The transition to a post-carbon-energy future will happen this century, driven either by our responses to climate-change risks, or the depleting of accessible/affordable oil and gas reserves. How we manage this transition is critical. Move too quickly (ignoring market/technology limitations and realities), we create affordable energy shortfalls, driving widespread social and economic disruption and geopolitical conflict. Move too slowly, we risk experiencing both long-term environmental impacts and affordable energy shortfalls. Unfortunately, time is running to get it right; we now face more difficult choices and increasing costs.
My earlier articles on this topic, Has climate-change politics hit a wall and Nuclear-based energy remains today’s only viable replacement of carbon-based energy, focused on important but less well publicized energy, technology and population/economic growth rate facts, and a few lessons political leaders should have learned. Here are actions I believe governments, businesses, media and people should be taking now. Sadly, most of these actions are languishing or entirely absent.
Government (including research institutions):
- Build credibility. This means ending wishful thinking, impossible targets, rhetoric and political spin. Communicate the facts about the real costs, timelines, technology limitations and trade-offs involved, then actually listen to the people. This is essential for critical buy-in to plans, the pace, costs, and outcomes expected.
- The high global economic/population growth rates in developing/emerging countries render hitting the carbon emission reduction targets impossible, regardless of what developed nations, like ours, do. Long overdue is an honest open discussion around what level of global growth is environmentally sustainable.
- Stop closing nuclear power stations, and begin investments in upgrades and building new, safer, ones. New designs are emerging that produce less radioactive waste, are less costly, and faster to build. Nuclear power is the only zero-carbon energy option that can scale to replace most of today’s carbon-based energy.
- Ramp-up investments and upgrades in electric power-grids, scaling with growing demand. This should include broader geographic grid interconnections and ‘smart-grid’ technologies, improving efficiency, load-balancing and enabling energy storage.
- Invest in improved climate-change/economic model interactions. This is critical to better understand and manage the trade-offs involved. Current models are deficient and suspect.
- Increase incentives for businesses to invest in new technology for cleaner energy and conservation.
- Fund basic research in large-scale atmospheric carbon-removal.
- Plan for a warmer climate, including looking at where new development/growth occurs, and how to mitigate impacts for the most at-risk areas. Look for opportunities in areas that may benefit from a warmer climate.
- Scale back production in low-cost countries lacking measurable commitment to environmental protection, carbon emission and human-rights standards.
- More investment in lower emissions technologies, energy efficient operations, products and services.
Main Stream Media:
- Break out of the “echo chambers” – eliminate biases, selective reporting, “fake news” and headline grabbing ‘over-hype’. Stick to fact-based, balanced reporting.
- Look beyond popular headline stories. Seek to understand the facts and trade-offs involved from a variety of credible sources, then hold government leaders accountable to listen, and for their honesty, fairness, realism and action.
- Look at where the products you buy come from. Avoid countries with poor environmental standards and low government transparency/accountability (cheap is often not better if you must frequently replace it). Buy local produce, whenever possible.
- Invest in energy conservation.
- Plant trees, nature’s carbon-sink.
The transition won’t be easy, certainly not painless, and will likely take place over three generations or more. There is no one ‘silver bullet’ solution. Most nations, Canada included, lack balanced, well thought-out, realistic targets and plans. The implications of getting the transition wrong are enormous, and we all have a role to play and a stake in getting it right.
Dave Wilkin, Masters, Electrical Eng., P. Eng.
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