As soon as we hear about ‘climate change’ many of us feel so powerless! Myself included. At the same time, it seems to be too far away, abstract. What we can do about it by ourselves seems to be ridiculously little. The forces opposing effective measures seem to be so strong. Nevertheless, especially during the last years, we also hear more and more about the fast growth of alternative energy. An inspiring example is the energetic way Germany (and even more so, Denmark) are working on a complete energy-transition.
This is all very confusing. The often superficial and fragmented information we receive in the regular media is not really helpful. Is a worldwide catastrophy already at hand? Or are we at the dawn of a green, sustainable society?
I will try to convince you that it really makes sense to take action against climate change. And that in the end, it will be better for all of us. Right now, everywhere in the world new groups taking action against climate change are starting to emerge. A good example of this is the Global Divestment Movement, which calls upon investors all over the globe to divest from fossil fuels. See this link: http://gofossilfree.org/ The first thing you can do to help is to sign one of their petitions (click here). Later more about this subject.
I would like to draw your attention to the following topics:
2: We cannot assume that things will be OK (the fossil fuel industry has a lot of influence over governments and media)
3: Why is it so urgent? (the climate doesn’t care a bit about our time-schedules)
4: What can you do yourself?
A good general introduction on the effects of climate change can be found on this website: http://www.climate-change-guide.com
The following factual information I will link up with information on the internet. There is a lot of relevant material to be found. If you have comments or criticism on my letter, or further information, you can mail me at this adress: email@example.com
1: There are encouraging developments
First of all the good news. The fossil fuel industry (coal, oil and gas) is in trouble. If prices are high(1), people, businesses and governments will invest more in clean energy. If, on the other hand, prices are low(1), investors will loose confidence in the profitability of new explorations in for example, shale-gas, oil from tear sands, and oil from the Arctic. Exploiting these second-rate sources (many first-rate resources are already being depleted) is not only extremely polluting, but also much more expensive. At this moment prices are low, so investors have already started to run away.
The growth of solar- and wind energy does not seem to be effected by this so far (1, 2). Since the year 2008 the total installed capacity worldwide has grown with 30% a year on average. At the moment only 4 to 5% of worldwide electricity is generated by wind and sun. However, more then half of the yearly growth of worldwide electric capacity (56% in 2013, see here, page 13) already comes from sustainable sources (about 50% hydro, most of the rest wind and solar). This also diminishes investor-confidence in the long-term profitability of fossil fuel investments (regardless of current prices).
Especially China is working very hard on alternative energy and energy-efficiency. Due to this it will probably stop its coal imports within a few years (see here: 1, 2 , 3, 4). This could cause a crisis in the international coal-trade. The low oil-price comes partly from lower economic growth in China. Partially it is caused by Saudi-Arabia’s refusal to diminish its production. According to some, one their motives (1) is to hinder new oil and gas explorations by other countries (which would only diminish their market-share).
Investors also anticipate further price decreases of alternative energy. It is well known that windmills and especially solar panels are getting cheaper by the year. Within a few years, we can also expect electric car batteries of much improved quality at lower costs (1, 2, 3). Due to technical innovations, it becomes more and more affordable to make houses energy-neutral. Of crucial importance is the fast development of energy-storage (1, 2) on a large scale (to be used during periods when the wind is not blowing and/or the sun is not shining).
Resistance against fossil fuel explorations by local populations is getting stronger and stonger, because of the pollution. Even in China people are protesting against the pollution caused by the coal-industry. All too often resistance is met by violence. Yet every delay causes the fossil fuel industry financial loss. The Global Divestment Movement exerts moral pressure on investors to withdraw their money from fossil fuels (and if possible, to invest it in clean energy instead). This also influences at least some investors. Moreover, recent scientific research shows that global warming will develop faster then expected. It is very clear that most of our fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The last two links in the paragraph above refer to articles, which hopefully will make you see the urgency of the climate problem. I would like to make a personal appeal to you. Raise your voice about climate change! Break the silence! Demonstrate, sign petitions. Make it clear to politicians, investors and businesses (and not to forget, the media!) that something needs to change fast. I am certain that if all people who are already concerned about climate change would speak up, this could change public opinion. This could change the entire political picture.
2: We cannot assume that things will be OK
The fossil fuel industry is fighting back. Their worldwide yearly turnovers are still 5000 billion dollars a year. For this reason, they have a lot of influence on governments and media. A large-scale campaign of misinformation is being conducted (see Chapter 1 of Naomi Klein’s new book on climate change: “This Changes Everything”, as well as these links: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9). So-called climate sceptics are creating doubt about the scientific consensus that human activity is the cause of climate change. Also, governments are still spending at least 500 billion dollars a year (1,2,3) on direct subsidies for fossil fuels – this figure rises to 1900 billion if indirect subsidies are included. Even though it should actually be taxed!
