Last week, US novelist Jonathan Franzen sparked heated debate with his New Yorker article wondering whether the best approach to the impending global climate crisis might be to “to admit we can’t prevent it.”
The article, titled “What if we stopped pretending?” unleashed widespread outrage on Twitter, not least from climate scientists and experts, who slammed it as “poorly researched,” “self indulgent,” “wildly out of step with reality” and “one of the worst climate pieces I’ve ever read outside the denier’s camp.”
Perhaps in the case of Franzen, the appalling denialist federal politics of the US – not unlike those in Australia – are to blame for his doomsday outlook.
But even without the awful politics, the outlook is bleak. The window for keeping global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C is closing rapidly as politicians dither and and differences between the two, in terms of the impact on the planet, are dramatic.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming response to the Franzen op-ed from those who know was, ‘no, we should not give up,’ and ‘yes, we can still turn this ship around.’
Happily, a report released this week by Norway’s DNV GL supports that view with a reassuring list of 10 measures that could stop dangerous global warming, and just one major caveat: we will certainly not succeed at the current rate of progress.
“Technology has the power to close the emissions gap to well below 2°C,” the Energy Transition Outlook 2019 report says.
“At DNV GL, we believe a combination of these 10 measures can get us there:”
1.Grow solar power by more than 10 times to 5 TW and wind by 5 times to 3 TW by 2030, which would meet 50% of the global electricity use per year;
2. A 50-fold increase in production of batteries for the 50 million electric vehicles needed per year by 2030, plus investments in more storage and balancing solutions to accommodate the growth of solar and wind power;
3. Invest more than $US1.5 trillion annually in the expansion and reinforcement of power grids by 2030, including ultra-high voltage transmission networks and extensive demand-response solutions;
4. Increase global energy efficiency improvements by 3.5% per year within the next decade;
5. Improved and cheaper heat-pump technologies and improved insulation;
6. Create new infrastructure for charging electric vehicles on a large scale;
7. Rapid and wide deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage installations;
8. Green hydrogen to heat buildings and industry, fuel transport and make use of excess renewable energy in the power grid;
9. For the heavy industry sector: increased electrification of manufacturing processes, including electrical heating. Onsite renewable sources combined with storage solutions;
10. Massive rail expansion both for city commuting and long-distance passenger and cargo transport.
As you can see from the list, most of the measures seem eminently doable by 2030, by which time we can only hope both carbon capture and storage and renewable hydrogen have made significant progress.
The only real downer – for Australians, in particular – is that we will definitely need willing and able governments to lead the charge.
“Last year’s IPCC report highlighted that every tenth of a degree of warming matters greatly in terms of climate impact: there are dramatic differences in holding global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C,” the DNV GL report notes.
“The technologies to deliver the 1.5-degree target exist: if they are deployed rapidly, their costs will fall quickly, setting up a self-reinforcing effect.
“However, this can only succeed if enabling policies – for the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement – are dramatically strengthened and enforced nationally.”
And this – for all those politicians still wondering – is why we must have climate strikes.