Monday, 10 August 2015
Renewable Energy Will Never be Enough to Power Capitalism
Figure 1 Source Financial Sense
Many Greens stress the need to move away from fossil fuels and replace our energy generation with renewable energy, solar, wind, hydro, tidal, thermal (and some advocate biomass). This type of power generation doesn’t emit carbon in the process (except biomass) and is reasonably abundant if only we put the money and effort into capturing it. We know about the problems caused to the climate by burning fossil fuels, and to remedy this, we need to instead generate clean power, to reduce our emissions. So far, so good.
If we look at the chart above, figure 1, even if we include the hydro figure with the other renewable sources we are still producing less than a quarter of the world’s electricity from renewable resources. This is a huge gap to make up, although to some extent we could reduce the overall amount we use now, by introducing energy efficiency measures, but even so, the challenge is massive, even if there was the political will to do it, which there isn’t really.
Some may advocate nuclear power as the answer to filling the gap, but this is not completely emission free, since raw uranium needs to be extracted and this is a finite resource anyway, which will eventually run out. The new nuclear reactors are said to be able to be fuelled by nuclear waste from the older style nuclear plants, which does solve the problem of what to do with the waste and increases the raw material available for fuel. Of course, there is still the danger aspect associated with nuclear power plants and the potential to cause large scale disaster as we have seen from time to time. Personally I’m not in favour of nuclear for this reason, the risk is too great.
Figure 2 Source Our Finite World
The diagram figure 2 above shows the increase in energy use over the past few years, including a slight fall in 2009 in the US and Europe (mainly) caused by the economic recession. It also shows GDP following the use of energy closely. You will see that overall the trend is of rising consumption.
The industrial revolution would not have been possible without the huge increase in energy produced through mainly burning coal to produce steam power. Before this innovation energy was produced by human beings or animals, plus some wind and hydro power for small mills. Indeed the economic growth produced by fossil fuel generated energy, is the lifeblood of the capitalist system. Without growth, capitalism dies and without energy to power the process, there is not anywhere near enough growth to sate capitalism’s demands.
Figure 3 Source Nature
If we think about all the new gadgets we own which we didn’t own twenty years ago, mobile phones, lap tops, desk tops, tablets all of which require electricity to function, and things like HD television screens which use about five times as much power as the old analogue TVs, you get a sense of the problem.
Even if we could produce as much renewable energy as we need today, what about in twenty years time, fifty years time? You see the problem. With the possible exception of nuclear power, if the capitalist system is to survive and prosper, we will need to keep burning fossil fuels. There is enough of this left for hundreds years, but if we do use it, we will have catastrophic climate change.
This is not to say that shouldn’t produce more energy from renewable sources, clearly we should. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this will solve our climate problems, on its own.
And so, if we want to avoid destroying the world, we need to ditch the capitalist system. Not so easy I know, but it is the only honest assessment for Greens to hold. System change, not climate change. This is the only answer.