Yesterday was a rather interesting day.
I began my day by giving my climate change presentation to a small group of people (seven “peoples” to be exact) from the Department of the Environment of PEI. The presentation was similar to the one I have used for students and the public, but with more policy, less explanation of how climate change works. It was a good experience, by what made the presentation memorable for me was that it was the first time (out of seven presentations) that I was challenged by a member of the audience.
The gentleman’s arguments were not about the reality of climate change, or even about the severity and urgency of the problem it poses. Rather, the man in the audience had issues with the policy recommendations I was putting forward and the mere feasibility of running the world on renewable energy. He mentioned the usual arguments that many of us have read on various websites and heard on various videos: renewables are intermittent, they require a fossil fuel baseload, and there is no way of storing energy from renewables. He also argued that a move to renewables would harm the progress of people in the third world, stating that for example, you couldn’t run refrigeration (a critical need for people trying to improve their quality of life) on renewable power.
I did the best I could to convince him that he was wrong. However, like many people, I come up with my best arguments hours after a debate or an argument. So, rather than share with you what I actually told, him, here are the arguments I wish I would have said.
First of all, in many parts of developing countries, getting connected to a power grid is still so expensive that the only source of electricity is renewables. In other words, access to renewables in those parts of the world is actually accelerating the improvement of their living conditions. Plus, if you are part of the 1.3 million people (mostly in developing countries) that die from the effects of air pollution, I doubt you would consider access to coal-fired electricity an improvement of your quality of life.
Second of all, the concept of running the world on intermittent renewables, using interconnected smart-grids and energy storage systems is not a pipe dream. It is already being done in parts of Europe. Economist Jeremy Rifkin calls it the “Third Industrial Revolution”. Take a look at this video to see what I’m talking about.
(By the way, I recommend you take a look at Jeremy Rifkin’s latest book, “Third Industrial Revolution”. I’m not done yet, but I love it so far!)
So, if I am ever faced with similar arguments, I’ll have more to say.
But, that wasn’t the end of my day.
Later in the evening, during my university course, we came across an expression that I had never heard before: paradigm paralysis. According to Wikipedia, paradigm paralysis is the inability to see beyond a current model of thinking. And as we were discussing the concept, I realized that paradigm paralysis is exactly what the gentleman at my presentation is suffering from… as are many people around the world when it comes to energy. They cannot see beyond our current means of electricity production. They cannot imagine a world where our energy needs are met, not by a relatively small number of coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, but by hundreds of millions of small power plants that use the sunlight and the wind to produce clean energy. And because of that paralysis, they are slowing our inevitable transition away from fossil fuels. And what makes me laugh (and cry) is that we already have all the technology we need in order to make the leap.
Don’t get me wrong, it will be incredible challenging. And it will cost a lot of money. But, come on! America sent a man to the moon with 1960′s technology and the need to beat the Ruskies as motivation. We already have most (if not all) the technology we need, and our motivation is preserving a society threatened by climate change.
So let us get beyond our paradigm paralysis and get our asses to work!