I recommend watching this video of a talk by Glen Peters arguing that keeping global temperature increases to 2 °C is no longer plausible.
Peters’ arguments may be pessimistic, but they are hard to argue with. As I said last year limiting temperature increases to 2 °C will effectively require us to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure in the next few years, or prematurely retiring existing infrastructure at an unthinkable rate. Neither of these things are credible.
Right now more new fossil fuel infrastructure is being added each year than ever before. The idea that the required reversal is going to occur is delusional.
The alternative to the near cessation of building new fossil fuel infrastructure within a decade, as Peters points out, is to build vast amounts of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This technology does not exist, may not even be low carbon and will require vast amounts of land that will inevitably clash with the requirement to provide improved diets for the 9 billion or so people living by the of the century. Large-scale BECCS is not something to rely on.
Now, the obvious retort to all of this is to point to some study or other showing how it is technically and economically feasible to do all this. All we lack is political will. Political will! The resort to cliché is always a sure sign someone is on weak intellectual ground. And there is no bigger cliché in climate change than the claim that “all we lack is political will”. If we had the political will, here are a few things we could end quite quickly: racism, sexism, homophobia, religious superstition, poverty, rape, and herbal tea.
Yes, from a technical point of view we can do certain things. The question here is whether we will.
A couple of weeks ago a study was published in PLOS ONE claiming that nuclear power plants could fully displace the world’s fossil fuel electricity generation within three decades. Clearly all we lack is the political will.
Well, let’s look at some basic facts. Nuclear energy is dead in half of Europe, legally dead that is.
Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland et al. will not be replacing their fossil fuel electricity generation with nuclear power plants in the next three decades. Neither will Japan. Neither will Australia, where nuclear energy is still illegal. We may, rightly, argue that climate change is a much bigger threat than the risks from nuclear power plants. In the eyes of vast numbers of people nuclear power plants are one of history’s great evils. This nonsense, coming from such misguided individuals as E.F. Schumacher, may die off eventually, but there are no signs that this death is imminent.
Meanwhile, aesthetic reactionaries and NIMBYs are doing what they can to stop onshore wind farms. The new British government effectively wants to block all new onshore wind farms. They would be happier with the landscape being blighted by ghastly neo-Georgian towns erected by Prince Charles than anything that looks as if it built after the age of Edison. Laws are now being erected in countries such as France, or regions like Bavarian, which will put strict restrictions on where wind farms can be placed. Destroying the planet to protect a view.
Clearly all we lack is the political will.
China, of course, is proving us pessimists wrong. Peak coal has been reached in China. 2 degrees is back on the cards.So we now hear.
Well, right now China has over 100 GW of coal power plants under construction. And it is gearing up to build at least double that when those plants are completed. If you believe coal is peaking in China, I have a bridge to sell you.
David Roberts of Vox, a man don’t often agree with, put it correctly:
The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.
I will be back tomorrow with some good news.