Ways Out of the Climate Catastrophe – Ingredients for a Sustainable Energy and Climate Policy
(Almost) everyone has his or her own personal „aha“ experience when it comes to climate change. Some have tried in vain with a hose and watering can to get their garden through several drought summers without damage. Others are surprised to be bitten at home by a tiger mosquito, which was originally only found in the tropics and subtropics. And yet others have had to watch their houses being flooded because, for the first time in living memory, a small creek has become a torrential stream after a heavy rainfall event. And a fourth part is a growing part of the population that studies the climate research results and warn actively of its dangers.
Climate change became painfully real when ones hikes to the Morteratsch Glacier in the Upper Engadine in the summer of 2020, the largest glacier in the Swiss Eastern Alps. In the midst of the impressive mountain scenery, hikers can experience a dramatic event: where the hiking trail leads to the glacier tongue, which was once kilometres long and many hundreds of metres wide, signs provide information about the point reached by the ice in past decades. Since 1870, it has receded by an average of 18 metres every year, and in 2015 alone the figure was as much as 164 metres! For more than two and a half kilometres, you walk on bedrock that was covered by dozens of metres of ice just the blink of an eye ago in geological history.
The fact is that climate change is no longer a threat on the horizon. It has arrived in our everyday lives and threatens our livelihoods already today. Floods, species extinction, migration, droughts, super tornadoes – climate change is no longer a threat looming on the horizon but has long since become part of our everyday lives. The main issues have been known since the 1980s: man-made greenhouse gases – above all carbon dioxide, CO2 – are causing our planet to heat up. At that time, concrete plans of action were already on the table, but a powerful industrial lobby prevented their implementation and deliberately undermined the reputation of the scientists involved.
Today the picture looks very different. Those who take action against climate change are no longer marginalised. This is reflected by the almost entirely positive response to today’s „Fridays for Future“ movement after initial criticism. What is more, politics and business are vying to outdo each other in their efforts to prevent the climate catastrophe. In autumn 2020, both the EU and China announced a roadmap to a CO2 -neutral economy by 2050 and 2060, respectively. Shortly afterwards, the German automotive industry also committed itself to this goal. And once Donald Trump was voted out of office, the USA followed suit (and this with the loud voice of Joe Biden).
And equally in science much progress happened. The CMIP6-models of the researchers, the first results of which got published in August 2021 in the AR6 report, are more ambitious than their predecessors in their demands for model accuracy. For example, in some of them the spatial resolution of the grids on which the global climate is modelled is reduced to less than 100 kilometres. This makes it easier to determine the effects of cloud formation on the local and global climate. At the same time the temporal density of the measurements increases significantly. „This report is invaluable for future climate negotiations and policy makers,“ said IPCC President, the South Korean Hoesung Lee. Erich Fischer, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and one of the IPCC lead authors, put it a little more dramatically: „The state of the climate has continued to change rapidly, and the window of opportunity to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement is gradually closing.“ What is significant about the report is that compared to the negotiations eight years ago, the debates seem to have gone more smoothly. The IPCC authorship probably clearly prevailed this time against the usual resistance from politicians and others against clear formulations. Moreover, the scientific nature of the report was not touched. And the responsibility is also clearly stated: According to the IPCC, humans are responsible for all observed global warming since pre-industrial times (1.6 degrees on land, 0.9 degrees over the sea, 1.1 degrees on global average)..
After three and a half decades of stalemate, regression, and a few hard-won advances in the fight against climate change, it is now a game of dominoes: forces that resisted the global energy revolution that is hoped to save our climate are falling – one by one. Year after year, even the most optimistic forecasts about the possibilities of new technologies are caught up in and surpassed by current developments. There is no shortage of ideas, technological possibilities, and concrete initiatives. Almost all of them revolve around the central factor in climate change: energy. Apart from some aspects of agriculture (which are a strong climate factor, however), all the influences that humans have on the climate can be traced back to the way we produce and consume energy. Driven by the astonishing technological advances in the fields of photovoltaics, wind power, and battery energy storage, as well as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, we are on the threshold of the fastest and most far-reaching revolution in the energy sector in the last 150 years!
This book aims to guide you through the world of energy and our planet’s climate and provide facts:
- What is energy anyway?
- How do we produce, transport, and store energy?
- Why does our type of energy consumption influence the world’s climate?
- How do scientists‘ climate models work, and can they really be trusted?
- What can we expect from technological progress?
- What possibilities do we have to produce energy without negative climate effects?
- Can we afford all this?
The presented answers given in this book refute the opinions of the few climate sceptics and deniers who still cause great confusion. The facts show: Yes, we can! The situation is very serious, yes, but we can and are in fact already on the way to reversing the devastating climate trend – and this without any significant reduction in prosperity. After three decades of deep sleep and criminally missed opportunities, a promising dynamic has finally emerged. We have already achieved a lot on our way to climate neutrality – for example, in 2020, for the first time in Germany, the industrial and economic power house of Europe, as much renewable as fossil power was used. What matters now is that we do not run out of steam in the middle of this energy revolution, and that we continue to master the economic and political challenges that come with it. After all, our journey into a future free of greenhouse gases is well under way. Limiting the emerging and worsening climate changes is one of the most important challenges of our time. But we already have the technical capabilities (which will be further enhanced in the future) to reverse the devastating climate trends without significantly limiting prosperity. The obstacles lie primarily in economic and political „constraints“ and particular conflicts of interest. Overcoming those – that is the center of future energy politics.
Lars Jaeger, Ways Out of the Climate Catastrophe – Ingredients for a Sustainable Energy and Climate Policy, Springer International Publishing, ISBN: 978-3-030-85131-6, Sept. 2021 https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030851316