Over the last week Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben have written long pieces in the Guardian acting as the yin and yang of climate change. Naomi Klein has pointed out all the huge challenges we have to make in a very short time and Bill McKibben has been more optimistic pointing the real progress that has been made. Both are right and I would recommend readers of this blog to read both articles which are better than I can write here.
Naomi Klein looks at the reasons we do not change our direction of travel when we are staring future climate disaster in the face and firmly blames our current economic system. It is our great misfortune to have a climate crisis when any deviation from free market capitalism is greeted with howls of horror from multi-billionaires. This is correct, but in many ways not helpful. As the editor of the Guardian wrote in a editorial launching the series, climate change is seen as left wing issue. This is unhelpful in the US and increasingly in the UK. There has to be something in it for the political right to able to latch onto for us to crack this problem. Naomi Klein then goes onto confound this and tick every left wing box saying that in this crisis there is an opportunity to rebuild society in a fairer different way. Something else I absolutely agree with but undoing the thoughts behind Mr Rusbridger’s editorial. Mark Lynas wrote an article yesterday criticising Naomi Klein’s views but even he sees we need some regulation (in his terms a carbon price) and I also think for any new nuclear reactors. There is just enough evidence to suggest that a market solution might work (sulpher dioxide reduction in the US), but no evidence to suggest this will happen without government regulation. The problem is particularly in the US some people reject even the smallest amount of regulation.
Bill McKibben (a fellow Christian) argues that progress has been made in stopping some of the most damaging fossil fuel projects such as XL and fracking in Europe. That disinvestment is acting to keep fossil fuels in the ground and renewables are fast taking the place of traditional energy sources. All these are true, but we have to be realistic.
On fracking and XL the jury is still out. Here in Scotland there is no final ban on fracking merely a freeze on a decision, on XL Obama hasn’t signed it off and could still do so. The low oil price is perhaps more relevant here at the moment.
When it comes to disinvestment its too early to say. Neither fracking or the related XL pipeline (and their like) is helped (ironically) by the crash in oil prices. The disinvestment momentum is growing fast and we are really only at the beginning of the process. So far there is little evidence that its hit the oil majors share prices, but I find this exciting. Only today I have heard that the London assembly has voted to disinvest fossil fuel company shares from its employees pensions (as have many church denominations). Watch this space this is going to be massive and may save those who do from “stranded assets”.
Looking at renewables (Bill calls the solar thaw) there is much to be encouraged about. Back in 2002-4 when I invested in solar technologies people thought I was mad and the feed in tariff was a distant dream. Now its difficult in the UK to go anywhere and not see PV modules (impossible in Germany). Costs of solar PV have fallen by getting onto 100% over the last 5 years and records have been broken for installation and output (just look at our Facebook page) Nevertheless the pushback is on in many countries (its too expensive/ugly/doesn’t work etc.) and it has to be said that so far renewables have had little impact on the total carbon emissions (even in Germany).
What we do know is that we have very difficult climate negotiations coming up in Paris. We also know that politicians are not being straight with us about the implications of this. Things could go one of two ways with regard to peak oil. A robust climate agreement will mean we cannot burn all the remaining fossil fuel stocks. We could end up with “stranded assets”, worthless fossil fuels and a bizarre voluntary version of peak oil. The other alternative is there is no agreement we continue to try to extract increasingly expensive fossil fuels and the more traditional version of peak oil is back. Within a few years the oil price will soar again since all the easy to extract fossil fuels have been used.
Either way the reality of our lives over the next few decades will be this.
- Foreign air travel will be a thing of the past. Cars will be expensive and our use of them will be much more limited than today.
- We will have almost entirely locally grown vegetarian food (and grow as much as we can ourselves).
- Energy will be more expensive and more limited.
- Material goods will limited and expensive and any made will be almost 100% recyclable.
And yes those of us who are dissatisfied with our current economic system do see all the above as an opportunity, however I accept not everyone does and these people have to be brought into the climate conversation. That’s the ying and yang of climate change and why you need to read our book.