C12 of The Great Disruption - Creative Destruction on Steroids

In this chapter Gilding attempts to answer those who ask, "How will all this happen? There is so much cheap coal in the ground, so much natural gas - even petroleum - how could people simply give that up?"

His answer is that he doesn't know exactly how it will happen. But he is certain that it will happen because it must. There will come a time in the not-to-distant future when it will become obvious that we cannot continue down this same road - that something must be done to stop the slide past a one or two degree C rise in temperature over pre-industrial levels.

Confession - Reading my own views between Gilding's lines I thought he meant that there would be an ecological/economic Pearl Harbor that would force people into action the way the real Pearl Harbor forced people into action at the start of WWII. This event - I reasoned - would almost but not quite push humanity over the brink. I was wrong. What Gilding seems to be saying is that government (or at least The Market) will take action simply because it must, because the science will become so obvious. Businesses that takes action will prosper; those that don't will fail.

Gilding says, "... it is clear government has to act, so they will. That action must result in dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions, and the science says that must result in the decline of coal and oil, followed soon after by gas. There are no realistic scenarios where this can be achieved if we wait past 2015-2020, unless we decide to go past two degrees (centigrade) of warming. Given that all the world's major governments have agreed not to, the logic of the economic risk flows pretty easily."

One can only hope that this circular chain of cause and effect actually transpires.

Gilding himself seems unsure because he says the future will characterized by by "dramatic and discontinuous change" (implying non-linear events - Black Swans) - whether we go over the edge or just get close. The difference seems to be the kind of planning we can do. If we go over the edge and "the economy collapses under the weight of climate and sustainability impacts" no planning will be possible - the level of chaos will be too great.

However, given that the latter scenario means things will pretty much go to hell anyway, Gilding doesn't dwell on it. Instead, assuming that government and/or business will pull us back from the brink, he talks about what will happen to various industries, especially coal and oil.

It is a near certainty he says that in a new economy dedicated to limiting global temperature rise to 1 (or even 2) degrees C above pre-industrial age level, coal and oil will be out. According to the German government funded Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in 2024 we will have dumped all the CO2 in the air we can. Any more CO2 will increase the risk of going over the edge of climate disaster to greater 20% - one in five.

So, assuming governments and business act, such a catastrophe will not be allowed to happen, which means that fossil fuels can longer be burned after a few more years. (He discusses carbon-capture and storage - CCS - as a way to continue to use coal. Although he sees no reason not to investigate this technology he doesn't think it will prove economically competitive compared to renewable energy sources.)

It is less certain what fuel or technology will replace fossil fuel. Gilding doesn't think it will be nuclear because of problems with waste, terrorism and supply limits. He thinks it will be some combination of various renewable energy sources - hydro, solar, wind, geothermal. Right now, except for hydro, none of these technologies is much beyond the prototype stage. He believes that the economics of one or a combination of these approaches will be proven.

However, in the end, he points out, it is not about economics. Things will change. We will either go off an ecological/economic cliff - in which case, the change will happen to us. Or we will become the active agents of change.

No comments: