Becoming A “No Carbon Nation”

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1The negative impacts of climate change are already upon us, but there alternatives to the energy sources that caused them. In the space of 94 minutes, Peter Sircom Bromley’s documentary attempts to give a comprehensive overview of pathways to becoming a “No Carbon Nation.”

Becoming A “No Carbon Nation”

A freeze plug, which would automatically shut down nuclear reactors in the case of a power failure - courtesy No Carbon Nation
A freeze plug, which would automatically shut down nuclear reactors in the case of a power failure – courtesy No Carbon Nation

We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels to provide 80% of the planet’s energy.

“Burning one ton of fossil fuels produces about three tons of carbon dioxide. Over time, much of that C02 is absorbed by the oceans and the land, but a good part of it stays in the atmosphere. C02 accumulation means that to avoid dangerous climate change, emissions will not just have to slow down – but stop and as soon as possible,” says the narrator.

Even if the international community meets the commitments made in Paris last December, we appear to be on the trajectory for a 3 – 3.5 degree temperature rise.

Bromley believes we can already replace the fossil fuels with renewables. Water based technologies could meet a fifth of our planet’s demand. The wind could provide ten times as much energy as we need. There is twenty times more solar potential than is required. Geothermal energy could meet half of our heating and cooling needs. Nuclear energy could power our planet for thousands of years.

He also considers challenges to further adoption. Though the “green crude” made from algae could already meet 100%  of our aviation needs, corporations still find it “too expensive” for mass adoption. Nuclear technology currently uses about 5% of the uranium supplied and leaves the rest as waste. Safer nuclear technology, capable of utilizing 99% of the uranium, is in development, but it is not ready for deployment.  The intermittency inherent with wind and solar technologies can be problematic for grids that are decades older than they were designed to be used.

My Questions

Courtesy No Carbon Nation
Courtesy No Carbon Nation

 

I have more questions.

How much of our planet’s biomass have we already consumed? Are there enough raw materials to rebuild build and maintain our present industrial based society based around renewable technologies? Do we need to adopt a far less wasteful and energy efficient lifestyle?

Is it possible to feed a population that has already reached 7.5 billion without the benefits of a hydrocarbon based agricultural system?

What is the cost, in terms of present human suffering and fatalities, of our failure to take more definitive actions? How many more lives are we prepared to sacrifice so that we can continue to live in comfort?

Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler suggests our species has already overshot earth’s resources. He says nature’s default solution, for our inaction, is starvation and disease. 30 million people are already dying every year.

If it takes decades for the consequences of our actions to manifest themselves in weather patterns and events, what unknown forces are we setting in motion today? Do we really possess enough information to say it is possible to halt the temperature rise to 2 degrees?

One of the disturbing facts Bromley unveils is that scientists were aware of the potential for a 4 degree global-temperature-rise more than a century ago.

What Is Holding Us Back?

So what is holding us back from a 100% adoption of renewables?

Pail Polman, CEO of Unilever
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever – Courtesy “No Carbon Nation

“I believe it is unfair to ask the politicians alone to solve these problems… We need business. In developing markets alone, this is 60% of the GDP.  It is 90% of the job creation. How can we expect politicians alone to solve it if the business community is not stepping up?” says Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.

He goes on to say that businesses are stepping up and we have come to a tipping point.

“The Paris agreement’s core achievement was getting all the world’s governments to push in the same direction,thereby sending an economic signal around the world,” says narrator.

The number of corporations adopting sustainable practises continues to increase.

A growing number of cities have adopted goals for clean energy usage and energy efficient.

” …. According to the International Energy Agency the private sector needs to invest about $48 trillion in energy transition over the next 2 decades. A significant part of that investment could be avoided through energy efficiency, and by diverting business-as-usual spending toward energy alternatives that are already available,” says the narrator.

However the bottom line appears to still be corporate profit.

As the narrator explains, “Over all, there are plenty of zero carbon electricity solutions, each with specific challenges to implementation. Most are more expensive than fossil fuels. So the main concern is finding the least costly alternatives …”

The Main Concern

Christiana Figures at COP 21 - Courtesy No Carbon Nation
Christiana Figures at COP 21 – Courtesy No Carbon Nation

Is that really the main concern?

Do we really believe that climate change is responsible for the extreme weather events that are taking millions of lives  every year?

“In a world that is warmer that it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet,” says President Barack Obama.

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, agrees that the number and frequency of these extreme weather events will continue to increase.

Weyler compares humanity to a wolf pack that has overshot the capacity of its’ environment. Having hunted the deer to extinction, they face starvation. So far, like the wolves, we have been very successful species. The question is whether we can collectively rise above this and learn to cooperate for our mutual good?

At the end of the movie James Hansen says:

“Well the fundamental difficulty is that fossil fuels are presently the cheapest energy. But they’re cheapest only because they don’t pay for their cost to society. So we should put a tax, a fee, on fossil fuels. And frankly we should distribute that money to the public uniformly so the people who burn less than average amount of fossil fuels would actually get more in the dividend than they would pay in increased energy prices.

“And in that way we could move toward clean energies, because clean energies and energy efficiency could then compete with the fossil fuels and we would gradually move off of fossil fuels to the clean energies of the future. Which we’re going to have to do anyhow at some point. Fossil fuels are finite.”

Weyler suggests we need to go much further. We need to adopt lifestyles that are less wasteful and curtail the unbridled growth of humanity’s population. If we do not find a way do this, “nature” will do it for us.

What is possible? And how can we get there?

Within the limited scope of adopting and deploying energy technologies, Peter Sircom Bromley’s “No Carbon Nation” offers an excellent overview of both challenges and possibilities. This documentary is well worth watching. (Access it here)

All photos are screenshots from Peter Sircom Bromley’s “No Carbon Nation”

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