Furthermore, the fossil fuel industry has the great advantage that her infrastructure is already in place. Alternative energy still has to create theirs. A ‘smart grid’ has to be created to integrate large-scale application of wind- and solar energy into the existing electricity network. This requires investments on a scale which, normally speaking, can only be realized by governments.
Individuals who want to generate their own energy face similar problems. When you put solar panels on your roof, you are in fact paying you energybill 20 years in advance. All the costs are in the beginning. Not everyone has so much money. Therefore new financing structures are necessary. On a global scale there are similar obstacles for developing countries. Although solar energy creates enormous chances for Africa’s economic development, more often then not there just is no money to invest. Companies who wish to diminish their CO2 emissions, are often impeded by shareholders who wish to see high profits every year – after all, selling shares only costs a few clicks on the mouse. This is one of the reasons companies are reluctant to put their money into longterm investments like alternative energy or even energy-efficiency.
Legal and bureaucratic obstacles exist, or are being created to delay the energy-transition. Free-trade agreements are often used for this. Many government-created climate-friendly programs offer specific advantages to local producers. These programs are meant to diminish transport-created carbon emissions, and especially to make the energy-transition more beneficial to the local economy. The World Trade Organization has been able to prohibit many of these programs by lawsuits (1), on the pretext that they are contrary to free trade agreements.
It appears the fossil fuel industry is willing to go to the limit to produce more dirty energy for as long as there is any chance it will create profits. At some point, British Petroleum wanted to change its name into ‘Beyond Petroleum’. Now the company is disposing its alternative energy branch. Worldwide, no less then 1000 billion dollars are being invested in coal, oil and gas explorations every year (for alternative energy, the number is only 250 billion dollars). Just imagine how many solar panels you could finance with that! In order to outcompete fossil fuels from existing sources completely, clean energy would have to become dirt cheap. Unfortunately, they are not going to become that cheap. According to this study (which is much more optimistic then most projections), by 2030 a total package of sun- and windenergy, infrastructure and storage (covering 99% of electricity-needs in a large area) could produce electricity just as cheap as our current fossil fuel infrastructure. But that is not enough to outcompete fossil fuels on the basis of the price mechanism alone. Especially so because for a number of sectors (shipping, aviation and high-temperature heating in heavy industries), an easy and complete sustainable solution does not yet exist.
According to some projections, solar panels as such could very well become dirt-cheap by 2030. Energy-storage and, to a lesser extent, windmills will also go down in price. Yet the costs of installation and maintenance, as well as the creation and maintenance of the infrastructure, are driving up the price of the total electricity-transition significantly.The bright side of this is that it will also create a lot of jobs! (1) However, crucially, it also means that radical, long-term and consistent government interference is necessary to phase out fossil fuels as fast as is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. Also because electricity is of course only a part of the energy transition. Different solutions are necessary for transportation (electric boats and planes are not possible) and direct burning of fossil fuels for heating purposes (especially heavy industries like metal, cement and petrochemical burn a lot of coal and oil).
Unfortunately, governments are often strongly under the influence of the fossil fuel industry. Seeing again and again how government policies give short-time economic interests priority over the health and welfare of coming generations, one could easily despair and think it is all hopeless.
Nevertheless, this is not the entire picture. For many reasons, politicians are becoming more interested in alternative energy (and unfortunately, also in shale-gas!). For various reasons, they are worried about climate change. Energy security (1, 2, 3) is equally a source of concern. Especially so, because it is connected to unwanted dependencies on other countries. In spite of current low oil-prices, any moment Saudi-Arabia could be forced to cut down it’s oil production (1) because a few important oilfields are drying up.
All of this has created an uncertain situation. For this reason this is the time more public pressure at the government has a chance to succeed. As soon as an overwhelming majority of the population would support a quick energy-transition (as for example, is the case in Germany and Denmark (1)), then many politicians would be more inclined to make this possible . According to the french economist Piketty (famous for his recent book about income inequality) politicians can be very selfish and lazy, yet they are responsive to the wishes of voters.
It is possible that some politicians would like to see things change more quickly, but feel powerless towards vested interests. An all-pervasive sense of powerlessness seems to pervade our present society. That’s why it is so important we show each other we really care! This could strengthen the positive developments taking place right now. Hopefully just in time.
3: Why is it so urgent?
We should not forget one thing. While things are going well with alternative energy, our climate is not doing well at all. Various reports indicate that even at the present time, climate change is already making many victims see here: 1, 2).
What’s worse: according to recent scientific findings, the climate will change faster than expected. The official international target for reduction of CO2 emissions in 2050 (which is until now the basis of difficult international climate negotiations) will probably not be sufficient anymore. This link provides you with crucial information about this subject: http://tinyurl.com/Urgency1002 . I urge you to read this carefully, although it is not exactly cheerful reading.
