Possible doctoral topic: can renewables power the world?


in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, The environment, Writing

It may seem like an unusual topic for a PhD thesis in International Relations / Politics, but it seems to me like it could actually be a useful and interesting one.

The questions would be:

  1. What kind of standard of living could be supported for the world population using only renewable forms of energy?
  2. How quickly could that be deployed, given all the technical and political hurdles?

Ultimately, it is a very political question. The geopolitics of energy have already been front-and-centre for decades, since at least the 1973 oil price shocks. There is also the large and growing dependence of the European Union on Russia for gas, as well as increasing American dependence on exceptionally dirty oil from Canada.

The research could include investigation of places that have already deployed various renewables widely (hydro in Quebec, geothermal in Iceland, wind in Denmark, etc), as well as consideration of what is happening in rapidly developing states like China.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh April 21, 2011 at 7:54 am

The topic sounds very important in helping us deal with our future. So often academia, especially in the humanities deals withe the past. This topic looks to the future and pro-actively what can be done.

Tristan April 21, 2011 at 11:43 am

I think it would be more useful to study the geo-political effects of climate change we are already locked into. How will the mass migration caused by changes in food production conditions affect the viability of nation states as we currently conceive them?

Or, if you want to work on a “how to fix the problem” question, you might want to look at the possibilities for a set of collective motivations between the relevant actors coming into line to actually do a global deal on emissions. Or, maybe just look at a small aspect of that problem, because it is so vast.

Milan April 21, 2011 at 6:07 pm

It’s probably wise to narrow the topic, but I don’t think writing about the consequences of inevitable warming would be a very good use of time. To me, that would be a lot like my previous metaphor about looking for your eyeglasses in the middle of a warzone. It doesn’t make sense to focus on the modest impacts that will arise from inevitable warming arising from past emissions. Rather, we should be working to constrain the bounds of worst-case outcomes by focusing aggressively on reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Tristan April 22, 2011 at 12:51 am

It might be good to start thinking about how we should adapt to the changes which are already locked in, especially if those adaptations might requires us to fundamentally change how we think about sovereignty and citizenship.

If failure to adapt to the changes in world food production result in a genocide, which I think is absolutely possible, then working on how to cope with these problems will not seem like a waste of time.

Tristan April 22, 2011 at 12:52 am

“It doesn’t make sense to focus on the modest impacts that will arise from inevitable warming arising from past emissions. ”

What the (expletive) is modest about the collapse of the latin american food supply?

Milan April 22, 2011 at 10:51 am

It is modest compared to the potential consequences of unmitigated warming.

Milan April 22, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Here is a more detailed response: Climate change mitigation versus adaptation

oleh April 23, 2011 at 12:26 am

Can renewable (forms of energy) power the world seems to invite a yes or no response. With the dependance currently and into the foreseeable future on non-renewables, it seems to invite as the answer no.

I wonder if a variation could be to consider how renewables could become increasingly the power for the world. Certain specifics could be used. Canada may be considered given its development of non-renewables at this time but its great potential for renewables.

Milan April 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm

With the dependance currently and into the foreseeable future on non-renewables, it seems to invite as the answer no.

I tried to address this in a previous post: Hardtack colony

. May 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm

UN climate change panel says 80 per cent of energy needs could be met by renewables by 2050

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates _ Renewable sources such as solar and wind could supply up to 80 per cent of the world’s energy needs by 2050 and play a significant role in fighting global warming, a top climate panel concluded Monday.

But the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that to achieve that level, governments would have to spend significantly more money and introduce policies that integrate renewables into existing power grids and promote their benefits in terms of reducing air pollution and improving public health.

Authors said the report concluded that the use of renewables is on the rise, their prices are declining and that with the right policies, they will be an important tool both in tackling climate change and helping poor countries use the likes of solar or wind to develop their economies in a sustainable fashion.

”The report shows that it is not the availability of the resource but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramon Pichs, who co-chaired the group tasked with producing the report. ”Developing countries have an important stake in this future _ this is where 1.4 billion people without access to electricity live yet also where some of the best conditions exist for renewable energy deployment.”

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