Every answer has a cost. Every choice exacts a penalty. A new book reminds readers there are no easy answers to the climate crisis.
Resolving the climate crisis demands radical political change, a British author argues: the end of free market capitalism.
You could turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant wind farm and it still wouldn’t generate all of the UK’s current energy demand. That is because only 2% of the solar energy that slams into and powers the whole planet on a daily basis is converted into wind, and most of that is either high in the jet stream or far out to sea.
Hydropower could in theory supply most of or perhaps even all the energy needs of 7 billion humans, but only if every drop that falls as rain was saved to power the most perfectly efficient turbines.
And that too is wildly unrealistic, says Mike Berners-Lee in his thoughtful and stimulating new paperback There Is No Planet B. He adds: “Thank goodness, as it would mean totally doing away with mountain streams and even, if you really think about it, hillsides.”
This is a book for people who really want to think about the state of the world, and how to get to zero-carbon emissions as swiftly as possible, and in a way that preserves a decent life for the 11 billion or so who will people the planet by 2050. And, of course, everything boils down to energy
Enough for everyone.
The sun delivers around 16,300 kilowatts to the Earth’s surface for every person on the planet: enough, he says, to boil an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water for each and every one.
Solar panels that covered just 0.1% of the total land surface (think of a small country just 366 kilometres square) could meet all of today’s human energy needs. But human demand for energy is growing at 2.4% a year. If this goes on, then in 300 years, human demand would need solar panels over every square metre of land surface.
The message from every page of this book is that we need to think, and think again. We could of course think about using the energy we have more efficiently, but history suggests there might be a catch.
The catch is now called the Jevons Paradox, after William Stanley Jevons who in 1863 (he was thinking at the time about the exploitation of coal) pointed out that energy efficiency tends to lead to increases in demand, because that’s how humans respond to plenty: they want even more of it.
“Fit for purpose democracy entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good”
So we don’t just have to think again, we have to rethink the whole basis of human behaviour. This means switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, abandoning plastic packaging, and cutting down on air travel (powered by biofuels, if we must, but the biofuel business is lunacy – he uses the word “bonkers” – in energy terms).
But these are small things. The big and not necessarily entirely popular message of the book is that we must change politically. Free market capitalism or neoliberalism or any pursuit entirely and only for profit cannot deliver answers to the coming climate crisis.
Professor Berners-Lee takes a lesson from simple physics: wealth is, or ought to be, shared the way kinetic energy is shared around the planet.
When molecules of a gas collide, they redistribute energy, just as when people catch a bus or buy a sandwich, they redistribute wealth. The Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law says that you rarely get one atom or molecule with more than 10 times the average energy, and almost never with more than 20 times the average energy.
And if human wealth was distributed according to the same law the total wealth would not change, and some people would still be richer than others, but the median wealth – the income of the person right in the middle – would be a massive 79% of the mean or average. That’s better than the share of wealth in the fair nation of Iceland. So it would be a manifestly fairer world.
If the world shared its wealth (and wealth is a proxy for energy resources) more fairly, then it might be a great deal easier to be sure of democratic assent and international co-operation for radical shifts in the way we manage our food, water, transport and our precarious natural wealth in the form of biodiversity: all the wild birds, mammals, fish amphibians, reptiles, plants, fungi and microbes on which humankind ultimately depends.
The above is just a small sample of a rich, thought-provoking and easy-to-enjoy text. Berners-Lee doesn’t have all the answers, and admits as much, but he does know how to frame a lot of questions in illuminating ways.
He has packed his book with explanatory notes, supporting evidence and definitions, one of them being the case for democracy in the world of the Anthropocene.
“Fit for purpose democracy”, he warns, “entails not just voting but accurate information, and a widespread sense of responsibility for the common good.” A book like this could help us get there. − Climate News NetworkThis Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network
About the Author
Tim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities.
Book by this Author:
Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon
Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy
by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein
In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
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