Climate Solutions Discussion #1

62 thoughts on “Climate Solutions Discussion #1

  1. No comments. No “solutions”?

    Perhaps I can be first.

    What would constitute a solution? As of now, the science is suggesting, for example, that two major ice sheets in Antarctica are in irreversible decline. If that’s right, then any “solution” can’t prevent impacts from what we’re doing, even if those impacts occur over a long time frame relative to human lifetimes. Of course, much nearer impacts already seem to be happening (sea level rise, extreme weather, ocean acidification, to name three impacts).

    So, what would constitute a solution to climate change?


    1. Hi, Mike.

      Yes, much of what we’ve already done is locked-in for thousands of years if we cannot find a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. At the moment, research is beginning to turn in that very direction, however, it’s fraught with danger and ethical questions of great magnitude. For me, where I see the solutions emerging is in a constellation around renewables-only on the one hand, and nuclear + renewables on the other. The question in my mind is can we scale renewable energy fast enough to power global needs without using fourth generation nuclear power. I think we’ve touched on this a bit in earlier posts, and can really start getting into it here. Various thought leaders seem to be constellating in these two predominant camps. For example, Amory Lovins and Richard Branson (scientist + billionaire; notice political leaders absent thus far) are grouping around renewables as the solution absent nuclear, whereas James Hansen and Bill Gates (again, scientist + billionaire; but with maybe present Democratic support) seem to be well-suited for each other as they are both talking fourth generation nuclear because, as I understand it, they see renewables as not being sufficient to meet global demand in time. These two spheres are colliding at the moment and everyone is trying to figure out what’s really the truth. I’m really excited to post more on these two converging realities and how they will wash out as time unfolds.

      In the meantime, two blogs I’m following more or less routinely are, rated the #1 green blog by Technorati, as well as If anyone has any issues with either of these, or can suggest alternatives for information, I’m all ears.

      Of course, the quality of the news we get is critical and my news sources on climate change are vast and wide… here’s the short list:

      Inside Climate News –
      Climate ThinkProgress –
      ClimateCentral –
      RealClimate – (boring and infrequent posting, but real climate info)


      Weather Underground –

      Dot Earth – (somewhat of a “hobby blog” –

      *Bill McKibben –
      *Michael E. Mann –
      Gavin Schmidt –
      Katherine Hayhoe –
      * Regularly

      Other news sources include…, to Al Jazeera America, to MSNBC, to FOX (yes, Fox), to, to email NGO lists, and more.


  2. Thanks for the lists. Most are familiar to me, though I don’t frequent all of them.

    Some of the key words in your comment, Balan, are “need” and “demand”. These lead us to all kinds of illusions, based on the notion that we must continue the economic road we’re on. What do we really “need”? I’m sure it’s not what we “demand” or will demand in future. The desire to maintain the economic path we’re on always colours the views of the techno-optimists. If there is some sort of happy future with renewables (even as embodied in conventional solar panels, wind turbines and hydro), I feel we need to attack it from another direction. Not “how do we meet the projected demand of 9 billion people by 2050?” but “what do we really need for a satisfying life, and how can we ensure we can meet those needs in a sustainable manner?”.

    Nuclear, to me, is a very dangerous route to take and is, by its very nature, unsustainable, anyway (even without the danger). I’ve often read that we would only need a fraction of the energy we do consume, now, if we conserved and only used what we really needed. That is rarely brought up.

    A recent paper showed that the elevated extinction rate we see now is a result of human activities, without climate change having a significant impact yet. If that’s right, then we need to drastically scale back the human footprint, not try to meet future power “demand” with renewables.


  3. Yeah, the list is merely a precursor to localizing an issue then drilling down into the data. I’m highly skeptical about nuclear as well, and yes, reducing our consumptive lifestyles is certain a strongly viable option. I’m already doing my best to cut down my own foot print in a variety of areas.


    1. As long as the mainstream media brainwashing goes on, any technical solution will be irrelevant. Just turn on the TV ( I haven’t any, but I see it from time to time at friends), read mainstream newspapers, look at mainstream webpages, look wherever you want:

      It is all about shopping, all about consumption, all about getting more, getting more money, more fun, more, more, more of everything. That’s just how modern economics works. Until there is no real paradigm shift, there will be no solution to climate change, mass extinction, ecocrimes ect ect at all. It just makes absolutely no sense to talk about solutions while that sick consumption propaganda goes on, sorry.


      1. Hi, Curious.

        Are you really curious about climate change solutions, or are you just hear to make fully felt the ghost of Guy McPherson? I say this because the tone of your post reminds me of something I might read at The gist of it is something like this: mainstream media bad, individual powerless to make any change, we might as well all just give up now while were behind.

        If you think it makes no sense talking about solutions, then what are you posting in this thread for? Just curious…

        I believe that independent media is the most important issue above and beyond climate change and the watershed issues of strong campaign finance reform and the overturning of the disastrous US Supreme Court decision Citizens United. Without excellent information day in and day out one is powerless to know how to respond. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my post above on where I get my information to which I regularly donate: and Both of them cover climate better and better, and yes, the mainstream media has a long way to go, but personally, like you, I don’t watch them much. Others that I watch have few to no advertisements, and if they do, I skip them.

        I’m a firm believer in bottom up history, as Chomsky has so aptly pointed out, that MLK, Jr. could not have done what he did without tons and tons of folks like you and me working for change at the grassroots. Slavery couldn’t be abolished either, nor women’s rights, nor marriage equality for LGBT people, and so on. Climate change is no different. Do not underestimate the masses of people on board to make positive changes. Uh, The Pope’s recent encyclical being one example (affecting the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, which isn’t small potatoes), there are tons more. Perhaps the true reason you are here on this thread is because deep down you know this to be true, that there really is hope, and that you need it as much as anyone else, and that if you aren’t part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

        Thanks for being here in order to be a part of the solution. What did you do today that made things better? It’s ok if was even deciding to eat a salad instead of a steak, or tofu instead of chicken. Did you do anything at all? I hope so.


