Talk renewables, walk coal: The paradox of India’s energy transition

Coal is on the rise in India: despite the devasting impacts of the climate crisis, the awareness for land and forest rights, and political talk of a coal phase-out. In this article, we demonstrate that despite the renewables-led rhetoric, India is in the midst of a transition to (not away from) greater use of coal in its fossil energy system and in the electricity system in particular. We investigate this paradox by combining socio-metabolic and political-ecological analysis of the Indian coal complex. Our framework integrates material and energy flow data as characterizing the Indian fossil energy transition, indicators on the development and structure of the coal industry, and studies of ecological distribution conflicts around coal. The dominant claim to expansive use of coal and the competing counterclaims are indicative of underlying power relations which can also be witnessed in other countries. In India, they extend into the conflicted development of renewable energy including hydropower, in which the land dispossession, exclusion, and injustices associated with the expansion of the coal complex are reproduced. We conclude that the current energy transition – in which coal continues to play a dominant role – is neither sustainable nor just.

Ecological Economics, vol.180, February 2021

Providing decent living with minimum energy: a global scenario

It is increasingly clear that averting ecological breakdown will require drastic changes to contemporary human society and the global economy embedded within it. On the other hand, the basic material needs of billions of people across the planet remain unmet. Here, we develop a simple, bottom-up model to estimate a practical minimal threshold for the final energy consumption required to provide decent material livings to the entire global population. We find that global final energy consumption in 2050 could be reduced to the levels of the 1960s, despite a population three times larger. However, such a world requires a massive rollout of advanced technologies across all sectors, as well as radical demand-side changes to reduce consumption – regardless of income – to levels of sufficiency. Sufficiency is, however, far more materially generous in our model than what those opposed to strong reductions in consumption often assume.

Global Environmental Change, vol.65, November 2020

The stories Michael Shellenberger tells

“Men in power have rationalized all those forms of domination by claiming that they facilitate economic development, which is purportedly great for people and nature. Sound familiar?”

The Green New Old Deal: a new industrial policy when we need a de-industrial policy

The most popular poster for the Green New Deals reveals startling assumptions…

Electrification of light-duty vehicle fleet alone will not meet mitigation targets

Climate change mitigation strategies are often technology-oriented, and electric vehicles (EVs) are a good example of something believed to be a silver bullet. Here we show that current US policies are insufficient to remain within a sectoral CO2 emission budget for light-duty vehicles, consistent with preventing more than 2 °C global warming, creating a mitigation gap of up to 19 GtCO2 (28% of the projected 2015–2050 light-duty vehicle fleet emissions). Closing the mitigation gap solely with EVs would require more than 350 million on-road EVs (90% of the fleet), half of national electricity demand and excessive amounts of critical materials to be deployed in 2050. Improving average fuel consumption of conventional vehicles, with stringent standards and weight control, would reduce the requirement for alternative technologies, but is unlikely to fully bridge the mitigation gap. There is therefore a need for a wide range of policies that include measures to reduce vehicle ownership and usage.

Nature Climate Change (2020)

Differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewable electricity versus nuclear power

Two of the most widely emphasized contenders for carbon emissions reduction in the electricity sector are nuclear power and renewable energy. While scenarios regularly question the potential impacts of adoption of various technology mixes in the future, it is less clear which technology has been associated with greater historical emission reductions. Here, we use multiple regression analyses on global datasets of national carbon emissions and renewable and nuclear electricity production across 123 countries over 25 years to examine systematically patterns in how countries variously using nuclear power and renewables contrastingly show higher or lower carbon emissions. We find that larger-scale national nuclear attachments do not tend to associate with significantly lower carbon emissions while renewables do. We also find a negative association between the scales of national nuclear and renewables attachments. This suggests nuclear and renewables attachments tend to crowd each other out.

Nature Energy, Oct. 2020

The limits of transport decarbonization under the current growth paradigm

Achieving ambitious reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG) is particularly challenging for transportation due to the technical limitations of replacing oil-based fuels. We apply the integrated assessment model MEDEAS-World to study four global transportation decarbonization strategies for 2050. The results show that a massive replacement of oil-fueled individual vehicles to electric ones alone cannot deliver GHG reductions consistent with climate stabilization and could result in the scarcity of some key minerals, such as lithium and magnesium. In addition, energy-economy feedbacks within an economic growth system create a rebound effect that counters the benefits of substitution. The only strategy that can achieve the objectives globally follows the Degrowth paradigm, combining a quick and radical shift to lighter electric vehicles and non-motorized modes with a drastic reduction in total transportation demand.

Energy Strategy Reviews, vol. 32, November 2020

A Green New Deal without growth?

