Thursday, November 26, 2015

For once, the Tories are doing the right thing (but far too little of it)

There is no doubt that, after winning the election, the new Conservative government has done a lot of harm to British society, in particular by cutting benefits for the disabled and those most in need. Yet, in terms of climate policy, the pictures is somewhat more ambiguous. Given the inherent scalability limitations of renewables, I find the slashing of subsidies for small-scale renewables to be a step in the right direction. Similarly, cancelling the £1bn Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) competition is probably also the right thing to do (although doing it six months before it would be awarded is not precisely fair play). More importantly, shifting resources to energy R&D, in particular nuclear, is very much the right thing to do in a world with burgeoning energy demand.

At the same time, committing a meagre £250 million to nuclear R&D over five years is not going to jumpstart any global energy revolution whatsoever. Considering that developing a successor to the UK Trident system is estimated to cost at least £25 billion (yes, 100 times more!), a figure that the Conservatives seem perfectly happy to pay, puts those £250 million into some perspective.

While correctly assessing the limitations of renewables and CCS, continuing business as usual is simply not an option. The first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. Decisive climate action is needed now. As an emergency measure, rich countries like the UK should build dozens of new nuclear reactors to quickly displace fossil fuels at home WHILE doubling down on research of more scalable technologies capable of facilitating a global carbon lock-out. There is simply no time to fiddle around with a wind turbine here or a PV panel there (which in any case both would require fossil back-up power). Looking at the historic decarbonisation rates of both Sweden and France, we know that it is perfectly possible to quickly cut emissions using existing nuclear technologies. Yet, with no support from the environmental movement or other social movements, the current policy gridlock is not in any way surprising.

Update: In the issue going into print 28 November, The Economist will give their support to many of the things I have argued over the last years in terms of the need for basic energy R&D.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Autumn, revisited

Back in Kalmar for a couple of days. More than 1.5 years have passed since my last visit which is longer than I ever been away. Living in the High North, coming back down here meant reliving autumn again with yellow trees and temperatures well above ten degrees.

On Sunday night, Eddie and I are flying back to Umeå for more of the same crazy rush.

That was as far as I got with my blog post as I still had to take a picture. Yet, today, waking up shortly before 5 am and reading news on my phone, all that suddenly felt irrelevant. More than 120 people are dead in a new terror attack and we are in for another cycle of violence, fear and repressive politics. As before, I am equally frightened by the political reaction as by the terror itself. There will always be insane people doing heinous acts, the important question is rather who we want to become by our efforts to stop them. Already the veneer of civilization was getting strikingly thin. In Denmark the government just suggested that the police should search asylum seekers for any valuables that they may be carrying and confiscate them I order to pay for the costs of migration. Borders are again coming up across Europe and in Sweden refugee centres are torched by right-wing extremists. While it is still too early to say anything about the motives of the Paris attack, it is clear that the long shadow of the Algerian war is still very much with us. Ultimately, I remain confident that democracy will prevail but the road we are on right now is not a good one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Flat white

Early morning in North Sweden as I browse a just released copy of "Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-porn Addicts" by Leigh Phillips. As often it is more difficult with friends than with enemies, one is much less certain of the terrain and how the argument ultimately plays out.

At some level I am afraid that books like these, however welcome they may be, will just add more fuel to the ongoing cultural war. The same is of course true for some of the things I have written or said (for instance at WPSA in April this year). Maybe a more fruitful approach would be to try to unite progressives around seemingly other questions, such as the moral necessity of open borders, and then, indirectly, make a global welfare state, and with it a high-energy planet, inevitable.

Soon time to bike up to UPL for another course day, this time on supervision in higher education. November promises to be a month of extremes with only a short break scheduled as I head back to Kalmar with Eddie 11-15 November.