      2. Hi Balan,

        … individual powerless to make any change

        No, absolute the other way around: The only hope I see is the power of the individual, MY power to change MY way of feeling, thinking and acting. I freed myself from the modern paradigm of Consumerism as far as I can and this not only because of my own responsibility, but it’s a huge chunk of Freedom also. The main cause for modern ecologic and climate problems is consumerism IMHO. Once I did also believe in politics, muhahaha, nowadays I don’t believe in politics anymore, but I do always believe in the responsibility of individuals:

        If anyone would quit consumerism, we’d have no ecologic and no climate problems. But it seems that many, too many of the consumerherd likes to delegate his very own responsibility to politics or economy, muhahaha. I do see more and more fat american cars (SUV) on german streets and in every car sits just one person- 200PS to transport one f… person, hahaha, that’s just NUTS, isn’t it? I tell you:

        Most of the consumerherd is just not interested in their very own responsibility. Man, no matter who I ask, everybody just tells me „Aaah, come on, don’t paint the future in black, maybe there is a climate problem, maybe even some ecological problems- BUT: WE will not experience the bad consequences, we will be just dead when it gets tough!“… muhahaha, they are not even interested in the fate of their very own children. Recently there are huge wildfires in Greece- and what do most of the people in Germany say? They say „They deserve it, we put so much EU- money into Greece, they stole all our money, so they DESERVE those wildfires!“… man, I tell you: THIS is the sort of „thinking“ the consumerherd, the political herd preferes :-D

        In modern soceity there is one thing above all other things- can you guess, what it might be? I tell you:


        I’m a firm believer in bottom up history, as Chomsky has so aptly pointed out, that MLK, Jr. could not have done what he did without tons and tons of folks like you and me working for change at the grassroots.

        I do the same, yeah, bottom up, that’s the right way. As I said: If everybody would just take his very own responsibility serious, there would be no eco- or climate problems. I just quit consumerism as far as I can: No car, no TV, no flights, no nothing. I own one pair of trousers, one pair of shoes, most of my furniture is bulk garbage. And the more I quit shopping and consumerism the better I feel, I am free of that sickness, modern consumerism is a kind of sick religion :-)

        Uh, The Pope’s recent encyclical being one example (affecting the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, which isn’t small potatoes), there are tons more.

        The pope? The church? Com on, they are one of the most effective lubricants of modern society, the catholic church is simply The Mafia and modern economy is just the same: The Mafia. Christianity and political power always worked together for 2000 years, Christianity is THE mental foundation of the western world. Christianity always teached that Nature, Mother Earth is inferiour, that only some strange god who lives outside his own creation is important. It is written in the bible:

        „ Make the Earth subdue to yourself!“

        And that’s exactly what they did- but this will not last for long, Nature always bats last. They thought they can rape and exploit Nature and man forever- uuhm, big, big, deadly mistake.

        Perhaps the true reason you are here on this thread is because deep down you know this to be true, that there really is hope, and that you need it as much as anyone else, and that if you aren’t part of the solution, you are a part of the problem… What did you do today that made things better? It’s ok if was even deciding to eat a salad instead of a steak, or tofu instead of chicken. Did you do anything at all?

        As I said: MY very own responsibility is the most important factor to me. I NEVER eat any steaks, steaks make the stomach sick, I eat very, very little meat, maybe 100 g per week. I do everything I can to take care of MY very own responsibility because the Law of KARMA: Everything we do will come back to us… and I must admit that I do really like that, it’s The Law of Nature I can really trust, yeah, I do always trust in The Laws of Nature, nope else.

        What is climate change and ecological problems at all? It ist The Bill for thousands of years of raping Mother Earth. I did realize it very early and so I did not procreate any children, wich is just another part of taking care of my resonsibility, I put no additional consumers into this world and it makes me really happy when I take a look at the future of the children in this world, I am glad to have no children. And I tell you another thing:

        Everything I know nowadays about ecocrimes, climate change ect I studied for myself, I did NOT learn anything about it at school or at my jobs or in the News ect. It was a very lonely business to learn the truth :-) One more thing:

        Modern man is a huge Guzzle-Machine. The Bill for unspeakable Ignorance since thousands of years of slavery and exploitation is on the way. But anyway: I decided to step out of modern society long time ago when I was young and I took my very own responsibility of my very own actions extremely serious and did never regret that. Most of the people around me laugh about my decicions against earning much money, against any career and shit, against all oppositions in my family, at my jobs and anywhere else, I went the right way, I took care of my Karma, I did not fall into the trap, into the sick promises/lies of modern society, modern consumerism. One can buy materialistic things with money, yeah, but money can’t buy everything, hahaha, I like that, I do really like that. You see, I am extremly disappointed of modern (money-)„culture“. I think I will quit Internet also, I learned everything I needed to know, I’ve learned everything I ever wanted to know and took my consequences- Man, I am so glad that I did that.


      3. The socalled pope thinks that he can fight climate change with Kung Fu- I really don’t know if I should laugh or cry about that:

        I don’t believe in any God, in any supernatural powers, I do only and always trust in the Laws of Nature. Here you can see the bigger picture of this world:


    1. That’s the biggest wildcard. It’s technically very difficult, which means it’s very, very expensive, but it’s absolutely necessary that we flip some of this on in the coming decades. I actually didn’t realize there were any startups ready to try— to try direct-from-air, I mean. It’s much easier to capture CO2 from the more-concentrated emissions of a power plant, and that technology is closer to economic. China is already giving it a whirl.


