As both have pointed out, if the current established reserves of the major extractive industry companies were all burnt we would incinerate the world through global warming. The precise details as to timing may be open to discussion but the conclusion is not. Unless a majority of those reserves (yes, you read that right: a majority) stay in the ground in any foreseeable future then we can kiss the long germ goodbye.
OK, so we can’t burn all of the fossil fuels we’ve found so far. Contentious and I’m not sure I agree but we’ll accept it for the moment.
And yet, despite that, as Wolf points out, energy companies continue to invest in discovering new reserves, and are valued in no small part on the basis of their success in doing so. Now, of course, there is merit in finding more accessible reserves. That I accept. But when searching goes in in high risk and deeply inaccessible areas or the search focuses on strategies with low yield ( like UK fracking and even fracking in general,where US yields are rapidly falling, as Jeremy assures me is the case) the this is a collective act of disregard for economic sense.
Well that’s because fracking produces natural gas which is rather less emmitive than coal. So it’s part of the solution to this problem of getting the energy we desire without boiling everyone.
But then we get that great leap:
There is an alternative, of course. We could invest in new energy thinking. We could insulate the UK. We could make every building a power station. We could release a carbon army to green our UK energy investment and deliver the low carbon sustainable future we need. That is what the Green New Deal group has been calling for. It is the basis for economic transformation in the UK, but right now the money is backing finding oil and gas that cannot ever be burnt. That’s the inefficiency of markets. Someone, somewhere, has to decide that this current allocation of resources is wrong. I just hope it is soon, for all our sakes.
Well, there are actually other things happening. Chinese factories to make solar cells have become so cheap that both the EU and US are levying import duties as punishment upon them. And solar PV prices are still falling at 20% per year. We’re very close in fact, certainly no more than a decade away (absolutely no more than a decade away), to having solar being the cheapest method of (intermittent) electricity generation. At which point the whole problem simply goes away. We don’t need to force anyone to do anything as they will naturally install the lowest cost technology.
Because, you know, markets.
It’s entirely possible to believe that something should have been done about climate change. You can even believe that what is happening to the price of solar is as a result of what was done (I am deeply unconvinced of that btw). But it’s extraordinarily difficult to insist, as does Jeremy Leggett for example, that solar PV is imminently going to be cheaper than coal and also that vastly more must be done.
For the moment that solar PV is cheaper than coal then no one will build new coal fired stations and everyone will install solar instead. Problem solved: because of prices in markets, d’ye see?