The IPCC warns that in order to keep global warming under 1.5°, global emissions must be cut to zero by 2050. Policymakers and scholars debate how best to decarbonise the energy system, and what socio-economic changes might be necessary. Here we review the strengths, weaknesses, and synergies of two prominent climate change mitigation narratives: the Green New Deal and degrowth. Green New Deal advocates propose a plan to coordinate and finance a large-scale overhaul of the energy system. Some see economic growth as crucial to financing this transition, and claim that the Green New Deal will further stimulate growth. By contrast, proponents of degrowth maintain that growth makes it more difficult to accomplish emissions reductions, and argue for reducing the scale of energy use to enable a rapid energy transition. The two narratives converge on the importance of public investments for financing the energy transition, industrial policies to lead the decarbonisation of the economy, socializing the energy sector to allow longer investment horizons, and expanding the welfare state to increase social protection. We conclude that despite important tensions, there is room for synthesizing Green New Deal and degrowth-minded approaches into a ‘Green New Deal without growth’.

Ecological Economics, vol. 179, 2021

First North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento, México City 2018 – La economía industrial no es circular sino entrópica

Conferencia de la Plenaria del Jueves por Joan Martínez Alier: “La economía industrial no es circular sino entrópica”

Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Professor Bartlett has given his celebrated one-hour lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101” over 1,742 times times to audiences with an average attendance of 80 in the United States and world-wide. His audiences have ranged from junior high school and college students to corporate executives and scientists, and to congressional staffs. He first gave the talk in September, 1969, and subsequently has presented it an average of once every 8.5 days for 36 years. His talk is based on his paper, “Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis,” originally published in the American Journal of Physics, and revised in the Journal of Geological Education.

Professor Al Bartlett began his one-hour talk with the statement, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

He then gave a basic introduction to the arithmetic of steady growth, including an explanation of the concept of doubling time. He explained the impact of unending steady growth on the population of Boulder, of Colorado, and of the world. He then examined the consequences steady growth in a finite environment and observed this growth as applied to fossil fuel consumption, the lifetime of which is much shorter than the optimistic figures most often quoted.

He proceeded to examine oddly reassuring statements from “experts”, the media and political leaders – statements that are dramatically inconsistent with the facts. He discussed the widespread worship of economic growth and population growth in western society. Professor Bartlett explaind “sustainability” in the context of the First Law of Sustainability:

“You cannot sustain population growth and / or growth in the rates of consumption of resources.”

The talk brought the listener to understand and appreciate the implications of unending growth on a finite planet, and closed noting the crucial need for education on the topic.

First North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento, México City 2018 – Desafíos de un modelo energético sostenible: México 2050

Esta presentación explica los desafíos de un modelo energético sostenible en México (2050).

First North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento, México City 2018 – A critical-integral assessment of Mexico’s Energy Transition Strategy

Socio-environmental issues will continue to emerge if an energy transition project does not include changes in patterns of consumption and resource governance.

First North-South Conference on Degrowth-Descrecimiento, México City 2018 – Sustainable structures of living together and degrowth in the energy sector

This presentation outlines an approach to imagine an energy policy break from the growth status quo.

Rivers of empire : water, aridity, and the growth of the American West

The American West, blessed with an abundance of earth and sky but cursed with a scarcity of life’s most fundamental need, has long dreamed of harnessing all its rivers to produce unlimited wealth and power. In Rivers of Empire, award-winning historian Donald Worster tells the story of this dream and its outcome. He shows how, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Mormons were the first attempting to make that dream a reality, damming and diverting rivers to irrigate their land. He follows this intriguing history through the 1930s, when the federal government built hundreds of dams on every major western river, thereby laying the foundation for the cities and farms, money and power of today’s West. Yet while these cities have become paradigms of modern American urban centers, and the farms successful high-tech enterprises, Worster reminds us that the costs have been extremely high. Along with the wealth has come massive ecological damage, a redistribution of power to bureaucratic and economic elites, and a class conflict still on the upswing. As a result, the future of this “hydraulic West” is increasingly uncertain, as water continues to be a scarce resource, inadequate to the demand, and declining in quality.

Rivers of Empire represents a radically new vision of the American West and its historical significance. Showing how ecological change is inextricably intertwined with social evolution, and reevaluating the old mythic and celebratory approach to the development of the West, Worster offers the most probing, critical analysis of the region to date. He shows how the vast region encompassing our western states, while founded essentially as colonies, have since become the true seat of the American “Empire.” How this imperial West rose out of desert, how it altered the course of nature there, and what it has meant for Thoreau’s (and our own) mythic search for freedom and the American Dream, are the central themes of this eloquent and thought-provoking story–a story that begins and ends with water.

Energy, property, and the industrial revolution narrative

Abstract: The Industrial Revolution (IR) story is the core of a mainstream economic history narrative of energy/development relationships, celebrating Modern Economic Growth (MEG) as the increase in per capita energy consumption in the last two centuries. Such a narrative emphasizes mineral technology and private property as the key elements of growth processes. I will criticize the above narrative, from a socio-environmental history perspective, for its inability to account for two crucial aspects of energy history: 1. the role of social power as key determinant in how energy sources are used and to what ends; 2. the socio-ecological costs associated with the increase of energy consumption. I will then review Environmental History studies on energy/industrialization and highlight possible future developments in the field. The article makes a strong point for the need to look at energy transitions as social processes, and to include the unequal distribution of environmental, health, and social costs of mineral energy into global history narratives.

Ecological Economics, Volume 70, Issue 7, 15 May 2011, Pages 1309-1315