When it comes to climate change, I’m not a huge fan of George Monbiot. He’s too fond of playing the calm, reassuring voice of reason, and tut-tutting at those who are more aggressively sounding the alarms. But like many scientists before him he has that sinking feeling that no one is responding to the voices of reason, and we’re really just going to stumble our way to catastrophe.
In this essay he bluntly gets to the crux of the matter. The science of climate change is settled in all but the details. Also, there’s one crucial and unavoidable path to a solution, and the nations of the world are taking exactly zero steps down that path:
The only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Press any [UK] minister on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. Yet no government will act on it.
. . . all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They claim to accept the science and to support the [UN] intergovernmental panel. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe it foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.
It doesn’t matter how many windmills or solar panels or nuclear plants you build if you are not simultaneously retiring fossil fuel production. We need a global programme whose purpose is to leave most coal and oil and gas reserves in the ground, while developing new sources of power and reducing the amazing amount of energy we waste.
Obama’s “all of the above” energy plan is the current U.S. version of this suicidal orientation. He at least has the excuse that US legislatures at every level brim with people more ignorant and misinformed than any in Europe, but still the unanimity of cowardice is damning.
I've harped on this before, (here, and more indirectly, here) so I'm glad that even an analyst as cautious as Monbiot is finally making it explicit. If the plan doesn't insist that fossil fuels remain in the ground, then it is not a plan to stop climate breakdown. Renewable energy, nuclear power, conservation and efficiency do absolutely nothing in and of themselves to counteract climate change. They are not the solution -- they are only meant to make the solution possible.