Here’s a short summary:
1: The official target for reduction of CO2-emissions (which forms the basis of international negotiations) aims at a global reduction of at least 42-57% in 2050. Developed countries would need to reduce emissions with 80%. These targets are based on the findings of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), the scientific organization under the auspices of the United Nations. The IPCC is responsible for the most important climate reports.
2: Right now the world is not on course to attain these minimal targets.
3: Even if we manage to attain these minimal targets, we only have a 50% chance (according to the IPCC) that global temperature increase would remain limited to 2 degrees celcius.
4: According to the IPCC, if temperatures would rise above 2 degrees, we risk attaining a ‘tipping point’ after which temperature increase gets out of control. Simply put, this means that temperature increase itself would be the cause of even more temperature increase. Scientists call this a ‘runaway greenhouse effect’.
5: Moreover, according to the IPCC, even if we manage to reduce CO2 emissions with a speed which would probably limit temperature increase to 1 degree celcius, we would still have a 20% chance that the actual rise would be more then 2 degrees.
6: The effect of CO2 emissions on the climate (once again, according to the IPCC) has a delay of 30-35 years. This means that right now, we are experiencing the effects of our emissions until 1980. A temperature increase with 1,4 degrees is already unavoidable.
7: An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorses the conclusion that current climate change is caused by human activities, and that most likely, global temperatures will continue to increase at least as fast as predicted. Some scientists believe that the projections of the IPCC are still too optimistic.
8: Some scientists (1, 2, 3, 4) call for an even faster reduction of CO2 emissions. According to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the maximum amount of CO2 we are still allowed to emit (our ‘carbon budget’) will be used up in 25 years if emissions remain at current levels.
9: The effects of climate change will be very serious, even if we can avoid the runaway greenhouse effect.
None of the above points is controversial, with the exception of number 8 and the second half of number 7. The remainder as such is not denied by any government in the world. In The Netherlands, climate organization Urgenda has started a lawsuit against the state, in order to force the Dutch government to intensify their climate policy.
Of crucial importance is the fact that it is still possible to prevent disasters if tough measures are taken quickly. There can be no doubt that if we don’t stop climate change in time, it will cost us more later on – even in terms of money! This basic truth should be considered much more important then the costs of energy-transition in the short term. Nevertheless it is important to point out that even though effective policies might costs us something now, in the long run they will pay off.
Many environmental organizations have already developed detailed scenarios for a fast energy-transition. None of them is describing something even remotely similar to going back to a pre-war economy.
4: What can I do myself?
Here is a link to websites which organize actions against climate change: http://tinyurl.com/Action1002 . Tips to reduce your own CO2 emissions can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/Little1002 . In this link, Avaaz.org shows people how to start their own campaign to reduce carbon emissions in their hometown. There are also many initiatives for local energy generation or biological agriculture. If you mail me, I will inform you about future actions and small things you can do, even if you have little time: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What stops us possibly most of all is that it is too painful to think about. Perhaps you simply believe it is already too late to prevent disasters. If this is the case, think about this: it is already too late to prevent disasters. This is happening now already. But worse disasters can be prevented. Therefore every emission-reduction we can bring about matters!
It remains painful to think about this. Nevertheless it is important not to push it out of our consciousness. First of all, it is important to understand why it is so easy to deny the climate ‘problem’ (the word ‘problem’ is in this case a euphenism for impending catastrophy!). I have written an article about this, which I encourage people to read: http://tinyurl.com/Mind1002 . Becoming aware of these psychological patterns will help us stop denying climate problems! It will also help us to understand other people better.
It seems incomprehensible that most of us remain so passive! Recently, 3 million people in France took to the streets to express their horror about an atrocious act of violence. Then certainly we must have enough compassion do something about an urgent global threat which could certainly kill millions, possibly hundreds of millions of people! Much of what looks like indifference at first sight is in fact repressed fear. People are just at a loss! It is therefore necessary to simply talk about it more. People should feel it is OK to express their concerns. Simply say: I am worried about climate change. At the right moment, or perhaps the wrong moment. Maybe you could even hold a one-person demonstration in your home-town.
It is important that people are better informed. In the future I want to contribute to this by sharing essential information on my weblog. What would a path towards a carbon-free economy look like? (see this hub: http://tinyurl.com/Path1002 ) How to refute the arguments of climate sceptics (see this hub: http://tinyurl.com/Sceptics1002 ).
Internet and Facebook are of course very useful for sharing information in your own network of friends and vague acquaintences. You could create your own message. You could distribute the letter you are reading now, or send a short message of your own with a link to this letter. I have two versions: one for friends: http://tinyurl.com/LetterFriend1002 The other one for people you don’t know: http://tinyurl.com/LetterGeneral1002
I hope this letter can inspire you to act for the preservation of our planet, and making our society more humane and gentle. For the sake of our human dignity, and the psychological health of our society, it is important that at least we try. We should not worry, but act. We will never know what the future will bring. What we do know is that all our actions will an effect.
Let’s not give up!