  4. I’m just wondering if we’re going to mess something up worse. I wonder what else the atmosphere contains, does, controls whatever that we’re going to screw up messing around with it. I don’t mean sucking birds out of the air in their migratory flights, but maybe something undiscovered in the atmosphere that life needs to function normally. Something we won’t figure out until we’ve created another massive problem. I doubt the atmosphere is just a convenient layer of gases enveloping the earth just waiting for us to push and pull it into shape at our whim. Maybe change weather patterns in some bizarre way, suck out some vital nutrient or other, something. That’s just the way things seem to work. One thing seems true, once we start doing this, we probably won’t be able to stop.

    I’ve learned something about man, if there is ANY possibility of making money doing something, anything, you can bet you’re bottom dollar some company is going to try.


    1. I don’t think there’s any risk of that. There’s an awful lot we know about the atmosphere, and this isn’t really too tricky. We’ve added a lot of CO2 to the atmosphere; it would be good if we could pull some back out.


  5. Yes, I agree one very powerful solution is reducing our overconsumption and simplifying our lives is helpful.


    1. Hi Balan,

      … one very powerful solution is reducing our overconsumption and simplifying our lives…

      So, you agree with my post at

      It is just the most important solution- BUT: I just can’t see that happen ! I do it, you do it and a small minority in the industrialized socalled “1. World” (hahaha) does it. But where are the bloody necessary POLITICAL and ECONOMIC solutions and changes ?! I just don’t see them ! Modern soceity is based on slavery, greed and exploitation, that is an absolute historical fact. And I bet: Those who earn the most out of slavery and exploitation will go on with it until the last tree is cut off and the last water gone. They collect weapons, they build huge technologies to spy on every single human, THEY JUST WANT TO CONTROLL THE WHOLE PLANET FOR THEIR VERY OWN BENEFIT. Just look at all those banksters and corporate powers, just take one serious look at the Wallstreet or any other stockmarket:

      It is all about MONEY, POWER, CONTROLL, EXPLOITATION, SLAVERY. They just give a shit on justice and freedom and democracy and common sense and the future of their very own children.

      Btw: The worldwide seabird population decreased by 70%(!) over the last 60 years:

      Really no good sign, just one sign of hundreds and thousands of signs all around the globe that mankind is heading towards a deadly direction. I have foreseen that more than 30 years ago and all I got for my warnings over several decades was LAUGHTER and HATE. Man, I ecperienced so much injustice during my whole live, oh so much. Those who are most responsible for the trouble we are in are exactly those who are the most respected indiduals in our capitalist soceity, haaaahahaha, because they have silly money, hahahaha. And those who are the least responsible are exploited, raped, laughed down, they are the least respected individuals. Yeah, that’s exactly the way it is. While you and me live a simple live and avoid overconsumption, others buy american XXL cars in Germany and elsewhere, they LAUGH at you and me, see ?!


      1. One more:

        When f…. Hitler was Chancelor of Germany and he started the sickest wars of all wars, he and his criminal gang of Nazis preached that they will have some mysterious “Wonderweapons” and “final victory” and Hitler and most of the Germans believed it right until the very last day of the war- and then Hitler and many of his criminal gang just commited SUICIDE. That, my friend, is exactly the same situation we are in today. Soon they will use SRM and shit (“Wonderweapons”) on a global scale, that’ll be their “Solution” and they will preach that the WAR AGAINST NATURE can be won (“Final Victory”), they preach that until the last day. It is and it was always the same message:

        ” Greed is good, injustice is justice, Divide and Conquer!, War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Ignorance is strength ect ect ect.”

        The world is just upside down in every way, I mean: In EVERY way. Believe it or not:

        I have seen enough, even more than that: I have seen way too much.


        I don’t like the blog of McPherson, I wrote there some comments, but I got sick soon there, there’s too much hate going on there.


  6. To understand any culture one has to take it’s myths into account. What are the myths of the industialized, economytized myths of today? Power, infinite growth, profit (nature doesn’t know of any “profit” at all), control, in one simple sentence:

    Godlike power over Nature.

    What do you think is this going to go? To Schlaraffia or to Hell?

    We are talking about solutions, yeah. What could those solutions be? Any technical wonderweapon? A new, miraculous way to generate more, cheaper energy? Geoengineering? Climate engineering? Well, that’s what happens since Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Europe, America ect. What drives that machine of modern civilizations since ancient times? Slavery and exploitation. I don’t say that because of any political ressentiment against capitalism or whatever (I don’t care about politics anymore), I just say that because it is a simple fact. Look at any bigger culture around the globe and you will see slavery and exploitation, that’s the lifeblood of settled, industrialized cultures, no matter where on the globe. Today the slaves don’t wear any visible chains anymore, everything is much more subtle than in the ancient times.

    What is the most important myth of today? It is a piece of colored paper, loaded with magical power and it is called “Money”. Money is the most concentrated myth of modern Homo Economicus, it is the essence of his god:

    Mental, intellectuall power and control over man and Nature. But it is just a piece of paper, a contract, a Credo (the latin root of “Credit”), a piece of magic, of Hokuspokus. But without it you can’t get food, water, clothes, a hut or an apartement. Without money you are just mostly dead, it’s that simple. Tell me: What is this ?! A piece of colored paper is more worth than anything else on this planet ?! That is just NUTS, SICK, totally insane. This f…. piece of colored paper just developed it’s very own demonical powers, it got independent from it’s masters, you know, it became a REAL GOD. Now live or die with it.

    As long as this Money-God, as long as the myth of power, infinite growth, expoitation, profit is alive there will be no change of the main direction of this culture, it simply makes no sense to search for technical solutions while heading always politically, economically, ecologically in the wrong direction. It is about ETHICS, it is about JUSTICE- you can never ignore that while searching for technological solutions, it makes no sense, you can’t exchange Ethics for technology.

    Some days ago I have seen a comercial for a car on youtube: The care drove through a grey and dead nature and while it drove, the environment went colored and alive. So, the message is:

    This car makes dead Nature alive, that what kills Nature makes Nature truly alive. This is doublethink and doublethink is deadly in the natural process of natural selection, deadly on the way of a species on a planet. Just watch at any wild animal: It just can’t afford any doublethink twice, only dead animals can do that.

