Thursday , June 22 2017
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Please stop chanting greenwash

Chanting is a practice found in most religious and spiritual practices.  In yoga, for example, the sound OM is chanted repetitively until it loses any cognitive meaning and simply becomes pure sound vibration.  Recently I have begun to wonder if repeating that this or that country just generated all of its energy from renewables might serve a similar purpose.  Repeated often enough, it induces a state of peace and tranquillity free from the cognitive dissonance that would undoubtedly occur if we were to actually think about it for a moment.

In addressing looming environmental and energy security crises, generating electricity from renewable sources is the (relatively) easy bit.  Reducing the world’s carbon emissions to the point where we remain below the 2oC of warming (after which all sorts of feedback mechanisms begin to make our planet inhospitable to human life) is far more difficult.  For all the cheerleading from an emergent green energy lobby whose desire for corporate welfare matches that of the fossil fuel industry, the reality is that electricity accounts for less than a fifth of our greenhouse gas emissions.  Industry, transport, agriculture and building temperature control are far more important areas of energy use and environmental pollution.  However, a lack of government action and, crucially, state subsidies in these areas means that they have lagged far behind where they need to be just to meet the (probably inadequate) Paris Agreement signed just eighteen months ago.

According to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Tracking Clean Energy Progress, in 26 key areas where new technologies must be developed and deployed to meet both our future energy needs and our Paris climate targets, just three are on track.  Of these, two – energy storage and solar PV/onshore wind – have seen positive developments while the third – electric vehicles – has seen just limited developments.  These, of course are the technologies that are used by the media to lull us into a false sense of security.  But in eight crucial technology areas we are simply not on track.  These include buildings (which account for 40 percent of our total energy use) shipping (which makes up a large part of the world’s diesel oil consumption) and carbon capture and storage (the future development of which is crucial to allowing western states to continue using fossil fuels today).  The remaining technology areas have seen some improvement, but this falls short of what is required to have any chance of meeting global climate targets.

IEA 2017 renewable technologies report
Source: IEA 2017  Tracking Clean Energy Progress

According to the IEA:

“Investments in stronger and smarter infrastructure, including transmission capacity, storage capacity and demand side management technologies are necessary to build efficient, low-carbon, integrated, flexible and robust energy system.

“Still, current government policies are not sufficient to achieve long-term global climate goals, according to the IEA analysis… Where policies have provided clean signals, progress has been substantial. However, many technology areas suffer from inadequate policy support.”

Meanwhile the grim reality is that we face a combined environmental, energy security and economic crisis whose solution – if it can be solved at all – depends upon completely rethinking and restructuring the way we do many of the things that we currently take for granted. This highlights the danger of greenwash cheerleading – it serves to remove pressure on governments to take the lead in key areas like aviation, shipping, building design and retrofitting, and a range of heavy industries.

Unless and until we see massive investment in clean industry, clean transportation and clean buildings to go along with clean electricity, you’ll forgive me if I do not join in with your thought-stopping chants… I’ll stick with OM (it is simpler)!

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