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In two previous articles, I have written with optimism about encouraging trends in global efforts to tackle climate change. In Climate is Back I wrote that “climate is news again” and the shift in public attitudes about putting a price on carbon. In Turning the Corner on Climate Change I said that “the world is listening.”

The chilling reality of the climate challenge

The Chilling Reality of the Climate Challenge

In his recent article in Rolling Stone, Al Gore argues that humanity is on the right track. He is confident that “a powerful largely unnoticed shift is taking place.” But the enormity of our climate challenge is daunting and a sobering reminder that, as the old saying goes, we have miles to go before we sleep.

I am reminded daily of the chilling reality of the climate change challenge from what I see and read in the media and what I see just outside my window – the California drought, wildfires, the rising price of food, fracking, tar sands expansion, the Koch brothers, irresponsible world leaders such as Stephen Harper (Canada) and Tony Abbott (Australia) who are willfully blind to the detrimental effects of fossil fuels.

The following charts illustrate the obvious hurdles to overcome in our shift away from fossil fuels to the lower carbon future available from renewables.

Global Energy Use by Source

Fossil fuels provide 87 percent of the world’s energy; this number has not changed since 1999. There has been no progress in moving to a lower carbon world according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 which paints a gloomy picture of the global energy crisis. Although clean energy continues to make great strides forward, fossil fuels are growing even faster. Clean energy gains are being nullified by the growth of coal in China. Unless this changes drastically, the world will not succeed in reducing carbon emissions.

The chilling reality of the climate challenge

Carbon Intensity of World’s Energy

Carbon Intensity measures the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy used. It’s a measure of how clean the global energy system really is. Robert Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado observes ” the above graph indicates that in the 21st century, whatever gains are being made by low carbon energy technologies, they continue to be equaled or even outpaced by continuing gains in fossil fuels.”

If humanity wanted to boost its energy use by 50 percent and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 50 percent, then the carbon intensity of energy would need to fall to one-third of what it is today.The entire world’s carbon intensity would have to fall from 2.76 tons of CO2 per unit of energy down to 0.9 tons or so. That’s a notch below the carbon intensity of Norway (0.99 tons).

The chilling reality of the climate challenge

 

Global Coal Consumption on the Rise

The United States is aggressively targeting the coal industry with the scheduled closure of hundreds of coal plants. The Associated Press reports “more than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants will close and another 36 plants could also be forced to shut down as a result of new EPA rules regulating air pollution.”

In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that 175 coal-fired generators were slated to be retired before 2016 (primarily in 2015).

The chilling reality of the climate challenge

Although coal burning continues to decline in America and Europe, coal use has skyrocketed in Asia, which is growing fast and is now responsible for 70 percent of coal consumption. China now consumes 50 percent of the world’s coal. Hence the reductions in coal consumption in one part of the world are more than offset by increased use in another part of the globe.

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy on the rise

As the global consumption of coal rises, so do the CO2 emissions and so does the temperature of the planet. It will be impossible to tackle the global warming unless there is a sudden fundamental shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon alternative energy sources. In spite of all the good news stories from the clean-tech industry, the shift to date is almost unnoticeable on a global scale.

boomerwarrior.org, The chilling reality of the climate challenge

I’m bewildered when a country like China is the world leader in the construction of coal-fired power plants on the one hand, and also challenging for number one in the world in the clean energy sector on the other. It appears paradoxical and incompatible.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a 56 percent increase in the world’s use of energy between now and 2040 due primarily to the insatiable Chinese and Asian appetite for additional energy. And yet, by 2050 humanity will likely self-destruct unless it has weaned itself off fossil fuels. That is the existential test of our times.

Is it possible to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources while still meeting the needs of a world economy focused on perpetual economic growth and a desire to adopt the Western lifestyle of over-consumption?
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Rolly Montpellier, founder of BoomerWarriorRolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s also a  Climate Reality leader (Climate Reality Leadership Corps), a blogger, an activist and a Climate Change presenter.
He has been a contributor to the Climate Change Guide, The Canadian, ClimateMama, The Hill Times, World Daily, Georgian Bay News, The Elephant, CounterCurrents, 350Ottawa and MyEarth360.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. “Is it possible to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources while still meeting the needs of a world economy focused on perpetual economic growth and a desire to adopt the Western lifestyle of over-consumption?”

    Rolly, very good report, not happy but good work with the information. That question up there, well, no. The answer is no. .I say that with no doubt and after following this issue since 1991. We are going to have to reduce our output of product and massively lower our use of energy, plain and simple. There really is no other way short of a miracle. We ‘can’ change our lifeways, and we can do it without regret. We just have to get a new consciousness paradigm that says. “nah, I don’t need that”.
    Another truth we gotta handle is that we are not going to find this paradigm without a push. That can come two ways, we can continue burning fossil fuels like this and let the pain change us when it gets hot for real, or our governments can start setting mandates right now. I’m talking about no new car production for many years (Roosevelt did in WW2), no overseas flights for many years, 60 to 70 percent reduction in energy allocation from power plants, yeah, stuff like that. In the mean time government should do as if going to war time mode and start building renewable energy systems. Now, I know I’m right about this, and I am not happy about sticking my neck out to say something so cocky, but I feel I should and so there it is.

