The only question is how long it takes to happen. How much of the treasure will be gone in the next couple of decades, and how much CO2 is going to get blown into the atmosphere?

Fortunately, even if humanity quickly burns through all of the fossil fuel, under James Hansen’s new theory there is no danger of causing a “Venus syndrome” type of runaway global warming. We will only increase temperatures by about 25 degrees on average, leaving lots of areas on the planet still habitable.

So we won’t actually “fry” the planet.

Klare’s pessimism comes from IEA statistics that project investments for renewable and nuclear energy to be only $7.32 trillion between 2012 and 2030. In contrast, oil alone will attract $10.32 trillion in investment, and all fossil fuel will get $22.87 trillion.

Assuming that the IEA is right, these numbers are actually not bad.  That $7.32 trillion would be 24%, which is more than the share in the energy mix they have now, which is 19% (81% fossil fuel share, according to the IEA).

But I don’t think the IEA is right in their projections. I am much more optimistic.

Anyway, Klare recommends to “demonise those who choose to invest in these fuels rather than their green alternatives”.

That’s the divestment strategy 350.org and Bill McKibben recommend, and it is wrong.

The correct thing to do is to point out that investing less in new production capacity increases profits for the fossil fuel industry (phaseout profit theory). Once they understand that, they will reduce their investments, reduce their costs, drive up prices of their products as well as the profit per unit. 

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