    So, if you really want to change this suicidal culture, you first have to change it’s myths, you have to fight against GODS in the very meaning of the word. Try it. I gave this fight against those modern Gods up, they just laugh at me all the time, they say:

    “ Man eats animal, we eat man.”


  7. Found this video to be an interesting one on carbon capture… However, there weren’t any stats on cost.


  8. This NatGeo Explorer Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown special ends in Hope…fun!

    See Bill Nye’s new 2015 book titled, Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

    Paris Climate talk appear to be giving us an additional seven years before we hit 2C, or by 2043. In another few years we can have another climate round to get us to under 2C, but I’m aiming for “Stayin Alive, 1.5”. Turn on your best speakers before watching!


  9. Jeremy Grantham on climate change – MIT Climate CoLab conference

    Jeremy Grantham is a British investor and co-founder and chief investment strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo (GMO), a Boston-based asset management firm. GMO is one of the largest managers of such funds in the world, having more than US $118 billion in assets under management as of March 2015.[1] Grantham is regarded as a highly knowledgeable investor in various stock, bond, and commodity markets, and is particularly noted for his prediction of various bubbles.[2] He has been a vocal critic of various governmental responses to the Global Financial Crisis.[3][4] Grantham started one of the world’s first index funds in the early 1970s.[5]

    In 2011 he was included in the 50 Most Influential ranking of Bloomberg Markets magazine.

    From the MIT Climate CoLab conference 2014, Crowds & Climate: From Ideas to Action, held November 6-7, 2014, at the MIT campus.

    The Climate CoLab is a project run out of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence that uses a technology-enabled, crowd-based approach to tackle climate change by dividing the problem into sub-challenges, running contests that address key issues, and allowing its growing international community develop solutions.

    The day-and-a-half program looked at how new technology-enabled, crowd-based approaches can help in developing creative new ideas and taking meaningful action on climate change. In this year’s event, we rolled up our sleeves and worked to figure out how to implement an innovative set of ideas to address climate change.


  10. Al Gore’s new TED Talk is a must watch, I think. Enjoy! Solutions begin at about the 12 minute mark.


  11. Tamino already posted about this and I left a comment there. My impression that Gore isn’t interested in real change, only a change of energy infrastructure and cars, but neither of those changes will get us to zero carbon (which is a target we MUST reach) and neither of them will do much to alter the decline of our ecologies which is largely due to our lifestyle, with climate change not yet kicking in much (at least in terms of extinctions), though it will.


  12. Hi, Mike. Long time no post. Good to be back from time to time.

    There is no doubt in my mind that we need more than changing our energy infrastructure, but as discussed previously, a change in values and consciousness. At the same time, if the proper price is put on carbon, price signals can make swift and radical adjustments over short amounts of time when profit is to be made from that transition. I say, the more profit the merrier! This isn’t to say that neoliberal policies are good, or to confuse properly pricing carbon is neoliberal. If anything, not putting a price on carbon and freely using nature’s air as a sewer is a neoliberal policy of de-regulation – or warped libertarianism. More than anything, we need to put a value on the air and climate we all take for granted, or institute at a minimum cap-and-trade schemes like those successful in New England. Al Gore is all about this, and I applaud him for it. We need leadership moving us in the right direction, even if he’s imperfect. I also like how he demonstrated that we are putting 400,000 Hiroshimas a day into the atmosphere, and using the image of a detonation. I have been doing this in my classes for some time now, and it really shocks my students to see this. It was cool to see Gore doing something I had already been doing in my presentations. It even inspired me to go this summer to train with Gore on presenting on climate, but the carbon footprint to do so wouldn’t have been worth it, IMHO. Maybe I can attend via online feed or something. I’m taken aback these days by jump in temperature readings. Geez.


    1. Hi Balan. Yes, we definitely need a change in values and consciousness. That is what these “solutions” don’t encompass. Even Hansen talks about a boost to the economy and extra jobs, from the drive to so-called clean energy. I have the greatest respect for Hansen the scientist but I think he’s way over-optimistic on the impact of a fee+dividend plan, though I don’t think there is the remotest chance of its being implemented. The rebound effect of the dividend would limit the effectiveness, I think.

      As I’ve mentioned before, renewables will not get us to zero carbon and that is an absolute requirement. If we go down the road of thinking that renewables are enough, then we’ll get to a point where the available energy to society is lower (good) which will mitigate against further reductions in GHG emissions, as energy is needed for infrastructure change. Unless we can figure out how to build, operate and decommission renewable infrastructure with just renewable infrastructure (and not emit toxins, e.g. with PV), then we will not be able to adjust society to a sustainable system, without massive disruption, as we won’t have the energy available to start again. So I think Gore and Hansen (the solutionist) are misguided, especially Gore, who appears to be saying, “don’t worry, we’re winning, no need to do anything differently.”


  13. Dear Scott,

    If you’re not aware of this now, I think you should be because it’s one of the most profound and elegantly refined solutions I’ve seen in some time to transform fossil fuel infrastructure into renewable ones. I’ve been reviewing the work of Sean Kidney who has inspired the creation of what are termed Green Bonds, and is CEO and Co-Founder of the small NGO named Climate Bonds Initiative. This is one way to move multi-trillion dollar markets toward supporting renewable energy efforts and to transition rapidly away from fossil fuels. See his website at:

    This first video is a good basic introduction to green bonds and how they can have an impact in the trillion dollar bond market. The video, titled “RfD at COP21 Climate Conference – Sean Kidney (CEO Climate Bonds Initiative)”, was taken during COP21 and published on December 7th, 2015.

    Here is a video of Sean Kidney presenting on Green Bonds to Ireland’s Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEE) on January 19th, 2016, and published February 3rd, 2016. The video is titled, “Sean Kidney – Green Bonds: Rethinking the Financing Solutions for Climate Change” It gives the viewer a sense of how he’s presenting green bonds to institutional investors and senior policy advisors.

