By now, we’re all aware of the threat to the well-being of life on this planet posed by our massive and continued use of fossil fuels and the various ways we might attempt to reduce the rate of CO2 increase in our atmosphere.
Divestment in the fossil fuel industry is one popular method under discussion to lower our massive carbon additions to our atmosphere
The case for divestment generally flows along these lines;
By making investment in fossil fuels seem unethical, investors will gradually move away from fossil fuels into other investments, leaving behind a smaller but hardcore cohort of fossil fuel investors.
Resulting (in theory) in a gradual decline in the total global investment in fossil fuels, thereby lowering consumption and CO2 additions to the atmosphere. So the thinking goes.
It worked well in the case of tobacco, a few decades back. Over time, fewer people wanted their names or fund associated with the tobacco industry — so much so, that the tobacco industry is now a mere shadow of its former self.
Interestingly, Solaris (a hybridized tobacco plant) is being grown and processed into biofuel to power South African Airways (SAA) jets. They expect all flights to be fully powered by tobacco biofuel within a few years, cutting their CO2 emissions in half. Read more about that here.
Another way to curtail carbon emissions is to remove the massive fossil fuel subsidies
In 2014, the total global fossil fuel subsidy amounted to $548 billion dollars according to the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) although it was projected to hit $600 billion before the oil price crash began in September. The global fossil fuel subsidy amount totalled $550 billion dollars in 2013. For 2012, it totalled $525 billion dollars. (These aren’t secret numbers, they’re easily viewed at the IEA and major news sites such as Reuters and Bloomberg)
Yes, removing those subsidies would do much to lower our carbon emissions as many oil and gas wells, pipelines, refineries and port facilities would suddenly become hugely uneconomic.
We don’t recognize them for the white elephants they are, because they are obscured by mountains of cash.
And there are powerful lobby groups dedicated to keeping those massive subsidies in place.
Ergo, those subsidies likely aren’t going away, anytime soon.
Reducing our CO2 footprint via a carbon tax scheme
But for all of the talk… not much has happened.
The fossil fuel industry will spin this for decades, trying to get the world to come to contretemps on the *exact dollar amount* of fossil fuel damage to the environment.
Long before any agreement is reached we will be as lobsters in a pot due to global warming.
And know that there are powerful lobby groups dedicated to keeping a carbon tax from ever seeing the light of day.
The Third Option: Levelling the Subsidy Playing Field
Continue fossil fuel subsidies at the same level and not institute a carbon tax.
Quickly ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match existing fossil fuel subsidies.
Both divestment in fossil fuels and reducing fossil fuel subsidies attempt to lower our total CO2 emissions by (1) reducing fossil fuel industry revenues while (2)a carbon tax attempts to lower our total CO2 use/emissions by increasing spending for the fossil fuel industry
I prefer (3) a revenue-neutral and spending-neutral solution (from the oil company’s perspective) to lower our CO2 use/emissions.
So far, there are no (known) powerful fossil fuel lobby groups dedicated to preventing renewable energy from receiving the same annual subsidy levels as the fossil fuel industry.
Imagine how hypocritical the fossil fuel industry would look if it attempted to block renewable energy subsidies set to the same level as fossil fuel subsidies.
Renewable energy received 1/4 of the total global subsidy amount enjoyed by fossil fuel (2014)
Were governments to decide that renewable energy could receive the same global, annual subsidy as the fossil fuel industry, a number of things would begin to happen;
Say goodbye to high unemployment.
Say goodbye to the dirtiest fossil projects.
Immediate lowering of CO2 emissions.
Less imported foreign oil.
Cleaner air in cities.
Sharp decline in healthcare costs.
Democratization of energy through all socio-economic groups.
Even discounting the global externality cost of fossil fuel (which some commentators have placed at up to $2 trillion per year) the global, annual $548 billion fossil fuel subsidy promotes an unfair marketplace advantage.
But instead of punishing the fossil fuel industry for supplying us with reliable energy for decades (by taking away ‘their’ subsidies) or by placing on them the burden of a huge carbon tax (one that reflects the true cost of the fossil fuel externality) I suggest that we simply match the renewable energy subsidy to the fossil subsidy… and let both compete on a level playing field in the international marketplace.
Assuming a level playing field; May the best competitor win!
By matching renewable energy subsidies to fossil fuel subsidies, ‘Energy Darwinism’ will reward the better energy solution
My opinion is that renewable energy will win hands down and that we will exceed our clean air goals over time — and stop global warming in its tracks.
