Switching to clean energy will take a massive social change

Global climate change, driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, is already affecting the planet, with more heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods, and accelerating sea-level rise.

Devastating impacts on our environment, health, social justice, food production, coastal city infrastructure and economies cannot be avoided if we maintain a slow and steady transition to a zero-carbon society.

According to Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, we need an emergency response.

A big part of this response needs to be transforming the energy sector, the principal contributor to global warming in Australia and many other developed countries.

Many groups have put forward ideas to transition the energy sector away from carbon. But what are the key ingredients?

Technology is the easy bit
At first glance the solution appears straightforward. Most of the technologies and skills we need – renewable energy, energy efficiency, a new transmission line, railways, cycleways, urban design – are commercially available and affordable. In theory these could be scaled up rapidly.

But in practice there are several big, non-technical barriers. These include politics dominated by vested interests, culture, and institutions (organizational structures, laws, and regulations).Greenpeace activists demonstrating

Vested interests include the fossil fuel industry, electricity sector, aluminum smelting, concrete, steel and motor vehicles. Governments that receive taxation revenue and political donations from vested interests are reluctant to act effectively.

To overcome this barrier, we need strong and growing pressure from the climate action movement.

There are numerous examples of nonviolent social change movements the climate movement can learn from. Examples include the Indian freedom struggle led by Gandhi; the African-American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr; the Philippine People Power Revolution; and the unsuccessful Burmese uprising of 1988-90.

Several authors, including Australian climate scientist Matthew England, point out that nations made rapid socioeconomic changes during wartime and that such an approach could be relevant to rapid climate mitigation.

Learning from war
UNSW PhD candidate Laurence Delina has investigated the rapid, large, socio-economic changes made by several countries just before and during World War 2.

He found that we can learn from wartime experience in changing the labor force and finance.

However, he also pointed out the limitations of the wartime metaphor for rapid climate mitigation:

  • Governments may need extraordinary emergency powers to implement rapid mitigation, but these are unlikely to be invoked unless there is support from a large majority of the electorate.
  • While such support is almost guaranteed when a country is engaged in a defensive war, it seems unlikely for climate action in countries with powerful vested interests in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Vested interests and genuinely concerned people will exert pressure on governments to direct their policies and resources predominantly towards adaptation measures such as sea walls, and dangerous quick fixes such as geoengineering. While adaptation must not be neglected, mitigation, especially by transforming the energy sector, should be primary.

Unfortunately it’s much easier to make war than to address the global climate crisis rapidly and effectively. Indeed many governments of “democratic” countries, including Australia, make war without parliamentary approval.

Follow the leaders!

According to Climate Action Tracker, the 158 climate pledges submitted to the United Nations by December 8 2015 would result in around 2.7℃ of warming in 2100 – and that’s provided that all governments meet their pledge.

Nevertheless, inspiring case studies from individual countries, states and cities could lead the way to a better global outcome.

Greenpeace activists fly a hot air balloon depicting the globe next to the Eiffel Tower ahead of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference COP21Iceland, with its huge hydroelectric and geothermal resources, already has 100% renewable electricity and 87% renewable heat.

Denmark, with no hydro, is on track to achieve its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035.

Germany, with modest hydro, is heading for at least 80% renewable electricity by 2050, but is behind with its renewable heat and transport programs.

It’s easier for small regions to reach 100% renewable electricity, provided that they trade electricity with their neighbors. The north German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein are generating more than 100% net of their electricity from renewables.

The Australian Capital Territory is on track to achieve its 100% renewable electricity target by 2020. There are also many towns and cities on programs towards the 100% goal.

If the climate action movement can build its strength and influence, it may be possible for the state of Tasmania to achieve 100% renewable energy (electricity, heat and transport) and for South Australia to reach 100% renewable electricity, both within a decade.

But the eastern mainland states, which depend heavily on coal for electricity, will need to build new renewable energy manufacturing industries and to train a labor force that includes many more highly trained engineers, electricians, systems designers, IT specialists and plumbers, among others.

Changes will be needed to the National Electricity Market rules, or at least to rewrite the National Electricity Objective to highlight renewable energy, a slow task that must obtain the agreement of federal, state and territory governments.

Australia has the advantage of huge renewable energy resources, sufficient to create a substantial export industry, but the disadvantage of a declining manufacturing sector.