    I was clued into Sean Kidney’s work from this interview with Michael LIebreich in this interview found on (near end). Interviewer brings up Sean Kidney’s work and Liebreich confirms his interest in his work.
    Michael Liebreich Answers My Electric Car & Renewable Energy Questions (Video Interview)

    I’d be curious as to any insights or comments you’d like to share when you have some time.




    1. Lest you think I’m ignoring you, I’m visiting friends this weekend but plan to check this out when I get a chance.


  14. Hi, ALL.

    I’m cross posting this in Solutions Discussion. Just read what I found to be a fascinating study. What I take away from it is that we might want to question our notions of how long energy transitions take considering their length of implementation have been accelerating over centuries. The idea that it takes 50 years to transition our energy infrastructure should be questioned strongly. Just a few things: 1) ban all fossil fuel vehicles by 2025; 2) bring building codes up to energy plus standards within 10 years (existing residential and commercial properties retrofitted to generate more energy than they use); 3) remove some $4.5 trillion in subsidies on all fossil fuels and give to renewable energy; 4) continued increases in investment in renewable energy sector to drive down costs and increase efficiency of solar, wind and batteries, etc.; 5) make it practical and cool to become vegetarian or vegan; 6) create great economic incentives for corporations and consumers to save money by going renewable.

    How long will it take? Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions, by Benjamin K. Sovacoola


    Transitioning away from our current global energy system is of paramount importance. The speed at which a transition can take place—its timing, or temporal dynamics—is a critical element of consideration. This study therefore investigates the issue of time in global and national energy transitions by asking: What does the mainstream academic literature suggest about the time scale of energy transitions? Additionally, what does some of the more recent empirical data related to transitions say, or challenge, about conventional views? In answering these questions, the article presents a “mainstream” view of energy transitions as long, protracted affairs, often taking decades to centuries to occur. However, the article then offers some empirical evidence that the predominant view of timing may not always be supported by the evidence. With this in mind, the final part of the article argues for more transparent conceptions and definitions of energy transitions, and it asks for analysis that recognizes the causal complexity underlying them.




    1. One thought: we need to distinguish what is hypothetically or technically possible with what happens when humans are making decisions in the current paradigm and economy. The likelihood of such a transtion happening as quickly as suggested is, IMO, tiny. E.g., your number 1, banning FF vehicles by 2025 has almost no chance of happening. And I did glance through the paper and found no mention of practical things like resource availability or the feasibility of obtaining resources without fossil fuels, amongst other things. So it seems like rather an academic exercise.


      1. Hey, Mike.

        Always good to get your perspective, even if I disagree.

        Any number of climactic events could be a tipping point to action for global leaders, galvanizing them to action. COP21 has already heralded, for all its weaknesses, and there are many, a unified voice on the need for reductions to prevent us from going over 1.5C – not that we’ll be able to achieve that, sadly. Death or fear of death of themselves and their loved ones is a powerful force for motivation no matter one’s political orientation. When confronted with this people tend to get more active, and in the coming decade I’m confident calls for action will accelerate dramatically. Already 20+ and growing US state attorney generals are investigating Exxon and Friends, and will probably due them under RICO like was done with the tobacco companies. And this way way bigger than that. As others on this blog are so quick to note, major ecological catastrophes are unfolding more often than ever before – The Great Barrier Reef in Australia, being a current example. Yes, there is no way to predict the future with certainty. Change lies within our own power to act individually and collectively. This will make the change happen. I just wrote a letter which I plan to mail to our university’s president to urge him to include in our next 5-year plan a strong ecological component to green our campuses nationwide and prepare them for what’s coming.

        Regarding the article, specifically. I think you are right, that it does not address the political factors, but merely the technical aspects. However, tiny can become big with the right conditions, and increasingly, those conditions are becoming more and more favorable. Clearly, there needs to be more discussion and rigorous analysis on this. At the same time, look at solar and wind growth rates. Commercial and residential battery storage coming online. China and India joining the US in ramping up renewables massively with amazing new growth targets. Investments in renewables setting records every year. Autonomous vehicles are ready to go live now, but political factors holding them back. It’s clear that we are at the beginning of an S curve that goes up very steeply, just like greenhouse gas and temps have shot up, too.

        If we can make it through, and I am hopeful we will (if I have anything to say and do about it), we are on the cusp of entering a neo-Cambrian evolution in which we are about to evolve – for better or worse – to a new stage of development. Think quantum computing, all humans energy independent with affordable and sustainable energy (no need to cut down trees for cooking fuel or heating when you’ve got that solar panel connected to an electric hot plate), being able to physically see other life forms on other planets using advanced satellite telescopic instruments like the new James Webb Telescope set to be launched 2018, TESLA’s new Model 3 at $35K price point due to ship beginning of 2018, never needing to own your own car ever again, living and working in home and commercial buildings that produce more energy than they consume, and eating vegetarian or vegan food that is nutritionally balanced, tastes great, and is more affordable than meat and fish. Imagine that all bio-fuels are diverted exclusively to air travel until alternative can be designed, constructed, tested and put into service. The Pentagon – the biggest user of fossil fuels in the world of any organization – is moving faster and faster to bring renewable energy to all branches. To capture big cost savings, huge multinational corporations like Walmart are moving rapidly to go 100% renewable, which is spurning to action all other corporations. Apple is already at 97% renewable capacity, and improving. All these things are happening now, not in the future. The following companies have already pledged to go 100% renewable, such as IKEA (by next year), Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, British Telecom, and many others; and this is not because they want to look good, but it’s an economic decision. Wow.

        Ah, it’s fun to speculate, isn’t it? However, the real battle is in the trenches where things change – getting dirty and gritty. Here’s to real grit in making all this actually happen ASAP.


