Monday, 9 May 2011

Global Warming - There is Still Time for an Answer

Buried among the headlines about Obama and Osama today was a report from the International Panel on Climate Change which, for once, was positively optimistic about humanity's prospects in the age of climate change - as long as we make the right choices.

For some time, international capital, big business and governments wedded to "business as usual" give or take the odd recycling bin and catalytic converter have alternately argued that either climate change is a myth or the alternatives to our carbon based economy are not practicable. At the very least, they have argued, any move from carbon fuels must have a large nuclear energy component - renewables alone just wouldn't cut the mustard in terms of meeting the energy demands of humanity.

The IPCC report, however, fundamentally disagrees with these assertions - wind, water, solar and bioenergy could make up 77 percent of the world's energy use by 2050, if given sufficient public support.On its own, this would reduce carbon emissions by 33%, still far short of the 80% reduction scientists argue is needed by then to stop runaway global warming, but a massive contribution nevertheless. Coupled with genuine energy efficiency measures (we waste up to 50% of our energy in the UK alone), the IPCC argues that a decisions to invest massively in renewables would be a huge step towards limiting the rise in global temperatures and the massive disruption to weather patterns this is increasingly causing.

The report is theoretical, looking at the potential in projects that have not started in many cases, but some large scale undertakings are already underway - like Desertec in the Algerian Sahara. With the intention of covering 0.3% of the desert with a huge solar array, the intention is to generate 100 gigawatts of energy, enough to supply clean energy to all of Europe by as early as 2015. Complementary projects, such as large wind farms in the North Sea, have been reduced or put on hold by Governments like the British one, but Desertec shows the possibilities.

Solar arrays can power the earth safely and cleanly.
Coupled with energy saving schemes - some as simple as removing the standby facility in new electrical gadgets, which generally continues to use about half the energy the equipment burns in actual use; while others could be along the lines of the "Green New Deal" promoted by various Green Parties and pioneered in Kirklees in England, where free home insulation was provided to both private and rented homes to cut costs, cut carbon emissions and create jobs.

So there is cause for optimism, given the poltical and public will to make the right choices. But a battery of vested interests - the oil and gas industry, politicians and media magnates - will be ranged against the necessary progress, dissembling about the extent of climate change, exaggerating the costs of renewables, and portraying the advocates of clean energy as green fascists. With a tight grip on information and the levers of power, these are no small obstacle. But as we have just passed the warmest April in history and Britain begins to face the prospect of drought (relatively speaking), the need for action has never been more urgent.

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