There are already substantial job opportunities in renewable energy, both globally and in Australia. These can be further expanded by manufacturing components of the technologies, especially those that are expensive to ship between continents, such as large wind turbine blades, bulk insulation and big mirrors.

Chinese solar power on the waterTransport will take longer to transform than electricity generation and heat. Electric vehicle manufacturing is in the early stage of expansion and rail transport infrastructure cannot be built overnight, especially in car-dependent cities.

For air transport and long-distance road transport, the only short-term solution is biofuels, which have environmental and resource constraints.

How long would it take?
The timescale for the transition to 100% renewable energy – electricity, heat and transport – depends on each country or region and the commitment of its governments.

Scenario studies (see also here), while valuable for exploring technological strategies for change, are not predictions. Their results depend upon assumptions about the non-technical strategies I have discussed. They cannot predict the timing of changes.

Governments need to agree on a strategy for transitioning that focuses not just on the energy sector, but includes industry, technology, labor, financial institutions, governance and the community.

Everyone should be included in developing this process, apart from dyed-in-the-wool vested interests. This process could draw upon the strengths of the former Ecologically Sustainable Development process while avoiding its shortcomings.

The task is by no means easy. What we need is a strategic plan and to implement it rapidly.


Written by Mark Diesendorf for The Conversation

Mark Diesendorf for The Conversation

Q&A: Why do so many people think that climate change is a scam?

Question by It’s him again: Why do so many people think that climate change is a scam?
Surely 98% of the world’s scientists wouldn’t deliberately conspire together to mislead the public?
Actually it’s nearer 98.5%.
100s of scientists may argue against climate change but many thousands of scientists agree with the findings.

Best answer:

Answer by kill miss levine
They’re un-educated..or they don’t care.

What do you think? Answer below!

What is more likely: That various governments paid off 97% of climatologists to say global warming is man-made?

Question by Gods bless the USA A.R.T.: What is more likely: That various governments paid off 97% of climatologists to say global warming is man-made?
Or that oil companies paid off 3% to say it isn’t?

Who has more to make from this deal? A government who could possibly gain a slight economic advantage by creating jobs in alternative energy or whatever? Or an oil company which stands to lose tens of billions of dollars because usage of their product is literally making the globe unsafe for humans to live on?

And if government were indeed paying off scientists, it would be a worldwide conspiracy. Only a handful of climate scientists reject global warming, there are tens of thousands of climate scientists around the globe who all agree it is indeed being accelerated by man’s actions. Do people really think a conspiracy theory with tens of thousands of people involved is possible to maintain?

Best answer:

Answer by Duke
Lol, people still believe in man made global warming.

What do you think? Answer below!

Q&A: Will hydrogen powered vehicles cause climate changes if they become widsespread?

Question by Sethers: Will hydrogen powered vehicles cause climate changes if they become widsespread?
It seems to me that if hydrogen powered vehicles are emitting water vapor into the atmosphere this would have some sort of effect on the climate if they ever became as widespread as gas powered vehicles are today. Increased humidity seems like the most logical result. I can see this having some environmental effects especially in places that are more arid such as the southwest desert cities. What do you think?

Best answer:

Answer by Mista Ricksta
They will. The point will be that it WON’T be that EVIL CO2 gas that does it! H2O vapor is a WORSE global warming gas than CO2 is, too, but people pushing “environmentally friendly” cars or fuels aren’t going to tell you this!

On the plus side, you CAN remove H2O vapor from the air rather easily – easier than you can remove CO2 gas. The air does this ALL by itself too when it gets cold!

Add your own answer in the comments!

How will wind turbines affect the climate?

Question by Dr.T: How will wind turbines affect the climate?
I see that that East Anglia Offshore Wind, Ltd. is going to develop a 7.2GW wind farm. This begs the question: if the turbines are approximately 50% efficient then how will the reduction in wind energy by approximately 15GW affect the climate in the region around the wind farm?

Best answer:

Answer by Razek L
Wind turbines make noise pollution

Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments!

Climate Change Conspiracy ?