Not only that, but we will create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs and accrue other benefits during the transition to renewable energy. We will also lower healthcare spending, agricultural damage, and lower damage to steel and concrete infrastructure from acid rain.
In the best-case future: ‘Oil & Gas companies’ will simply become known as ‘Energy companies’
Investors will simply migrate from fossil fuel energy stock, to renewable energy stock, within the same energy company or group of energy companies.
At the advent of scheduled airline transportation nearly a century ago, the smart railway companies bought existing airlines (or created their own airlines) and kept their traditional investors and gained new ones.
Likewise, smart oil and gas companies, should now buy existing renewable energy companies (or create their own renewable energy companies) and keep their traditional investors and gain new ones.
An accelerated switch to renewable energy is the path to EU jobs and prosperity
Europe is on shaky ground. There is even talk in some quarters that the euro, and consequently the EU, may not last a year.
Critics of the European Union are predicting that continued austerity measures, the elections in Greece, petroleum price instability, and Russian moves in Ukraine will conspire to topple the European Union.
Of course, this is a subject of ongoing debate. EU backers say that the present economic morass will end and that the UK and other European nations will join as full European Union members in the coming months, resulting in a unified and complementary union ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Success Stories Throughout History
Throughout history, various leaders have ‘risen to the occasion’ to provide visionary leadership — seemingly ‘rising out of nowhere’ to inspire great love among the public for a cause, and on account of their great vision and leadership impossible feats occurred on their watch due to the combined willpower of millions of thereby-inspired people.
People are individuals, and no matter how many individuals there are in a country or in a larger economic union like the EU, at the end of the day every one of them are individuals living inside a larger society. Therefore, leaders must appeal to those things important to their citizens.
In Life; All a person really needs, is a person (or something) to love. If you can’t give them that, give them hope. If you can’t give them that, at least give them something to do.
Leaders who can inspire love for the country through their vision and charisma, have the effect of giving each individual in the country something to love. Or at the very least, give them hope.
Where would the United States have been without FDR?
The New Deal was a series of domestic programs enacted in the United States mainly between 1933 and 1938. They included laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.
That is Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. — Wikipedia
The success of the New Deal is beyond dispute. Without it, the United States would not be half the country that it is today.
Where would Great Britain have been without Winston S. Churchill?
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since its inception in 1901, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. — Wikipedia
In between lecturing Hitler and Mussolini via his weekly radio broadcast, Winston Churchill painted a realistic picture of Great Britain for his citizens, and painted another realistic picture for them what life would be like under occupation.
Rather than be cowed by a more powerful aggressor, Churchill inspired his people to valour and sacrifice. And they responded powerfully.
What would our 21st century world have become had Mohandas K. Gandhi not perfected the art of non-violent protest?
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolentcivil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. Indians widely describe Gandhi as the father of the nation.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.
Gandhi attempted to practice nonviolence and truth in all situations, and advocated that others do the same. Gandhi’s vision of a free India was based on religious pluralism.
Imagine if every protest movement since 1947 hadn’t been influenced by Gandhi. Almost certainly, the anti-Viet Nam protests and the civil rights movement in 1960’s America would have led to civil war.
Due to Gandhi’s example, individuals who were part of the anti-war movement or the civil rights movement protested — peacefully for the most part — and to great effect.
John F. Kennedy’s decision to not be cowed by the USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev, led eventually, to the end of the Soviet Union
Had JFK not stood up to Soviet adventurism in Cuba and South America, the geopolitical world would have evolved very differently The USSR would have, in short order, controlled the Western democracies completely.
By utilizing the economic advantage, by ordering a Moon shot, and by not backing down against the communists in Viet Nam, JFK neatly avoided playing the Soviet gameplan — and instead played a gameplan that favoured the strengths of the democratic West.
All of these visionaries gave citizens reason to — love their country, to hope for a better future, to employ their good will and energies — towards solving the almost unsolvable problems of their time. (Love, Hope, Do)
Without that overarching vision promised by their political leaders, without that hope in their hearts, and without some means to express their goodwill and energy, citizens wouldn’t have united in large numbers to solve the near-insurmountable challenges of their time.
Now is the time for visionary EU renewable energy leadership
The case for the EU to adopt a ‘50% renewable energy by 2020’ portfolio and make it an ‘air quality and jobs mission’ for citizens and governments alike:
The vast majority of Europeans want a renewable energy future.
