What’s wrong with Renewables?

OK then, what is wrong with renewable energy? Well, if you can say what is bigger than the Universe and more powerful than God, then you already know… However, if you are not sure, the answer is depicted in the image below. OK, so that was rather predictable but, if so, why are we still burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide in ever greater amounts? Since the Industrial Revolution, we have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from 280 to 390 ppm, which is a 39% increase in 250 years. However, the average rate of increase is meaningless – what is significant is that over the last 60 years the rate of increase has continued to accelerate (3 ppm in the last 12 months alone). This may prompt you to ask where we would be if we had not been talking about climate change for the last 20 years? I suspect things might well be marginally worse by now, but this too is irrelevant. What is important is what we do now. Now that we know we have pushed the Earth’s climate system to the very edge of stability; now that we know that we have pushed the Earth’s ecosystem to the limits of its capacity; now that we know what Limits to Growth might well mean for both us and the environment… What are we going to do about it? Well, how about rapidly investing in existing/workable alternative technologies such as any or all of the following: — Biogas and Energy from Waste; — Biofuels from Algae; — Tidal Stream power; — 24/7 Solar power (using parabolic mirrors to focus energy and capacitors to store and release energy at night). In the longer-term, given that the Earth’s human population is likely to keep growing for several decades yet (by between 30 and 50%), we may also need to consider obtaining most of our food from plants rather than meat (because doing so is much more energy-efficient) and most of our energy from nuclear fission (i.e. Fast Breeder Reactors) or nuclear fusion (i.e. with no waste and no radioactivity). One thing is clear, however, we are not short of alternatives to fossil fuels! This might be bad news for fossil fuel companies but really all they need to do is diversify. BP had the right idea a few years ago, when they changed their name to Beyond Petroleum. Unfortunately, as a result of Climategate (or whatever the reason was), they changed their mind and decided that such a revolutionary idea was not necessary; and have quietly reverted to Plan A. To hell with the planet, hey guys?

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Consumerism, Ecological Modernisation, Economics, Energy Crisis, Environment, Ethics, Fossil Fuels, Limits to Growth, Mass Extinctions, Modernity, Philosophy, Politics, Renewable Energy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What’s wrong with Renewables?

  1. pendantry says:

    While I agree with you completely that there is absolutely nothing wrong with renewables: 1. s/we have pushed the Earth’s climate system to the very edge stability/we have pushed the Earth’s climate system to the very edge of stability/ 2. “BP […] changed their name to Beyond Petroleum” — Wikipedia claims they didn’t do this: “In 2001, the company formally renamed itself as BP plc and adopted the tagline “Beyond Petroleum,” which remains in use today. It states that BP was never meant to be an abbreviation of its tagline.” (I tried to get more information from the BP website, but all I could find was an implication that this was the case: “In a press release announcing the change, the group said it had decided to retain the BP name because of its recognition around the world and because it stood for the new company’s aspirations: ‘better people, better products, big picture, beyond petroleum.’”). 3. I know I’m probably getting boring on this point, but: “we may also need to consider obtaining […] most of our energy from nuclear fission (i.e. Fast Breeder Reactors) or nuclear fusion (i.e. with no waste and no radioactivity)” — science fiction, Rick. Neither FBRs nor nuclear fusion power are currently viable, nor is there any real evidence they ever will be. The reason I keep harping upon this is that I believe that it is a serious mistake to promote vapourware, when our very future depends upon making good choices, where in the past we have continued to make very poor ones. In many cases, the reason we have made bad choices is because the public has been hoodwinked into not causing a fuss by vested interests. See for instance The Merchants of Doubt and Eradicating Ecocide. Here’s hoping you see my point — though I suspect you’ll continue to maintain that a breakthrough on these technologies is ‘imminent’ (as the pushers have been promising for years…).

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    • Rick_Altman says:

      Pendantry, If you have been following Climate Denial Crock of the Week, You will know that I have got seriously fed-up with Blue Rock for attacking my position w.r.t. nuclear energy. So, thank you for doing so in a much more friendly way. Firstly, FBR is not “vapourware”. It is a technology we gave up on 20 years ago because of anti-nuclear hysteria and the fact that it is cheaper to carry-on the deeply unpleasant practice of mining uranium. Secondly, nuclear fusion is now very close to being reality at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California. However, the reason I will not give up on nuclear for spurious ideological reasons is that unless we are going to allow the wholesale industrialisation of the countryside, renewable energy sources will never be able to meet global energy demandsif we stop burning all fossil fuels (see graph). Merchants of Doubt is one of my favourite books but, thanks for the link to Eradicating Ecocide. P.S. As ever, thanks for spotting all the typos. 🙂

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  2. Donald says:

    They shall never stop burning fossil fuels unless they are given an alternative method. We need to find one, we need to look for it, wishing does us no good. Active involvement is what we need from everybody, In Australia alone it would be impossible to stop burning coal as the companies that mine it virtually rule the country and will use all their power to continue mining. Step 1 has got to be to remove all power from these companies 😦

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    • jpgreenword says:

      I believe that two major changes (within individual countries) are essential to getting us off of fossil fuels. The first (and probably less pleasant) is a carbon tax. The second is getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies (which are globally about six times greater than subsidies to renewables). Those two changes together would give renewable energy the cost advantage required to begin a quicker transition away from fossil fuels. I wrote a paper about the island of Samso, in Denmark (4300 people). They reduced their carbon footprint by 140% in ten years. And they were able to do it, in part, because in Denmark, policy such as subsidies, favors renewables.

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