2020 Vision: Why You Should See the Fossil Fuel Peak Coming
a report by Kingsmill Bond
A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation
a report by the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation
Over the last decade, there has been a staggering fall in the price of solar and wind power, and of the lithium-ion batteries used to store energy. This has led to rapid expansion of these technologies, even though they are still used much less than fossil fuels: in 2017, for instance, sun and wind produced just 6 percent of the world’s electric supply, but they made up 45 percent of the growth in supply, and the cost of sun and wind power continues to fall by about 20 percent with each doubling of capacity. One analysis suggests that in the next few years, they will represent all the growth. We will then reach peak use of fossil fuels, not because we’re running out of them but because renewables will have become so cheap that anyone needing a new energy supply will likely turn to solar or wind power.
Over and over we’ve gotten scientific wake-up calls, and over and over we’ve hit the snooze button. If we keep doing that, climate change will no longer be a problem, because calling something a problem implies there’s still a solution.
As giant a consumer as the Pentagon is, its use of energy pales next to that of the civilian population of some three-hundred million Americans—let alone that of a couple of billion humans wealthy enough to consume lots of fossil fuel. Energy use is the result of a billion actions every minute of every day. But the military’s focus on energy use is uniquely important for other reasons. This ability could be harnessed more directly to help us build the new technologies and connect them in the systems necessary for a renewable energy age. The military-industrial complex may not be the single best place to conduct R&D, but given current political realities, it is likely to be one of the few places where it’s actually possible.
In 1980, I wrote my college newspaper endorsement of a man named Barry Commoner who was running for president. He was the candidate of the Citizens’ Party, a kind of precursor to the Greens, and since I was disgusted with both Carter and Reagan, and because he was an environmentalist well ahead of his time, I thought it made sense to back him. It made emotional sense at the time—though it’s hard for me to remember why I was so righteously indignant about poor Jimmy Carter—but it made no logical sense. Since this was a college paper, and since it was in reliably Democratic Massachusetts, it didn’t really matter—but my self-absorption did teach me a lesson I haven’t forgotten.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent considerable time in refugee enclaves across the nation. They are among the most admirable—and the most American—communities we’ve ever visited. Which is to say, President Trump’s ban on refugees is clearly racist and probably unconstitutional but it’s also just plain stupid, at least if the goal is to build a strong, safe, working nation.
The real effect of documents like the recent Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, or Pope Francis’s encyclical, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. It’s not necessarily that we take what the pope says as Gospel, or decide that because our university sold its fossil fuel stocks we will do likewise; it’s that these things normalize action, moving it from the category of “something that activists want” to “something obvious.” That’s the phase we’re reaching right now in the climate fight.