They know that the technological hurdles have been overcome, they know that many Pacific Ocean island nation-states and Indian Ocean islands now run on 100% renewable energy, they know that Norway is powered by 100% renewable energy and that Iceland has surpassed 76% renewable energy use.
They know that Sweden gets 51% of its energy from renewable energy, and that Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark aren’t far behind. They see Estonia, Portugal, and Romania getting more than 25% of their electricity from renewable energy and they see Germany’s Energiewende setting stellar records for renewable energy output every month.
Other nations in Europe have surprisingly advanced renewable energy programs and some EU nations will surpass their renewable energy target before 2020.
Renewable Energy provides massive employment opportunities
And it is becoming apparent that when compared to the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry provides thousands more jobs per million people. Always handy that, a job to go to.
Energy Price Parity and Subsidy Regimes
Not only has some renewable energy approached price parity with conventional energy, in some cases it has surpassed it. Especially when the massive global fossil fuel subsidies that topped $600 billion in 2014 ($550 billion in 2013) are factored in.
Meanwhile, global renewable energy subsidies barely hit $100 billion in 2014, the majority share of it spent in China.
Worried about fossil fuel subsidies? That’s nothing compared to fossil fuel externalities
Fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion (globally) are one thing. But it now appears that the economic totality of fossil fuel cost to healthcare systems, to livestock health, the agriculture sector, the global climate, regional climate (local drought or flooding) and damage to outdoor concrete and metal structures may now exceed $2 trillion dollars per year.
China reports 410,000 premature deaths per year are due to air pollution. The U.S. admits to 200,000 premature deaths by air pollution and as many as 400,000 premature deaths per year occur in Europe due to our overuse of fossil fuels.
If you add the global rising fossil fuel subsidies of $600 billion to the global externality cost of fossil fuels, it equals approximately $2.6 trillion (globally).
How much renewable energy can we get for $2.6 trillion dollars, please?
It’s not that fossil fuels are intrinsically bad, or evil. It’s not that the people who run those companies are bad, or evil. It’s not the shareholder’s fault either.
It’s just that too many of us are using fossil fuel.
And nobody is forcing us to buy it. If there are reasonable alternatives to fossil fuel overuse, then citizens are making a conscious decision to pollute the air, rather than choose those alternative forms of energy.
But if no alternative exists for citizens to purchase (and yet consumer demand is there) that is primarily the fault of policymakers.
The solution to the fossil fuel subsidy and externality problem in the EU? Renewable energy
With the right vision and the right leadership, getting the EU to a 50% renewable energy minimum standard by 2020 is eminently possible.
There are no technological hurdles that haven’t been solved.
There simply exists no public outcry against renewable energy power plants.
Grid parity (with low subsidy) is now the norm — even against massively subsidized fossil fuel and nuclear power.
And several countries around the world already run on 100% renewable energy. One of them is in Europe. (Norway) So it can be done.
It’s not about; How much will switching to renewable energy cost us?
It’s now about; How much will renewable energy save us?
Each one euro spent on renewable energy installations (actual installations, not more endless research) could save two euros of fossil fuel subsidy and three euros of fossil fuel externality cost — although there is a time lag involved before healthcare systems, ranchers, farmers, and owners of infrastructure see declining costs.
Following the 1/2/3 fossil fuel subsidy and externality equation, we see that if the EU suddenly installed 10 billion euros worth of wind turbines and solar panels (displacing the equivalent amount of fossil electrical generation) the EU would save 20 billion euros of subsidy, and would over 25 years, save 30 billion euros in heathcare costs, costs to livestock health and agriculture, and outdoor concrete and metal infrastructure repair costs.
Spending 10 billion to save 50 billion — for a net save of 40 billion euros over 25 years. Not bad.
Spending 100 billion euros to save 500 billion — for a net save of 400 billion over 25 years, that works too.
So, denizens of Europe, how much fossil fuel electrical power production would you like to replace with renewable energy?
The EU should move to a 50% renewable energy portfolio by 2020 and make it a priority ‘mission’ for citizens and governments alike. An energy ‘New Deal’ for EU citizens
In order to plan for a clean EU energy future, we need to look at where the European Union is today and make a responsible plan, one that displaces fossil fuel electrical power production without placing undue economic hardship on existing electrical power producers.
A ‘can-do’ attitude that doesn’t ignore the many positives associated with an EU-wide 50% renewable energy standard will be required to meet the challenge
The best candidate for an EU-financed switch to renewable energy?
