Net Zero by 2050: Three Questions
The material in this post is taken from the ebook Net Zero: An Opportunity.
The ebook starts with a quotation from one of Jordan Peterson’s talks. He tells us that those writing a book should have a “real question that you don’t know the answer to”. With regard to climate change, I suggest that there are three “real questions” that books such as this should address.
The first question is to do with the changes that will occur as the oil age winds down. Our society, our very way of living, is based on the ready availability of fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas. Yet the supply of these fuels is dwindling irreversibly and the greenhouse gases that they create are creating a climate crisis. So, the question becomes: are there any “green” energy sources that can effectively replace the fossil fuels? There is no shortage of good ideas and well-meaning suggestions. But which of these ideas are realistic? In particular, which of them can be scaled up so as to have a world-wide impact in just a few short years?
The second question is to do with the systems complexity. By and large, climate change analysis is carried out on a stand-alone basis. It is assumed that oil and other resources will be available as needed. Yet, as we have just seen, this is a questionable assumption. A severe cut back in fossil fuel use could impact climate change significantly. Another example, is to do with population growth. Most climate forecasts assume that the world’s population will continue to grow at the same rate as it has done in recent years. This assumption may turn out to be wrong.
The third question that we grapple with in this book is to do with the role of commercial businesses and industries, particularly the oil companies. These companies are the targets of many environmental critics. (The critics fail to acknowledge that, were we to stop using fossil fuels overnight, the world’s economies would crash.) In fact, many businesses are already providing substantial leadership through the development of products that have a low impact on the environment. They are not doing this because they want to “do good”, but because they want to be commercially successful, and to avoid their own ‘Kodak Moment’. So the question becomes, “How can commercial companies provide effective leadership in a world where so much is changing”?
To summarize, the three “real questions” are:
Are there any technologies that can provide “green” energy at scale within the next three decades?
How do we respond to the fact that the systems we are reviewing are highly complex and that there are many poorly-understood feedback loops?
How can businesses and industries provide badly-needed leadership?