ENERGY TRANSFORMATION PLAN
We’re developing a plan with concrete recommendations for the radical transformation of society away from fossil fuels and down from overshoot towards sustainable, one-Earth living. It can used by governments or as guidance for people seeking to live anew from the ground up.
It will contain two main parts: a Biophysical Analysis and an Action Plan.
The Biophysical Analysis will:
Outline why so-called renewable energy technologies are neither renewable nor sustainable.
Outline the specifics of a truly renewable energy regime and what will be appropriate for different geographic locations.
The Action Plan will use the results from the Biophysical Analysis to lay out a concrete roadmap for the transformation, including:
Population. A global one-child fertility goal—using the perfectly humane tools at our disposal—to reduce the human population to the one billion or so people that a non-fossil energy future can support sustainably in material comfort.
Infrastructure and Ecosystem Health. Establishing a phase-out of fossil energy while radically restructuring society in line with the new energy and healing imperatives, such as:
Setting aside roughly half for Nature while starting to restore ecosystems.
De-commissioning as much fossil-based infrastructure as possible while retrofitting and re-building human settlements within their supportive ecosystems to function with genuinely renewable energy and materials.
Resettlements from dense urban areas and vulnerable coastlines.
A shift to agroecology.
Economics. Dramatically reducing energy/material consumption and eliminating the financial growth and consolidation imperatives that drive it through steps such as:
Eliminating interest-bearing debt.
Bans, rations, and phase-outs.
Internalizing the externalized costs of goods that remain in production through pollution taxes and quotas that limit natural resource extraction.
In the meantime, we offer recommendations for governments and individuals that can be pursued now.
why so-called renewables aren't viable
So-called renewable energy technologies – or what we might dub faux renewables – are manufactured by techno-industrial processes that are entirely reliant on fossil fuels and that produce significant toxic waste.
Faux renewables are made out of myriad non-renewable metals and minerals that have already been severely depleted during the Industrial Age. Extracting these metals and minerals involves enormous ecological destruction, pollution, the use of large fossil-fueled machinery, and often horrible labor conditions. Once extracted, these resources are shipped all over the world on fossil fueled cargo ships and trucks.
The hallmark of techno-industrial manufacturing processes needed to produce faux renewables is high-temperature heat. This high temperature thermal energy is very difficult to generate with electricity - the only type of energy faux renewables produce. Only a few manufacturing processes use electricity, while the rest rely on complex, large-scale machinery that generates high temperatures with fossil fuels. “Electrifying” these processes is simply not yet possible and would be astronomically expensive.
Solar panels and high-tech wind turbines are transported on large fossil fueled trucks from their manufacturing facilities to their installation sites. Once there, high-tech wind turbines need to be erected with huge fossil fueled cranes and held in place by massive concrete and rebar bases. Concrete and rebar are also made using non-renewable mineral resources and extremely high temperatures, and they too have to be transported in large fossil fueled trucks to installation sites.
At the end of their short lives, faux renewables end up in landfills. Most of their parts can’t be recycled, and even if they could, recycling is an energy intensive process that involves dealing with toxic materials.
There’s no nuclear technology that doesn’t generate radioactive waste. And, like other faux renewables, building and operating conventional nuclear power plants and small modular reactors (which have to be transported) requires fossil fueled processes, machinery, and complex technologies, not to mention enormous amounts of water and non-renewable resources. They're also wildly expensive.
Consider that less than 20% of total energy consumption is in the form of electricity – the rest is liquid fuels used for transportation and heat. Faux renewables only produce electricity. And in a post-Green Revolution agricultural world with many billions of mouths to feed, nearly every square inch of arable land will have to be devoted to growing food, leaving virtually no room for biofuels.
what we still need to understand about renewable energy
We're delving into the specifics of biomass, wind, and water power, as well as truly sustainable materials, and what it all might look like across different geographic regions.
We also aim to go beyond this agrarian template focused exclusively on ‘quantitative’ energy or exergy to explore ‘qualitative’ reconceptualizations of energy that align with more of a deeply ancient template, looking at the interplay between things like sacred geometry, elemental properties, frequency/harmonics, and Earth’s various energies.
the shrinking / non-existent carbon budget
The National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough) in Australia (not to be confused with U.S.-based The Breakthrough Institute) has performed some of the most rigorous analyses to date on the state of the global climate. Independent analyses like theirs are crucial since it’s well understood that IPCC estimates are conservative due to the failure of its climate models to take a variety of feedbacks into account, scientists’ professional reticence, and political pressures on the IPCC itself.
Breakthrough’s latest Climate Reality Check report warns that:
We’re likely to reach 1.5°C warming by 2030 or sooner.
The world is on a 3° to 5°C warming path by 2100. 2°C is likely before 2050, 3°C may be reached by 2060, and, if nothing changes, 5°C before 2100.
1.75° to 1.95°C warming is expected from the current level of greenhouse gases, resulting from the warming of 1.2C that we’ve already experienced plus the 0.6° to 0.75°C lag due to the Earth Energy Imbalance. On top of that, the potential benefits of future emissions reductions may not be realized if the corresponding decrease in atmospheric aerosols (pollution) results in accelerated warming. The result is that there is really no carbon budget left if the world hopes to remain under 2°C.
This stands in stark contrast to IPCC targets, which say that:
Carbon emissions must be eliminated by 2050 to stay under 1.5°C and by 2070 to stay under 2°C.
As of 2020, we had a remaining carbon budget of 395 Gt CO2 to limit warning to 1.5°C and 985 Gt CO2 to limit warming to 2°C.
It's an understatement to say that the challenge before us is enormous. Global emissions pre-COVID were still rising, having increased 40% since 2010 despite falling emissions in the US and EU (which were lower in 2018-19 than in 2010). Paris Agreement pledges are wildly inadequate, and the 2020 emission reductions of 6% from 2019 levels due to COVID were miniscule in comparison to what’s needed at a sustained level.
As Breakthrough warns, the end of civilization due to climate disruption is not inevitable but is increasingly probable the longer dramatic global action is delayed. What we do between now and 2030 is vital.
This white paper looks at the widely overlooked limitations of the renewable energy technologies commonly put forth as solutions.
It shows that RE cannot deliver the same quantity and quality of energy as fossil fuels, that the espoused technologies are not renewable, and that producing them – particularly mining their metals and discarding their waste – entails egregious social injustices.
We conclude that that the narrative of business-as-usual with a technological fix is not possible and that scale-back, transformation, and a re-assessment of RE options is needed.
This peer-reviewed journal article published in Energies is an extension of our white paper.
It offers a tripartite analysis that re-characterizes the climate crisis within its broader context of ecological overshoot, highlights numerous collectively fatal problems with so-called renewable energy technologies, and suggests alternative solutions that entail a contraction of the human enterprise.
We conclude that to achieve sustainability and salvage civilization, society must embark on a planned, cooperative descent from an extreme state of overshoot in just a decade or two. While it might be easier for the proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for global society to succeed in this endeavor, history is replete with stellar achievements that have arisen only from a dogged pursuit of the seemingly impossible.
(For the full saga on the controversy surrounding this paper, click here).