“Imagine that instead of fearing climate change, we planned for it, embraced it, and funded it,” climate activist Tara Shine offered last week.
The mistaken belief that “it is too late” to act has been co-opted by fossil fuel interests and those who defend them. This is another way to legitimize the status quo.
One tactic is to push the idea that renewable energy will harm the environment. A key example is the supposed threat that wind turbines pose to birds. Climate change is a far greater threat to bird populations than wind turbines and risks can be minimized by locating wind farms away from migration routes.
“Wind turbine syndrome” – a range of conditions including lung cancer, skin cancer, haemorrhoids, weight gain or loss has been suggested, without any scientific basis, to be caused by close proximity to wind farms. Donald Trump was quoted in The Washington Post (2019) as suggesting that wind farms “cause cancer”.
Solar energy has been suggested as being harmful to the environment. While solar panels have an environmental footprint – in terms of land use, water use, potential release of hazardous materials during manufacturing – that footprint is tiny compared to the environmental impact of fuels. fossils – coal, natural gas and oil.
Energy poverty is another argument based on the mistaken premise that lack of access to fossil fuels is the main threat to people in the developing world. In most developing countries, renewable energy in the form of solar and hydroelectric power is much more convenient because it does not require massive power plants and hundreds of miles of power lines.
One million people have been displaced by drought in Somalia according to figures from aid agencies released this month, after four consecutive failed rainy seasons in the Horn of Africa and a fifth rainy season expected to fail more late this year.
Another scaremongering tactic is to suggest that renewables will kill jobs. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said there were twelve million renewable energy jobs in 2020 – this compares to a dying coal industry with jobs disappearing due to increased automation as well as competition from cheaper energy sources.
The suggestion is made that renewables simply won’t work. The wind does not always blow and the sun is very often blocked by clouds, especially in winter when heating is essential. And batteries don’t have infinite storage capacity.
Michael Mann in(2021) state that smart grid sources have overcome these limitations – not just in the future, but now.
US Energy Administration data identifies seven countries with or near 100% renewable energy – Iceland (100%), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98, 5), Austria (80), Brazil (75%). ) and Denmark (69.4).
Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, or it can be cooled into a liquid — liquefied natural gas (LNG). Heavily promoted by Trump in the US and by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – even as the bushfires raged in the summer of 2020 – it was branded “bridge fuel” to wean us off fuels at more carbon intensive like coal as we develop renewable energy.
Note the ongoing discussion on the need for LNG terminals in Ireland, at Tarbert and Whitegate.
As a greenhouse gas, natural gas is a fossil fuel – methane is almost a hundred times more potent as a greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide over twenty years. Evidence shows us that the peak in atmospheric methane levels over the past few decades is responsible for as much as 25% of the warming over this period. The increased use of natural gas for power generation is likely to crowd out investment in a true zero-carbon solution in the power sector – renewables. The solution to a fossil fuel problem cannot be a fossil fuel.
Clean coal is another suggestion for delaying the switch from fossil fuels – sequestering the carbon dioxide released by coal in power plants and burying it – carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Evidence shows that this is an expensive waste of time, capturing teaspoons rather than shovelfuls of coal pulled from the ground.
And geoengineering? The possibility of unintended consequences is crucial – a botched attempt at bioengineering cannot be fixed. Blowing reflective sulfate aerosols into the stable upper part of the atmosphere where they would reside for years could have adverse climate effects, including blocking the escape of thermal energy from Earth’s surface – the simulations climate models indicate that the continents would potentially become drier with worsening droughts. There is also a risk of sulfate particles reaching the Earth’s surface, leading to acidification of rivers and lakes. We have already seen the results of acid rain.
Iron fertilization of the oceans – generating phytoplankton which absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis – by dusting iron dust in the ocean. When phytoplankton die, they tend to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Experiments have shown that the system doesn’t really work – there’s also a real risk of ‘red tide’ algal blooms that create ocean dead zones. So no – not a runner.
Trees that remove carbon from the atmosphere and artificial enhancement of rock weathering are other costly non-currents in terms of actual impact on carbon emissions.
Could reforestation and regenerative agriculture significantly reduce carbon emissions? Michael Mann insuggests that at best these techniques could remove 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Currently, we produce 55 billion tons per year through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. This means that carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise, just at about half the rate.
With wildfires becoming an increasingly prevalent feature of summers in Australia, the United States and Europe, any carbon sequestration by forests could easily be lost.
Nuclear power is also a freshly debated option. Challenges include the safe and long-term disposal of nuclear waste; environmental and human threats posted by potential accidents or war – as is currently being played out in Ukraine. Climate change itself poses increased risks for nuclear power plants. Extreme droughts, such as in France this summer, led to reactor shutdowns as the surrounding waters became too hot to provide the necessary cooling.
Peer-reviewed research authoritatively demonstrates that using current renewable energy and energy storage technologies – we could meet 80% of global energy demand by 2030 and 100% by 2050 – through increased energy efficiency, electrification of all energy sectors and grid decarbonization through a combination of generation sources, including solar and residential rooftop solar power plants, onshore and offshore wind farms , wave energy, geothermal energy and hydroelectric and tidal energy. The precise mix of technologies would depend on location, season and time of day.
We don’t need miracles. The solution is already there. Just deploy it quickly and at scale. It depends on political will and economic incentives. Being able to debunk myths eases the path to 100% renewable energy over the next two decades.