We Are Still Failing Badly: Al Gore at Davos

January 23, 2023

Above, from Al Gore, encouragement and a warning. You may have seen a clip of this that went viral. This is the whole thing, 10 minutes or so.
I’m old enough to remember when lefties like Ralph Nader and Michael Moore said “There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Al Gore and George Bush.” And that nihilism is largely responsible for the catastrophes of the last 20 years.

Below, from Stanford Engineer Mark Jacobson – no breakthroughs needed. Deploy, Deploy, Deploy.


The influential academic says renewables alone can halt climate crisis, with technologies such as carbon capture expensive wastes of time

“Combustion is the problem – when you’re continuing to burn something, that’s not solving the problem,” says Prof Mark Jacobson.

The Stanford University academic has a compelling pitch: the world can rapidly get 100% of its energy from renewable sources with, as the title of his new book says, “no miracles needed”.

Wind, water and solar can provide plentiful and cheap power, he argues, ending the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis, slashing deadly air pollution and ensuring energy security. Carbon capture and storage, biofuels, new nuclear and other technologies are expensive wastes of time, he argues.

“Bill Gates said we have to put a lot of money into miracle technologies,” Jacobson says. “But we don’t – we have the technologies that we need. We have wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, electric cars. We have batteries, heat pumps, energy efficiency. We have 95% of the technologies right now that we need to solve the problem.” The missing 5% is for long-distance aircraft and ships, he says, for which hydrogen-powered fuel cells can be developed.

Jacobson’s claim is a big one. He is not just talking about a shift to 100% renewable electricity, but all energy – and fossil fuels still provide about 80% of that today. Jacobson has scores of academic papers to his name and his work has been influential in policies passed by cities, states and countries around the world targeting 100% green power. He is also controversial, not least for pursuing a $10m lawsuit against researchers who claimed his work was flawed, which he later dropped.

The evidence that proves he is right is collected in the new book, Jacobson says. Not only is a 100% renewables-powered world possible, it also promises much lower energy bills, he says. The first reason for that is that electrified vehicles, heating and industrial processes are far more efficient than those powered by fossil fuels, where much of the energy is wasted as heat.

Add in better-insulated buildings and ending the drilling and mining for the fossil fuels that consume about 11% of all energy, and you get 56% less energy use on average from 2035 to 2050, Jacobson says. Wind and solar energy are cheaper too, so average bills will fall 63%, he says.

Jacobson divides approaches to the energy transition into two camps: “One says we should just try everything – they’re the ‘all-of-the-above camp’ – and keep investing huge amounts of money in technologies that may or may not be available to work in 10 years. But 10 years is too late.” Carbon emissions must fall by 45% by 2030, scientists agree, to keep on track for no more than 1.5C of global heating.

His camp takes a different approach, Jacobson says: “Let’s focus on what we have and deploy as fast as possible. And we will improve those technologies just by deploying, bringing better solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles and so on. Some people just don’t realise the speed that we need to solve these problems, especially air pollution – 7 million people die every year. We can’t wait.”

However, there are major barriers to a rapid rollout of a 100% renewable energy system, he says: “The No 1 barrier is that most people are not aware that it’s possible. My job is trying to educate the public about it. If people are actually comfortable that it’s possible to do, then they might actually do it.”

He adds: “The policy of all-of-the-above is also a big barrier to a transition. In the US, for example, in the recent [climate legislation], a lot of money was spent on carbon capture, small modular nuclear reactors, biofuels, blue hydrogen. These are all what I consider almost useless, or very low-use, technologies in terms of solving the problems. And yet, a lot of money is spent on them. Why? Because there are big lobby groups.” Another barrier is funding the upfront costs of renewable energy in poorer countries – rich countries need to help, he says.


2 Responses to “We Are Still Failing Badly: Al Gore at Davos”

  1. jimbills Says:

    “And that nihilism is largely responsible for the catastrophes of the last 20 years.”

    That’s a bit of a hot button topic for me.

    It wasn’t?:

    1) The 50 million plus voters that chose Bush?

    2) The 8 years of selling out core Democratic Party principles by Clinton? That had nothing to do with the votes for Nader? Or Clinton’s scandals, ones that made Gore avoid Clinton and his legacy like the plague on the campaign trail?

    3) That Gore ran a poor campaign and is not a charismatic politician?:

    4) That it was a common belief at the time that there was little real difference besides political affiliations between Gore as a moderate (who picked Lieberman, a rightist Democrat, as his running mate) and Bush running as a ‘compassionate conservative’?:

    Nader voters affected the outcome, especially in Florida – no doubt. But to say that was the main reason for Gore’s loss is scapegoating, calling his voters nihilists is entirely inaccurate – those Green Party voters cared just as much as those that chose Red or Blue, and blaming a full two decades of environmental inaction on a single election is ridiculous. Gore couldn’t get Clinton to even support Kyoto. How was he going to sway a fully Republican Congress in 2001? Obama, a born gifted politician, had 8 years with 2 of them fully Democratic in Congress. He managed some fuel economy laws.

  2. jimbills Says:

    There are a few issues I have with the below linked Guardian article:

    Revealed: how US transition to electric cars threatens environmental havoc

    The headline infers wrong conclusions, the author takes several things for granted, and there are plenty of “we should do this (but it absolutely won’t happen in reality)” suggestions in there. But two parts are really important and ignored at our peril. First is an interesting chart on the relative amounts of lithium needed for various vehicles – an EV Hummer requires 3x more lithium than a regular car, which also needs 3x more lithium than a passenger bus. The thing to grasp there is that individual vehicle size will absolutely determine the speed of the EV transition. Maybe we shouldn’t celebrate the latest and greatest new gargantuan EV?

    Second is this part:

    “Most forecasters predict a supply crunch in the next five to 10 years – a period when rapid decarbonization must take place to avert even more catastrophic global heating. The price of lithium batteries – the most expensive component of an EV – went up for the first time last year as demand outweighed supply.”

    And we’re at the very beginning of this in the States:

    Here’s how US electric vehicle sales by maker and EV model through Q3 2022 compare

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