Malta is presently striving to meet its target of 10% of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. However, Malta could easily convert to 100% renewable energy in as little as 24 months.
Malta is a tiny island nation and other tiny island nations have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy — and it took them only a few short months to accomplish that goal.
Malta’s electrical grid produces 571 MW at peak load and uses expensive imported fossil fuels.
Replacing Malta’s fossil fueled electrical grid with a combination of offshore / onshore wind turbines and solar panels is well within our present-day technical capabilities and would save the Malta government millions of dollars per year in fuel and healthcare costs.
A low-interest loan from the EU to cover the capital cost of wind and solar power plants and some basic technical support is what Malta needs. Nothing more complicated than that.
How would replacing Malta’s present electrical power generation with 100% renewable energy benefit the EU and the residents of Malta alike?
It’s a given that all of the wind turbines and solar panels / inverters, etc. would be sourced from the EU. In fact, European sourcing could be a requirement of obtaining the EU financing for the project.
All of the engineering, manufacturing and installation / grid connection would be performed by EU workers.
Malta’s residents and visitors would thereafter enjoy clean air, lower healthcare costs, better quality of life, and could say goodbye to toxic and expensive, imported oil.
From 10% to 100% renewable energy within 24 months — now that would demonstrate political and environmental leadership!
Granted, Malta has the smallest electrical grid in the EU. But it’s a place to start, a place to set a baseline for the learning curve to 100% renewable energy on a per country basis, and a place to test out the actual economic inputs vs. outputs, with minimal investment.
By starting with island nations and converting them to 100% renewable energy, solid standalone renewable energy power generation experience is gained, and once completed, can serve as models for standalone systems on the continent.
To get to 50% renewable energy in other EU states requires similar measures but on a larger scale than Malta. (Low interest loans from the EU, requirement to source all equipment, materials, and labour from EU nations, and some amount of renewable energy expertise)
Some European Union nations wouldn’t need all that much investment to make the step up from their planned 2020 targets. Some will already have attained at least 30% renewable energy, assuming they hit their planned targets. Other nations have small populations, and therefore, wouldn’t need all that much capital to hit the 100% mark, let alone a 50% renewable target by 2020.
The Next Step for the EU
During the darkest days of recession in early 1980’s America, newly-elected President Ronald Reagan didn’t appear and suddenly solve America’s economic problems.
He told Americans (very convincingly) that they had it in their power to solve their own economic problems and arranged some temporary loans to Chrysler and other companies — and cheered by his vision and leadership, they responded powerfully — ending America’s recession.
Someone in the EU needs to step up now, leading the charge to improve EU air quality, to lower the rate of illness and premature deaths due to air pollution, to lower the damage to livestock and agriculture, and to concrete and metal infrastructure — thereby creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs — by insisting on a minimum of 50% renewable energy standard by 2020 for all EU nations.
And that great, overarching vision in itself, will be the thing that EU residents will love, hope for, and willingly agree to do, for the next five years. Neatly ending the EU’s present recession.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, people. We’ve got work to do.
The burning of fossil fuels over the past 90 years has released gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over that time.
Previous to the large-scale commercial extraction of petroleum beginning around 1920, the carbon embedded within coal and oil was permanently stored underground and had stayed there since the time of the dinosaurs.
It wasn’t going anywhere near the surface of our planet or into our atmosphere anytime in the next billion years — until mankind started bringing it up to the surface and burning it
The burning of fossil fuels extracted from deep below the surface of the Earth is a huge source of new CO2 introduced into our present-day atmosphere. — John Brian Shannon, Biofuel Central
Plant-based biofuels on the other hand, utilize plant matter that grows in our 21st-century — plants which absorb CO2 out of our modern-day atmosphere every day of the year
Jatropha trees, for instance, live 40 years. Only the plentiful fruits (several tonnes per hectare) are harvested each year for processing into biofuels while the rest of the tree continues to draw CO2 out of the air every day of the year. Because that’s what trees do.
After breathing in CO2 and exhaling oxygen for 40 years, at the end of that tree’s life almost exactly the amount of CO2 it captured during its lifetime returns to the environment, making the Jatropha’s carbon footprint, zero. (Exactly what it captured, it released, over its 40 year lifetime)
Then, new Jatropha trees are grown and a new carbon-neutral process begins.