    • Denis – you are not saying anything that is cocky (as you put it).

      The truth is not what many want to hear but hear it they must. As my article points out, there are a lot of good developments and technological progress in clean tech but that is only one of the three massive problems we face – energy system based on fossil fuels, the growth paradigm and the Western culture of mass consumption.

      Thanks for your response.

  2. There is a four decade lag between GHG emissions and their effect on global temperature. Today’s 400 ppm CO2 by paleoclimate observations (not models) corresponds to a 4°C rise in temperature. Today’s Arctic sea ice melt and methane release correspond to the GHG release in 1974.

    What’s in store for 2054? Even if all GHG emissions went to zero at midnight tonight?

  3. \Fossil fuels provide 87 percent of the world’s energy; this number has not changed since 1999\

    i wonder how that value would be different if in the past more green activists supported nuclear power

  4. Very clear and exhaustive analisis of the present Energy/Climate Global Crisis, that I have sared through Facebook.

    About it, I share here the analysis, that could interest you, that do on this theme the Australian Radical Green Thinker Ted Trainer, about Renewable Energies and Consumer Society, not forgeting his atractive vision of a more simpler society, that he has based and developed in his Site named ” The Simpler Way “, ideas that we can spread, among kindred others,for to induce a good energy – and CO2 emission – descent and landing, for to rebuild and co-create a new, more happy and wise world.

    P.S.: I Hope that it will not be necessary to arrive to to a world immersed in a climate catastrophe to make this *Eco-Change*!! : -)

    RENEWABLE ENERGY CAN NOT SUSTAIN CONSUMER SOCIETIES – Ted Trainer:
    http://simplicitycollective.com/can-renewable-energy-sustain-consumer-societies

    THE BENEFITS OF THE SIMPLER WAY – Ted Trainer:
    http://simplicitycollective.com/the-benefits-of-life-in-the-simpler-way

    • Thank you for your response Pedro. And thanks for sharing those links – I will certainly check them out and add to my resources.

      Returning to a Simpler Way is likely the only strategy that will save our civilization but honestly, can you see that happening. There are economic and political forces at play which will make “going back” to a simpler more ecologically sound way of life almost impossible. I fear that the return to a simpler way will only occur when humankind is forced to live that way because social structures and communication technology will have collapsed. What do you think?

      • As said in the Site where are published the texts of Ted Trainer linked above,

        ( … ) “the nature of a society is the product of nothing more or less than the countless number of small decisions made by private individuals”… This, for good or for bad…

        I think that, if as some scientific evidence shows, we will die with the Biosphere like “an apple in a microwave oven” … or we would have to adapt to that very bad environmental circunstances that would await humanity in a not very distant future; and to build Ecological Societies – and perhaps some day an Ecological Global Civilization -, but not necesarily passing first by a long and caotic period, but by a, potentially, solidary and pacific one.

        Hope that Communications will last, specially Internet, although satellites may became “spatial debris”, but hope not oceanic and earth conections via cable (Computers? Perhaps withot the evils of the manufacturers with they ” planed obsolescence”, things, in general, will last more).

        The ‘communication face-to-face’ with Local Community must never be broken, and perhaps in a “long tomorrow” things would go back to aboriginal big meetings as ways to socialice and see the arrangements to do.

        I recomend also the Link below of the same ‘Simplicity Collective’ from where the above Ted Trainer’ texts were taken:

        http://simplicitycollective.com/start-here/invitationincitation

  5. If introduced now, a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax can cut the rate of US GHG emissions by 50% in 2035 and by 90% in 2050, while growing household net income, employment, and GDP, and nudging the rest of the world to join in the action.  Join citizensclimatelobby.org

    The switch to all renewables is feasible, today. thesolutionsproject.org

    • John – I agree that a revenue-neutral carbon tax will be instrumental and essential in the fight to reduce emissions as you point out in your response. In my view, the Fee and Dividend mechanism is best suited to do this. See this article which I wrote sometime ago. Also, Citizens Climate Lobby is quite active in promoting the Carbon Fee and Dividend.

      http://bit.ly/1rnS8Ga

      Thanks for the response.

  6. From the charts the only way to stop global warming is to wipe out China. Our usage of fuels has only risen slightly. Theirs has skyrocketed. Won’t mean crap if we stop using everything right now if they continue.

    STOP BUYING CRAP FROM ASIA!

    • Robert – thanks for your response. Now, wiping out China is a non-starter. I know you’re being facetious when you suggest that. But you do raise a good point. Global warming is “global” involving all the countries on the planet. Paris 2015 will be the crunch. Everything is leading to a more meaningful agreement with teeth to do what Kyoto never did. Also, I’m encouraged by the sudden shift that is occurring in the US. We seem to be Turning the Corner on Climate Change. – http://bit.ly/1iz7Zk5

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