In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein highlights the utility of a “Blockadia” strategy to keep fossil fuels in the ground through local land-based resistance campaigns. As George Hoberg raises in his latest book, and many others have discussed, the inclination of the environmental movement runs more toward stopping and preventing things than toward building solutions. For one thing, they get caught up in what I see as false narratives that corporations are exclusively to blame for climate change, or that somehow the world would be able to use drastically less energy. Environmentalists also tend to see any environmental impact as grounds for opposing a project. Impact on birds is a reason to resist wind; impact on the landscape is a reason to oppose solar; offshore wind may ‘mesmerize crabs.’ They point out that even if we bring climate change under control we will have problems with lost biodiversity, toxic pollution, and many other issues — and thus spread their skepticism about electric vehicles or battery power because of the mineral resource requirements.
All this leaves us in a position where environmentalists are accurately raising the alarm about climate change, while rarely suggesting a path forward for replacing that energy and for providing new energy to the parts of the world that are developing economically. As David MacKay put it at the end of his book:
Because Britain currently gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels, it’s no surprise that getting off fossil fuels requires big, big changes — a total change in the transport fleet; a complete change of most building heating systems; and a 10- or 20-fold increase in green power.
Given the general tendency of the public to say “no” to wind farms, “no” to nuclear power, “no” to tidal barrages — “no” to anything other than fossil fuel power systems — I am worried that we won’t actually get off fossil fuels when we need to. Instead, we’ll settle for half-measures: slightly-more-efficient fossil-fuel power stations, cars, and home heating systems; a fig-leaf of a carbon trading system; a sprinkling of wind turbines; an inadequate number of nuclear power stations.
We need to choose a plan that adds up. It is possible to make a plan that adds up, but it’s not going to be easy.
We need to stop saying no and start saying yes. We need to stop the Punch and Judy show and get building.
If you would like an honest, realistic energy policy that adds up, please tell all your political representatives and prospective political candidates.
Global energy use is about 576 EJ (5.8 x 1020 J), and world electricity consumption to be about 63 EJ (6.3 x 1019 J). Giving all 7.7 billion people on Earth the 125 kWh/day energy use of the average European would require energy production of 962.5 billion kWh per day (3.5 x 1018 J), or 351.3 trillion kWh per year (1.3 x 1021 J). That’s equivalent to about 45,000 1,000 MW power stations. If we want to avoid climate change in a way that is at all politically plausible, we need to get building.