      2. A few points from your comment, Balan.

        Firstly, if it’s going to take some extreme climactic event to galvanise us into the action required, that means it will already be too late to avoid catastrophic changes, particularly as an actions will take time to play out. And if the only action that would mean anything is immediate cessation of all emissions, do you think that is remotely likely?

        There have been many “studies” about how quickly a transition could be made to emission free energy to run our civilisation but none, that I’ve seen, address the practicalities or the resource requirements. Often, it is just electricity that is addressed but that is just 20% of our energy use and no “renewable” energy yet is emissions free (because of resource extraction, cement, etc). Are there enough rare earths, etc. Also, none of those studies examine whether the diversion of energy flows (sun and wind) from natural ones to human centred ones will have significant detrimental effects (actually, I did see one study that addressed this a little with wind and concluded that the amount of wind energy we could utilise without detrimental effects was much lower than assumed).

        Sadly, we want it all. We want to continue with our current “progress” and continue growing economies, all without harming our environment but that last piece is at the lowest priority. The impossible is not possible but contrarians and optimists alike think the opposite is true. Given our human nature (collectively), there appears to be no grounds for optimism that we will get out of this predicament. Still, any action after catastrophic climate events that slows down the changes will be better than nothing, for those who survive.


      3. Hi, Mike.

        I must admit that it’s refreshing to have your counter-weight to my optimism, as I believe that no one can predict the future. We are engaged in an unprecedented experiment in which there is no planet B to do a controlled experiment on. Perhaps our hubris will lead to full or partial extinction, but the best I can do is the best I can do. I’ll fight like hell to keep that from happening, if at all possible. This being so, it’s great to have the complete and utter other side to keep me realistic and practical. Good on you, mate.

        To clarify, I said “climactic events”, not extreme climactic events. I believe our leaders have more desire for self-preservation than you. Yes, we agree, that we must act before extreme climactic event engage, otherwise it just might be too late.

        On your point about most focus just addressing electricity, I beg to differ. Many studies look at energy, not merely electricity. There are three primary categories: transportation, buildings and industry, all of which need electricity. For example, electric vehicles (EVs) are on the cusp of going exponential as battery prices drop, and this is entering all transport sectors with the exception of airplanes (which is why biofuels could be designed for exclusive use by them until alternatives could be found). This will cause global oil demand to plummet, and emissions too. Furthermore, to do a massive commercial and residential building retrofitting program is not rocket science, and insulation is cheap. Building codes are getting stronger by the year, leaving LEED in the dust. Both of the above deal with transportation and buildings, not electricity. Furthermore, forcing people to change their dietary habits, which is part of industry, is possible if sufficient governmental power is brought to bear, such as rationing as in the example of WWII, when ‘victory gardens’ were created and certain foods prohibited and redirected to the front lines. It would be quite easy, actually, to institute a new local agricultural system within years as was done in Cuba when they lost the Soviet Union as their chief oil supplier and went practically dark overnight.

        Adding weight to my viewpoint, the political gridlock is showing nascent signs of thaw due to increasing numbers of jobs in the renewable energy sector that are springing up in the districts of none other than conservative Republicans. Change is happening at a much faster rate than in the past, and an energy transition, I believe, can also scale faster than what we are used to thinking of in the past.

        Certainly, only time will tell. Let’s all do our part now to make it happen. I’d love to brainstorm tangible actions we all can take now to improve the odds. Are you into such a dialogue? If so, I’m in.


  15. Scott, when you have time can you delete above in the first line “Solutions Discussion” and replace it with “Discussion #4”? Thanks!


  16. Balan, one of my concerns is that no renewable energy infrastructure, so far, has proven to be emissions free for its complete lifecycle and, certainly, electric cars are not emissions free. Of course, we can hope that eventually such things can be made emissions free but, so far, I see no grounds for that hope. For this reason, it seems we are content to encourage low-emissions technologies to build up, even though it is not a solution for future generations. I’d prefer is different discussions: the technologies we know of now cannot meet our goal of a zero emissions world in the second half of this century, so how does that change our tactics or strategy?


    1. Mike, I think that those emissions can be off-set by something like Regenerative Farming, for example, among other technologies and ecological practices. [See video at bottom.]

      Here is an excerpt from Nafeez Ahmed’s article on titled, Will the Upheaval in Fossil Fuel Industry Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It? Here’s the link:

      “The idea of removing carbon from the atmosphere sounds technologically difficult and insanely expensive. It’s not. In reality, it is relatively simple and cheap.”

      “A new book by Eric Toensmeier, a lecturer at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, The Carbon Farming Solution, sets out in stunningly accessible fashion how ‘regenerative farming’ provides the ultimate carbon-sequestration solution.”

      “Regenerative farming is a form of small-scale, localised, community-centred organic agriculture which uses techniques that remove carbon from the atmosphere, and sequester it in plant material or soil.”

      “Using an array of land management and conservation practices, many of which have been tried and tested by indigenous communities, it’s theoretically possible to scale up regenerative farming methods in a way that dramatically offsets global carbon emissions.”

      “Toensmeier’s valuable book discusses these techniques, and unlike other science-minded tomes, offers a practical toolkit for communities to begin exploring how they can adopt regenerative farming practices for themselves.”

      “According to the Rodale Institute [18], the application of regenerative farming on a global scale could have revolutionary results:”

      "Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect."

      “This has been widely corroborated. For instance, a 2015 study [19] part-funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that “replacing chemical fertilizer with organic manure significantly decreased the emission of GHGs [greenhouse gases]. Yields of wheat and corn also increased as the soil fertility was improved by the application of cattle manure. Totally replacing chemical fertilizer with organic manure decreased GHG emissions, which reversed the agriculture ecosystem from a carbon source… to a carbon sink.”


      1. Quote above from Rodale Institute was cut off… here it is.

        “Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.”


