A guest post by Wayne Hooper
There has recently been a sudden increase, even on Green sites, of articles pointing out that the Great Green Dream is a fantasy. The wildly optimistic Resilience website republished this article:
https://www.resilience.org/stories/2023-04-10/the-rising-chorus-of-renewable-energy-skeptics/ . Even this leftish Green website: https://www.truthdig.com/dig/green-tinted-glasses/
Here are some excerpts from the latter:
Then there is the legendary energy and systems theorist Vaclav Smil. An emeritus at the University of Manitoba and author of more than 40 books on energy, environment and industry, Smil has declared the “rapid-speed transformation narratives” in the renewables field to be so full of “magic prescriptions” that they are “the academic equivalents of science fiction. … Heavy doses of wishful thinking are commingled with a few solid facts” … “We are dealing with people who, despite receiving relevant education, refuse to acknowledge basic physical [and] mathematical facts,” he explained. “That a global decarbonization is impossible by 2030 or 2040 is beyond any reasonable dispute.”
“Curious as to whether renewables could “power the future,” professors in design and mechanical and aerospace engineering at Monash University in Australia concluded in a 2016 study that estimates for the technical potential of renewable energy were all over the map. Academics, Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery, argued that “values at the lower end of the range [of technical potential] must be seriously considered… future [renewable energy] output could be far below present energy use.”
Moriarty and Honnery revisited the subject of renewable energy potential in a 2020 report published in the journal Energies, reiterating that “a future world entirely fueled” by renewables could end up being “a lower-energy one.” Moriarty then teamed up with seven co-authors — climate scientists, sustainability experts and engineers — to look at “energy descent as a post-carbon transition scenario.” The team concluded that “… deep uncertainties remain about whether renewables can maintain, let alone grow, the range and scale of energy services presently provided by fossil fuels.” As Moriarty and Honnery put it in their 2016 paper, the “prudent course” in a renewables-only future “would involve major energy reductions…we will likely [need] to re-evaluate all energy-consuming tasks, discarding those that are less important.”
Politicians cannot win elections if they tell the truth about energy decline:
“To win at the polls, says influential Democratic Party consultant Ruy Texeira, one must always remember that “degrowth is probably the worst idea…since communism.” Successful politicians must offer an optimistic program that “technology can produce an abundant future,” that “the transition to a green economy is really only possible in a high-growth context,” with “expensive technological innovation and infrastructure development” — that is, making capitalist business-as-usual the only solution. ”
“University of Lausanne ecological economist Julia Steinberger thinks of green growth as a zombie notion. It has been killed several times over, “canceled by research,” Steinberger has tweeted. “I’m not sure our public discourse in media & teaching has quite caught up to the fact that green growth is a fiction …deceased, gone.” Why the persistence of an idea that has so little substance behind it? For obvious reasons, as Steinberger explained: “growth aligns with currently powerful forces and structures in our economies: profit-oriented corporations, wealth accumulation and the power that comes with wealth.”
The British economist, Dr Tim Morgan:
I applaud those who advocate de-growth as a positive choice, but I see little or no chance of society voluntarily abandoning its fixation with growth. Growth in most Western countries went into reverse in the early 2000s, but the subsequent years have been characterised by (a) denial that this is happening at all, and (b) a desperate and futile search for a ‘fix’ for economic contraction.
I suspect that much of the recent awareness of the geological limits to economic growth in general, and The Green Dream in particular, stems from two gigantic reports* by the Australian physicist and mining engineer, Dr Simon Michaux, for the Finnish Geological Survey and, since then, the many interviews he has given and the Youtubes which feature him— for example, this presentation he gave to the University of Queensland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBVmnKuBocc
Here are links to Michaux’s reports:
Oil from a Critical Raw Material Perspective: https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/70_2019.pdf
Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely
Replace Fossil Fuels: https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/42_2021.pdf
Both these reports are in English and each has a very good table of contents, so it is fairly easy to find what you want.
For those in a hurry this short statement by seven prominent British geologists and mineralogists gives an excellent overview of the magnitude of the problem: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/press-office/press-releases/leading-scientists-set-out-resource-challenge-of-meeting-net-zer.html?fbclid=IwAR3J94YKNBHWfI6_tt-4mWDLDIzzQ-iF5uAxv1l0fV6tJV1qVKXW0corjj8 .
Stop Press Simon Michaux gave a Zoom conference hosted by the University of Tasmania last week: Rethinking Sustainability.
