Follows on from: Energy Return on Energy Input

The Path to Transition

Full transition, with replication of all social activities and produce, may not be possible. We may not have enough non-ecologically destructive energy to make the equipment needed for the energy transformation because of EREI and the decline in safe fossil fuel consumption. The Transformation, particularly, may not be possible in a situation in which less developed countries are demanding the right to ‘develop’ living standards for their people which are equivalent to the living standards in the developed ‘West’ which are currently produced with huge levels of ecological destruction. Stopping this ‘catch up’ from happening is probably impossible without war or major catastrophe, even without coal power companies and government institutions, still trying to sell the developing world coal based energy, because they would rather destroy the world than wind down their businesses.

The situation is made worse because of the small amounts of truly renewable energy installations actually present in the world. By ‘truly renewable’, I mean energy which once burnt is not gone. (Yes, I am aware renenwable energy machinery is not renewable at the moment, only the sources such as wind, sun, hydro, geothermal heat, tidal action and so on; that is part of the problem and part of the reason the machines are needed). This means that we have an extraordinarily large scale transition to engage with; one that has only jut begun, even while expansion of fossil fuel usage, with its emissions and destruction, has increased.

The most recent figures from the IEA (2018 Key World Energy Statistics) suggest that the world’s primary energy supply is distributed by:

  • Oil 31.9%,
  • Coal at 27.1%,
  • Gas at 22.1%,
  • Biofuels and waste at 9.8%,
  • Nuclear at 4.9%
  • Hydro at 2.5% and
  • Everything else (solar, wind, geothermal) at 1.7%.

Clearly by far the majority of the world’s energy (over 80%, over 90% if you include biofuel and waste, which I would) comes from burning Greenhouse gas emitting fuels.

Despite the need for transition being clearly established since the late 1980s, with the Kyoto Protocol being declared in 1997 most societies have done very little to forward the transition. Indeed coal use rapidly increased after the Protocol was declared, making the challenge even greater than it would have been. The obstacles to successful transition are apparently huge.

As is repeatedly announced, the number of companies, or government instititions responsible for most of these greenhouse gases is small. 100 companies are responsible for about 70% of global emissions since 1988 and, possibly, over half the emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution. So, in theory, it should be possible to control this. The recent decline in coal usage in many countries is also helpful, but is probably not enough, especially given the refusal of fossil fuel companies to promote their products and promote confusion about climate change, its causes and likely consequences.

Conclusion of the part

The size and difficulty of the task of transition is enormous. Social relations and EREI are likely to make the task onerous at best, and maybe impossible without some change in social relations and aspirations. Political action is important, and the transformation almost certainly cannot be left to the private sector alone, as it has so far depended on ecological destruction and misleading hype.

The reality is that the transformation is not happening fast enough, and may not be able to occur fast enough, to stop tumultuous climate change from occuring. We can only try to restrain the tumult and prevent it getting even worse in the long term.

Difficulty of transition is increased by already failing infrastructure.

Later parts of this series will discuss
and problems with indivudal forms of renewable energy