      2. I like Eric, got one of his books on perennial veges and would like another (the co-written Edible Forest Gardens set). I don’t doubt that it is theoretically possible but I don’t see is happening, that all emissions from activities that can’t be powered from renewable energy are offset by appropriate farming techniques. I think those techniques should be used anyway but it’s an extremely difficult transition, even if the whole world agreed to it. Since very few will agree to it, the point is moot. However, even if it wasn’t difficult, I would not countenance the continued drawdown of non-renewable resources, with the attendant ecological damage that would do, until the last economically viable grain was extracted.

        It’s simply not a solution to try to go on as we are but just diverting natural energy flows and resources for our own personal pleasure. That way can only end in utter catastrophe.

        In any case, I don’t see the research that puts all of this together to show what is even physically possible without compromising the future of our children (required resources, rates, ecological impacts, and so on). So it’s fine to be optimistic about individual pieces of what might be done to mitigate but we really need to be thinking fundamentally differently about how we live our lives and how we organise communities. It is really difficult to come up with ways that don’t damage the environment (not necessarily a problem for a few million people but a big problem with 9 billion people) and doesn’t sound like we’re returning to cave-man times. I sometimes think Homo sapiens is the only species that doesn’t really have a clue how to live in harmony with nature.


  17. I’ll tweet that out too and might possibly suggest my Uni in South Korea adopt the contest model for itself here. Thanks, Sara!


    1. Thanks for this, Sara. It’s great to have others posting here besides me and Mike.

      Frankly, I think hydrogren power is not going to make it despite this “break-through”. Lots of start-ups show some kind of break-throughs, but when one really drills down it turns out to be far from accurate. Hydrogen requires containment at high pressure and transport which require additional inputs. The experience curves of hydrogen are not comparable, I believe, with solar and wind in drops in price over the past ten years. Solar and wind is already competitive with coal and natural gas in some markets. Within the next ten years it will be dominant in most markets if experience curves prove to be correct, which there is every reason to expect.

      Again, thanks for posting and getting into discussion.


  18. Just joined this discussion – and apologies if repetitive of what has been discussed – too much to digest – and probably about solutions that most can only dream/talk about. So dropping right down to grass roots community level where walking the talk may be achieveable. A loose informal group in our community is trying to implement ideas – along the lines of the global transition towns movement – which covers a wide range of topics but basically on building local community resilience in its food, its economy, its energy etc. The meeting of likeminds is great for my sanity, but whilst many ideas are suggested, hard to get folks to take ownership and run with ideas to get traction (due to multiple reasons). What has been the experience in your communities?


    1. Ross, I really like your focus – think globally, but act locally. In our community in Seoul, South Korea, we already have the most efficient electricity market in the world, and use split air conditioners (coolant and fan are separated leading to 50% increase in efficiency), and the local city district office in our “gu” is offering solar panels to be installed on our air conditioner racks. For us the economics still didn’t pencil out, but some have taken the city up on the offer. Most all apartment buildings are required to face east or south for solar gain already. I can see within the next five years solar panels going up on apartment buildings once electricity subsidies start to go up due to carbon taxes. Sadly, the South Korean government is doing next to nothing to build out renewable energy sources as there is what might be called an energy “mafia” here that makes its bread and butter from the status quo. When we had a heat wave a couple years back, the population complained about high energy prices in summer, but they don’t know that prices are already very low. Politically it’s difficult to tell the population to take higher prices. A fully re-distributive carbon tax could give lower income folks especially the extra income they’d need to buy more efficient air conditioners for summer heat. Of course, better building codes on apartment buildings could dramatically reduce heating and cooling emissions. EVs too are just starting to accelerate in the Korean market, and TESLA has just opened an office this year, but no cars have gone on sale as of yet due to them not wanting to expand too quickly.


  19. So this thread is dreadfully quiet…
    Never mind, maybe someone is out there. I was seeking an opinion on the hopelessness of the climate solutions. Here is an article which make them feel so – but maybe it is not well researched, or maybe there are solutions (of scale) that we could still keep in mind? Obviously, the main solution is to consume considerably less but how to achieve that is really beyond me, in a world where material goods are so important even now…
    Grateful for any hope…!


    1. Hi, there.

      This forum ebbs and flows like the sea.

      There are tons of effective climate solutions (see & &, but solutions are not enough without political will, and individual action is a much smaller part of problem than institutional change at local, county, state, national, and international levels.

      I recommend you become politically active, participate in voter registration drives & get out the vote campaigns (in USA), and mass movements in your area, and get organized with others like you. Advocate for upgrading building with sensible cutting edge environmental rules in your area and state/province. Start here:

      India and China alone could stop climate change by making a rapid transition to clean energy in all sectors, and they are both now going light-speed. This is grounds for some optimism. The cost of renewables and storage is dropping annually by 20%+, and efficiency and densities going up too.

      TESLA is now the largest car manufacturer on Earth by market capitalization. Coal power generation is dying quickly. Gas is close to dying. Oil is on it’s way out at record low prices and huge tens of billions in write downs. Exxon was just delisted from DJIA.

      There are countless quality solutions needing people to act on them. Every problem has a solution; it’s just a matter of finding it.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d question your claim that “every problem has a solution”. Some problems are predicaments where there is no solution, if, by “solution”, you mean removal of the problem. Of course, there are actions that could, in principle, address the situation by slowing the degradation or even, potentially, stabilizing the situation eventually. This is not the same as a solution. I have yet to figure out how to do the one prerequisite for any actions that might have a positive impact on the predicament and that is to change the characteristic of the one species which has the technical ability to do anything about it, humans. So far, I don’t think it’s possible for a species to voluntarily alter its characteristic behaviour without changing the environment in which it lives.