I’m sick of people ignoring climate change. Ignoring it has been facilitated by fossil fuel funded efforts to spread doubt and uncertainty about the science behind climate change. Thus, we’re all confused about climate change, and give up even thinking about it let alone acting to stop it. What sort of conspiracy? Well, have a look at the so-called ‘climate-gate’ situ for a start. The media focused on a few emails that had been badly written by a few scientists. I think they missed the bigger picture — who dug out those emails? Who leaked them to the press? Why did we not see an inquiry into that to see what their motivation was? I’ll bet this is just muck-raking by fossil fuel interests. That’s a bigger story, to me, particularly as the climate science in question has been shown to be robust. Another good example of a fossil fuel conspiracy against climate change is the Global Warming Policy Foundation. This group is clearly funded by fossil fuel interests to spread doubt about climate change science. Human-made climate change is now a scientific fact. If you encounter a group claiming otherwise, ask yourself — why?
Video Rating: 3 / 5

Curbing nuclear power worldwide: bad news for climate change or window of opportunity?

Nuclear Power Plant Doel Antwerp
Image by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

Curbing nuclear power worldwide: bad news for climate change or window of opportunity?
BANGKOK – Worldwide calls to curb nuclear power amid Japan’s plant crisis could be bad news for the environment unless nations finally go all-out to tap wind, solar and other clean, renewable energy, climate change negotiators and activists say.
Read more on Brandon Sun

Poland determined to build nuclear power stations
Poland’s centre-right government wants first two nuclear reactors to produce a tenth of the country’s energy Poland is determined to push on with plans to build its first generation of nuclear power stations over the next decade despite the Japanese reactor crisis sparking a global reassessment of the controversial energy source. In an interview, Treasury minister Aleksander Grad told the …
Read more on Guardian Unlimited

Can nuclear power address climate change quickly and on budget? Everything Nuclear Video

www.everythingnuclear.org A billion dollars lost at Three Mile Island; new reactors billions over budget and years behind schedule–can nuclear power solve climate change quickly? Features former NRC commissioner Peter Bradford, economist Jim Harding and utility exec Ed Smeloff. DONATE NOW to support our outreach work at npo.networkforgood.org View the entire documentary from its home page: www.everythingnuclear.org Brought to you by The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility http

KQED Climate Watch: Geothermal Energy

Geothermal Energy – Calipatria, CA CalEnergy Vice President Mark Gran introduces the companys 340 megawatt geothermal plant on the southern shore of the Salton Sea. The plant produces enough energy to power around 300000 homes. The Imperial Valley has the potential to produce a stunning 2300 megawatts of this renewable resource. Thats enough energy to power more than 2 million homes. One major challenge is building transmission lines to deliver that energy to the large, urban areas that need it. Video by KQED’s Rob Schmitz. www.kqed.org/climatewatch

Is Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship a role model for Climate Change Deniers?

“Yes, this is the same Don Blankenship, Chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth-largest coal company in the US, who threatened to shoot an ABC reporter seeking an interview and who last December went on a bizarre rant about climate change and conspiracy theories suggesting that climate legislation would be the equivalent of helping Osama Bin Laden and creating Chinese-communist style control over the US.”

“The disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine has focused attention on the business and safety practices of the owner, Massey Energy, a powerful and politically connected company in Appalachia known for producing big profits, as well as big piles of safety and environmental violations and big damage awards for grieving widows.”

Is AGW policy more important than climate science?

First, I am not talking about power, money or a new world order or global governance.

Let’s assume some have general policy goals and beliefs that seek to address: overpopulation, excessive growth, wealth distribution imbalances, peak oil and other resource depletions, etc.

If the above is true, then could those type of people believe that implementing CO2 policies which may address some of the above issues outweighs any science that shows CO2 may not be a major climate driver?

And I’m also trying to avoid conspiracy theory types of arguments. However, I am more interested in looking at persuasion like the type my Grandma used to do to me when I was young. A good example was she told me not to pick my scab because it would give me cancer. Picking a scab is not a good idea but it’s not life threatening. However, making it life threatening makes it more likely to be adhered to. Is this a possible analogy to the current AGW scare?
N – Lothringer Bur- You are obviously oblivious to a concept called “Burden of Proof”

And several of you are also oblivious to what I am asking here. I am not arguing about the state of climate science and whether it is strong or weak. I’m asking if it really matters if it’s strong or weak.
Baccheus- While I don’t agree with your AGW stance (and I’m not sure of your answer here either), thank you for at least answering what I was actually asking.
Dawei-Again, thanks for answering what I was actually asking. What you stated has brought up two more questions. Are CO2 emission reductions the only type of policy to fight AGW? And, what would be the consequences of large CO2 reductions on society in general and specifically? And will it affect different countries/demographics differently?