19 Jan 11 Eddie's Blog Global

Living in the now

“Neither a borrower or a lender be.” This very impractical phrase expresses what I am attempting to say about sustainability, about living in the now.

Right now we are borrowing or leasing the environment from future generations.

We as a species need a functioning environment to live and grow. Lord Stern reckons that 1% of GDP should be spent here and now to rectify the damage done by burning too many fossil fuels. He further goes on to point out that it will be more expensive to rectify the damage in the future. By not spending that money today we are placing a massive burden on future generations. To reason that it can be rectified in future makes a number of assumptions. They are

  • That we are confident that we know all the linkages, pathways, and chemical relationships that lead to climate forcing by greenhouse gases.
  • That the damage will be capable of being rectified in future when accumulations are much higher
  • That there are no non linearities in the further build up of greenhouse gases. Rises in temperature may not follow a path which is proportional to rises in concentration of greenhouse gases. There could be a sudden acceleration in temperature rise.

It would be much safer to overspend now, and so to minimise the risks we ask future generations to take on our behalf.

Overspending now does not mean less industrial development and employment. In fact it means the opposite. New wind energy and solar plant is replacing old fossil fired plant. There are fortunes to be made and millions of new jobs to be created in the deployment of wind and solar plant. There is a Supergrid to be built in Europe. It will allow us to capture huge quantities of offshore wind as well as solar from the Sahara.

The cost of building one and a half million megawatts of wind plant ( the amount required to power 50% of Europe’s electricity demand in 2050) will be in the order of €4 trillion. The cost of the Supergrid will be somewhere in the order of one €1 trillion. The cost of installing two million megawatts of solar PV (the plant required to deliver 30% of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050) will be at least €4 trillion. The spend on the other renewables and whatever nuclear plant is required will amount to probably €2 trillion. If there are 2 to 3 jobs for every megawatt installed then we are looking at creating between 9,000,000 and 13,500,000 new jobs in Europe by 2050

When we arrive at the zero CO2 emission state we will be living in the now, in one of the most important life sustaining industrial sectors: energy and power. It will have been done at high cost. New industries, and new jobs with limitless export potential will have been created.

With the exception of what we pay for uranium, all of our primary energy will be free. It will all be coming from the sun. There will be no pollution. It will go being free forever. Just as living in the now is the healthiest psychological state; providing our energy in the now, is healthiest for humankind, for the wounded environment, and for the future prospects for our children.