Not so for fossil fuels. Carbon-heavy coal and oil are a huge source of new carbon that we bring up from deep underground which, as we burn it, continuously adds new CO2 to our atmosphere
Therefore ALL fossil fuel burning adds to the overall CO2 load of our atmosphere – while plant based biofuels are CO2-neutral, as they merely recycle the same carbon dioxide, many times over.
Where am I going with this?
We should blend our fossil fuels with CO2-neutral biofuels (50/50) to taper our dinosaur era, petroleum based, CO2-additions to the atmosphere.
Biofuels now come in three generations
1st generation biofuels were the first on the market, but required massive subsidies to be economically viable.
2nd generation biofuels were next-up and as the technical problems are now solved, new 2nd generation biofuels are surging ahead and show dramatic CO2 reductions.
3rd generation biofuels are in the pilot programme stage at this point, but early indications are that negative CO2 emissions may be possible — as megatonnes of waste carbon dioxide from nearby factories are used in algae biofuels production and the profitability of this new generation of biofuels (even without subsidies) seems likely.
The three generations of biofuels
Corn, palm tree, and sugar-cane are examples of 1st generation biofuel crops. They are poor choices for biofuel production as they have their own environmental negatives attached to them and they require massive subsidies to compete in the marketplace.
1st generation biofuel crops require billions of gallons of precious water, plenty of fertilizer, pesticides and land management.
And it goes without saying of course, that replacing food crops with biofuel crops is a very bad idea.
Fortunately, 2nd generation biofuel plants grow in conditions and areas which are inhospitable for food crops.
Some examples of 2nd generation biofuel plants which grow in semi-arid regions are; Jatropha, Millettia and Camelina and the cultivation of these provide plenty of jobs for developing nation labourers.
Biofuels that are produced with algae or enzymes are known as 3rd generation biofuels and are the most efficient way of producing biofuels, using only water, plant matter, relatively small amounts of algae and microscopic enzymes to do the work.
And talk about good karma, algae thrive when CO2 is added to the conversion chamber (called a ‘biofuel reactor’ which is basically a 500,000 gallon soup pot) and helps to convert the ingredients into high quality gasoline.
In the new algae-to-gasoline plants, tonnes of CO2 from nearby industry are added to the ingredient list to help boost the speed of the process and to increase the final amount of gasoline produced.
Like any other green plant, algae ‘eats’ the CO2 and emits pure oxygen just like the trees in your neighborhood.
Each batch takes 5 days and at continuous production that means CO2-eating and oxygen production is happening every day of the year.
It’s better to continuously recycle a large amount of carbon-neutral plant-based CO2 (recycling it millions of times over) than to bring new carbon in the form of coal and oil to the Earth’s surface with it’s carbon-heavy load to burn it, thereby adding unfathomable gigatonnes of new CO2 to our 21st century atmosphere.
Yet another biofuel bonus
Lower CO2 emissions are a well-known bio-jet fuel benefit, regardless of which biofuel generation they hail from.
Boeing’s Sustainable Biofuels Research & Technology Program reported 80% lower CO2 emissions for camelina bio-jet fuel when compared to conventional jet fuel.
All 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation biofuels are low carbon fuels (at the combustion stage) but only 2nd generation biofuels are economically viable at this point in time. New formulation 3rd generation biofuels look to have even lower CO2 emissions than the 2nd generation biofuels already on the market.
Depending on the type of biofuel crop employed, lowered CO2 emissions (as compared to conventional petroleum-based jet fuels) in the range of 50-80% are proven
New algae bio-jet fuels are showing CO2 emission reductions of better than 90% when compared to petroleum-based jet fuel.
There is every hope that within 10 years that new algae bio-jet fuel will prove to be CO2-negative as the algae requires huge volumes of carbon dioxide gas to grow at best possible speed.
Airline operators and the U.S. military note that the new bio-jet fuels extend engine life, emit less soot and smoke, and are easier on fuel system components such as fuel pumps and injectors
Notes about sugarcane:
Sugarcane moves from its present 1st generation biofuel ranking to 2nd generation biofuel ranking if certain guidelines are followed.
Sugarcane is usually considered a 1st generation biofuel crop, but;
1) if farmers refrain from burning sugarcane fields after each harvest (twice yearly) and 2) if the rest of the plant (not just the ‘cane’ but also the roots and leaves) are converted to biofuels via a new type of cellulosic bioreactor, and 3) where sugarcane fields aren’t displacing food crops, sugarcane is an excellent choice for a high-yield 2nd generation biofuel.