REWIRING THE WORLD WITH CLEAN ENERGY
Virtually every proposal to pacify our inflamed atmosphere emerging from the Paris climate conference is dismally inadequate to avoid very dangerous climate change.
Despite the efforts of diplomats and negotiators from dozens of countries, along with representatives from non-profit organizations and corporations, the truth is that nature's timetable is non-negotiable.
Already the deep oceans are warming, the tundra is thawing, the glaciers are melting, infectious diseases are migrating and the timing of the seasons has changed. The next few decades will see a succession of crop failures, intensifying water shortages, uncontrolled migrations by people whose lands have become uninhabitable, and a succession of extreme weather events which will cripple national budgets.
At this point, even the most ambitious national climate action plans are insufficient to avoid massive disruption. Any semblance of a coherent civilization requires a universally binding, globally coordinated plan to rewire the world with clean energy. In short, nature is telling us: "Burn Nothing."
One proposal to minimize the coming climate impacts includes three macro-level strategies to propel a global transition to non-carbon energy.
* In industrial countries, withdraw all subsidies from fossil fuels and redirect those subsidies to non-carbon energy sources;
* Create a global fund of about $500 billion a year to transfer clean energy technologies to developing countries; and,
* Require all countries to increase the carbon efficiency of their economies by 5 percent per year.
The U.S. currently spends more than $25 billion a year to subsidize exploration and production of oil and coal. In the industrial countries overall, those subsidies have been estimated at about $90 billion a year.
The industrial countries should rapidly redirect those subsidies to clean energy sources. A tiny portion of U.S. subsidies would be needed to retrain or buy out the nation's coal miners. But the lions' share of the subsidies would be used by major energy companies to retrain their workers and become aggressive developers of fuel cells, wind farms, and solar systems.
To jumpstart clean energy infrastructures in developing countries, a global fund of about $500 billion could be financed by a carbon tax in industrial countries or a tax on international air travel.
One alternative financial mechanism -- a tax on international currency transactions -- would use the private banking system to implement the energy transition. Today the commerce in those swaps amounts to about $5 trillion per day. A tax of a quarter-penny on a dollar would exceed $500 billion a yearfor wind farms in India, fuel-cell factories in South Africa and vast, solar-powered hydrogen farms in the Middle East.
The banks, which electronically track currency trades, would receive a fee to administer the fund. The banks' implementation of the fund would minimize corruption in recipient countries and eliminate the need for a new UN bureaucracy.
The driver of the plan is a progressive Carbon Efficiency Standard. Under this Standard, every country would start at its current baseline to increase its carbon fuel efficiency by 5 percent a year. A country would produce the same amount as the previous year with five percent less carbon fuel. Alternatively, it would produce five percent more with the same carbon fuel use as the previous year. (Domestic cap-and-trade programs could be very useful in helping countries meet their goals.)
Since no economy grows at five percent for long, emissions reductions would outpace long-term economic growth.
For the first few years, countries would achieve the 5 percent reductions simply by eliminating the waste in their current energy systems. As those efficiencies became more expensive to capture, governments would meet the progressive efficiency standard by deploying clean energy technologies which are 100 percent "carbon efficient."
That, in turn, would create the mass markets and economies of scale for renewables that would bring down their prices and make them competitive with coal and oil.
A nation's compliance could be measured simply by calculating the ratio of its carbon fuel use to its gross domestic product. That ratio would have to change by 5 percent a year.
In sum, the subsidy switch would propel the metamorphosis of oil companies into energy companies; the progressive Carbon Efficiency Standard would harmonize the transformation of national energy structures; and the competition for the new $500 billion a year clean energy market in developing countries would power the whole process.
Today every country on the planet is experiencing the increasingly ominous impacts of our changing climate. At the same time, every country requires an abundant supply of energy to compete in the global economy.
Development economists, moreover, tell us that energy investments in poor countries create far more wealth and jobs than equivalent investments in any other sector. A properly framed global energy transition would create millions of jobs in developing countries and begin to redress the economic inequity that threatens to split humanity irreparably between rich and poor.
A plan of this magnitude, regardless of the details, would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad without compromising ours. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into a central, driving engine of growth of the global economy.
A common global project to rewire the world with clean energy would be an unprecedented act of international cooperation. At the risk of being overly visionary, it might even provide the first step on a path to peace even in today's profoundly fractured world: Peace among people and peace between people and nature.
(c) Ross Gelbspan