11 Replies to “It’s over, but don’t tell the children”
I would like to add a section called “What Next?” with particular reference to Australia. We need to abandon Globalism and look after ourselves. The first opinion-changing fact will be a supply chain disaster of some sort, probably involving power, fuel, or, even worse, food. Britain is perhaps the most vulnerable Western nation. Supply chain disasters elsewhere are simply ignored, e.g. Sri Lanka.
Another “What next?” possibility is a “black swan event” such as a coronal mass ejection which takes out half the world’s communication satellites. There was a sufficiently large CME a couple of weeks ago but, thankfully, it was pointing in the wrong direction and missed the earth.
Blackjay: When it hits the fan we may be better off here in Tasmania where we have hydro power and can be self-sufficient in food.
Wayne: Yes, we have hydro dams but we also need turbines, dynamos (huge Swedish? ball bearings), substations and transformers etc. Do we have the capacity to make these.? How will we make affordable fertiliser ? What will our tractors and trucks run on? While we have plenty of resources there is always Liebig’s Law to trip us up.
Blackjay: It is an issue of time scales. People and societies have to cope first on a time scale of days, then weeks, then months, then years. If a society can survive the first few months following a major supply chain disaster then it has time to put emergency measures in place, to start making ball bearings for example. Furthermore we would not expect our power stations to all go off-line simultaneously.
The most crippling supply chain disaster would be a shortage of motor vehicle fuel. One partial remedy, which could come on line in a matter of months with little outside help, would be the local manufacture of charcoal-water slurry as a substitute for diesel fuel. Apart from water and charcoal the only other ingredient is a small quantity of dispersant to prevent the solids clumping. A suitable dispersant is sodium lignosulfonate, a by-product of the paper industry. I would like to see some basic research and prototyping in this area before there is a desperate need. One of the issues with alternative forest products is that most recyclable forest waste is already being used by a variety of local businesses.
Another advantage we Tasmanians have is our low population density. Thirty years ago, at morning tea, in the elegant, new CSIRO canteen, looking out over the Derwent Estuary, where occasional whales or dolphins were to be seen, visiting Chinese scientist, John Yu, told us “You know your high standard of living is mainly due to your low population density”.
He went on: “If we were in China, there would be thirty million people living in this valley.”
In fact there were two hundred thousand people.
Spot on comment – in Oz we are full of great ideas that want to ruin our lifestyle and our human need for space
When people start walking, nowhere is a safe space. Don’t expect a half dozen billion people to sit around and starve quietly when supplies of food and water diminish. Look at Europe. Unless the European peoples start acting in concert and institute a policy of fortress Europe, nothing is going to stop the stream of refugees (from poverty) flooding that continent.
As for Tasmania, best enjoy the privileges it affords us while it lasts.
I cannot see the West’s peoples waking up in time to save our asses.
The CC bogeyman is, of course, just a pretext to achieve other objectives:
A handy start would be to let change occur at a rate that optimises past efforts and beds in newer technologies as they prove their worth. The panic driven up-ending of established technologies such as the electricity grid or fossil fuelled transport systems is counter productive, along with so many eco driven schemes.
There will be some kind of awakening but the details are not easy to predict.
Apocalypse mentality is pretty ingrained in most of us, probably for good reasons.
We live in interesting times.
Things are really hotting up on this front. Only last week the OECD issued a 90 page report, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/trade/raw-materials-critical-for-the-green-transition_c6bb598b-en;jsessionid=fmXdq1RukdT7JDwzsld0MIaT8ONmk4cLrxRsQRjM.ip-10-240-5-165.
The report emphasises the dangers of the growing dependency of OECD members on a restricted number of suppliers and the disturbing tendency for export restrictions to be imposed, especially by those countries with a near monopoly on supplies. For example, becoming dependent on China for critical minerals risks their using exports bans as a political and economic weapon. For instance, in 2010 China banned exports of rare earths to Japan following a dispute over territorial waters between China and Japan. The ban was lifted a few months later but the Chinese succeeded in getting their message across.
And today’s issue of The Age has an opinion piece on the OECD report and it concludes:
“The scale of the increased requirement for strategic raw materials, if global decarbonisation targets are to be met by the middle of this century, is daunting enough without the existing supply chains being interrupted or distorted by either economic nationalism or geopolitics.
Unhappily, however, those appear to be obstacles that will have to be factored into the scramble by developed economies, in particular, to meet their green ambitions.”
On the other hand:
My congratulations to Wayne Hooper for putting together the article links. It is the most encouraging read I’ve seen in a long time that there is some traction in the persistent arguments against AGW etc. Thank you.