      2. Sure, Balan, thanks. I am already politically active, both as a voter as well as a voice in local politics and advisor to some political parties in my home country. I am also part of XR in two countries, an activist and speaker, plus advocate for what you are describing in the media and in my work as a researcher and lecturer. I have followed the changes for a long time, so I was not so much seeking my way between personal and collective action, it was primarily the focus of this article on the impossibility of renewables to solve anything that caught my attention and made me wonder whether it is stating the reality as it is or whether there is still hope – as you mention, perhaps in the form of increasing efficiency. I am no specialist in these aspects of change (just the social side of it), thus the question here.
        Agreed, it is the political will that is needed; currently, it seems to have abated in some parts of the world rather than catching up, and it seems that so much of what is politically sold as sustainable is pure greenwash – which of course undermines the whole idea of green change…


    2. I don’t think the fact that there is no free lunch in this universe is a reason to despair. There’s a smart way and a dumb way to do everything, and we’re always going to need an army of people who pull us toward the smart way, from activists to engineers to regulators. I don’t feel hopeless about it. I look at the progress made in the last 10 years as the proof that this is doable. As our understanding of the energy revolution crystallizes, I think we’re starting to move to that next phase where we realize exactly what the dumb way side-effects are (no free lunch) and work out smart way logistics. The example you mention probably isn’t a realization–I think we’ve always known that new things would require new materials and we would have to be careful not to source them in a damaging way–but it fits in with my broader point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, and I like your optimism, amazing especially considering the part of the world you seem to be based! I suppose for those moves to lead in right direction, science needs to be respected and greenwashed actions recognised and exposed for what they are so they won’t stay in the way, damaging the whole environmentally conscious direction. I feel somewhat concerned still whether that can be done on time, but your optimism is contagious :)


      2. This is super-optimism: “we would have to be careful not to source them in a damaging way”.

        You’re right that there is no free lunch. All species damage/alter their environment in some way but the scale we do things and to the same areas over and over, until there is no chance of recovery in human time scales, makes humans the ultimate environment destroyer.

        I wrote an earlier comment, which somehow didn’t make the site, that humans would have to become the only species that can voluntarily change its characteristic behaviour for us to have a chance of addressing the environmental damage we’ve done in some meaningful way. Balan claimed that all problems have solutions but that is just not true. We are now in a predicament of our own making and we are left with, not solutions, but potential actions that may slow the damage or (if we change our characteristic behaviour) eventually stabilise it (though, because ecosystem disturbance probably takes centuries to reach a new equilibrium, no human alive today is likely to be able to determine that).

        I’m just about to watch an Al Jazeera programme on the Dark Side of Green Energy, which may just confirm my lack of optimism in humans being able to do anything about this.


      3. Weird, the spam filter ate it. I restored it—sorry that makes you repeat yourself slightly.


      4. I agree with Scott and would add that, in light of Mike’s remarks, regarding optimist vs pessimist, in my book there’s just a workist. We do the work that’s needed to shift the system until death’s door arrives. And look, SHIFT HAPPENS. In the past 10 years the cost of renewables has fallen to below the operating cost of existing coal PPs, soon to be lower than gas, and solar PV efficiency is near doubling in that time, and wind turbines taller and wider. Battery storage costs have plummeted, and electrolyzers for GH2 (this is what decarbonizes the hardest 20%) are now being included in LCOE measurements for mainstream energy estimates. Moreover, as I mentioned previously, China & India’s current political leadership fully understand climsci and are deeply engaging to decarbonize. Furthermore, as the USA is a strongly capitalist nation, as are many others in its orbit, the lowest price wins in the end because consumers demand it. Keep writing your reps demanding it.

        Mike’s pessimism toward the negative “characteristics” of humanity describes a subset of a larger one that doesn’t fully do the species justice. Michael Moore’s latest documentary has been widely dismissed by countless critiques, my favorite being on Chris Nelder’s The Energy Transition Show episode 125 “Beyond Planet of the Human”. As a previous die hard fan of Moore’s documentaries previous, I can’t believe my adoration of his creative genius died with his last stupid face plant. What an irresponsible piece of poorly researched time waste; it’s sad to see someone like Mike, who I’ve corresponded on this blog for years come at solutions with Moore’s lens.

        On the ‘there are solutions to every problem” growth mindset, yeah, ok, there are a lot of really hard problems out there, like, say, let’s move the sun to another solar system (uh, yep, no solution), but let’s choose something easier like transforming the global energy system to a very low-carbon system. Many well-researched by highly-acclaimed scientists (not crappy docus) are saying not only can we do it, but we will save money doing so. The principle obstacle is political, and an educated populace.

        So don’t just say it’s hopeless and head home to drink a craft brew like Michael Moore. That will only make things worse (ok, just one beer). Keep doing what you’re already doing and double down on it, maybe slightly shift direction and fine tune it more. The Earth loves you for hearing it’s cries and wants you to keep protecting her from destruction. Keep it up.


      5. Michael Moore didn’t really make that documentary, but did promote it. It wasn’t as bad as some make out. However, I’ve seen nothing in 30 years that suggest our species can alter its characteristic behaviour. If you have reason to think it can, please share.

        Meanwhile the Al Jazeera doco, I mentioned shows that the dream of clean green energy is just that, a dream. As one scientist put it, our emissions will continue to increase even as most electricity may become so-called renewable.

        I’d love there to be solutions but, most of all, I’d love realism in considering those “solutions”. Otherwise, we may be heading for a much worse future than even fossil fuels promise.


  20. Hi all. It’s been very quiet here but I thought of this place as I was looking into the minerals requirement of renewable energy infrastructure, which supposedly is the solution. I was pointed to the work of Simon Michaux who is urging others to do the same. The huge amount of research and calculation he’s done suggests that a green energy transition is neither clean nor possible due to the huge mining requirement it would have.

    Check out a video outlining his work, here:

    I wish that those who are advocating full steam ahead on renewables would stop to think of the impacts of that. Are we trying to save civilisation as we know it or trying to maintain habitat for as many species as possible (including ours)? I hope it’s the latter and, if so, a new approach to our future is needed. If it’s the former, we’re heading for extinction.


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