What to make of this statement by the N. Y. Times‘ Andy Revkin in a recent blog post titled, “The Energy Gap and the Climate Challenge“?
With or without the threat of human-caused climate disruption, it’s clear the world lacks the menu of energy options it will require to avoid trouble as the human population heads toward 9 billion people (more or less), all seeking a decent life.
You may agree or disagree with that statement, but it surely is not “clear.” I have spent a lot of time on this blog arguing it is simply false (see Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2: The Solution and Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion and Part 5: So what do we do NOW?).
Revkin never bothers to explain or justify this statement. His link is to a long N.Y. Times series on energy that does not prove his point at all. Indeed, it includes Matt Wald’s piece on concentrated solar power: “The world appears to be on the verge of a boom in a little-known but promising type of solar power,” which may well be one of the key solutions needed around the globe (see Concentrated solar thermal power — a core climate solution). Bizarrely, Revkin claims:
By some credible estimates, triple today’s fossil-based energy supply is likely to be required by mid-century.
This is a heck of a statement to make with no sources whatsoever.
If you go to the link, you’ll see it has nothing whatsoever to do with this claim. One certainly can’t make this claim without discussing peak oil. We’re now getting to the point where even major CEOs of oil companies don’t think we can get more than a 20% increase in oil production (see “Peak oil? Consider it solved“). And we may not see “peak coal” anytime soon, but tripling today’s fossil-based energy supply in the face of serious limits to oil production requires coal reserves the world does not seem to have (see “What is the impact of peak oil and peak coal?“)
And the use of the phrase “likely to be required” is completely unwarranted. We know — and Revkin knows — that what is required is cutting fossil-based energy in half by mid-century. Can that be done with existing or near-term technology? The international consulting firm McKinsey thinks so (see “Must read McKinsey report shatters myths on cost of curbing climate change“). More importantly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thinks so (See “The technologies needed to beat 450 ppm“):
The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades.
Revkin is mostly a climate reporter and not an energy reporter, so I’m not sure how he can so blithely ignore the IPCC report’s key technology conclusion.
I use the phrase “religion of technology pessimism” because this technology pessimism is mostly based on unproven assertions and beliefs and because it assumes we lack the knowledge today to solve the climate problem. Many of the people who hold this view do so sincerely, but as we have seen again and again, the notion that “we can’t solve the climate problem without technology breakthroughs” is a premier strategy of the global warming Delayers, like Bush, Luntz, Crichton, Lomborg, and Gingrich (see, for instance, Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.”).
Regular readers of this blog know that I believe that solving the climate (and energy security) problem does require improvement of existing technology. But I believe the vast majority of that improvement will come from accelerated deployment of existing technology into the marketplace, the so-called experience curve (see the second half of “Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion“). Action now is much more important than research, more important than some sort of a massive government “Apollo program” or “Manhattan project,” especially given the large amount of private sector and venture capital money that are now going into clean energy (see “Do we need a massive government program to generate breakthroughs to make solar energy cost-competitive?“). And while would be terrific to increase the budget of my old billion-dollar clean energy office at the Department of Energy by a factor of three or so, we would see vastly more private sector money go into technology development if the nation and the world ever adopted a serious greenhouse gas reduction policy.
To leave people with the impression that a lack of energy technology options is the obstacle to solving the climate or oil problem is, I believe, not merely engaging in unwarranted technology pessimism. It is contributing to the delay in aggressively deploying every technology we have available now to reduce emissions — a delay that is almost certainly fatal to efforts to stabilize below 450 ppm and that may well set us on a near irrevocable path to the catastrophe of 1000 ppm.