Loading page...

Can Earth’s modern economy operate without any fossil fuels?

Can Earth’s modern economy operate without any fossil fuels? 

There are plenty on the right who insist that it’s impossible: they’re hooked on coal, oil and fracked shale gas, and to make life easier, they often argue that climate change is just not a problem. 

There are plenty on the green left too (yes, there’s a right green, a middle green and a left green) who see peak oil as bringing the collapse of modern civilization, and who see the whole concept of endless economic growth as being completely unsustainable. 

But Mark Jacobson from Stanford University has news: they’re both wrong. 

Take California, that bustling economy of 33 million people. Could it operate without fossil fuels? Yes, says Mark and his team, using a mix of rooftop solar, concentrating and solar PV power plants, offshore wind, onshore wind and geothermal power. A firm grid could be achieved 99.8% of the time by using demand-response management and concentrated solar power storage.   

New York State? A similar story, with five million 5 kW rooftop solar systems, 500,000 100 kW solar systems on commercial and government rooftops, 828 50 MW solar plants, 10 MW of wind power, and with a bunch of concentrating solar, geothermal, hydropower, tidal and wave power plants thrown into the mix. And what’s more: New York State could do it by 2030, if they put their minds to it.

“You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint,” he says. “The biggest obstacles are social and political — what you need is the will to do it.”

The challenge for British Columbia should be a lot easier, since 92% of our electricity is already coming from wind and water, and our land area proportional to population is far larger than California or New York. 

So it boils down to social and political will: and the one precedes the other. Very few politicians are able to lead people where they don’t want to go; and most politicians are happy to lead people where they do want to go. 

So it boils down to social will, which requires the widely shared realization that yes, we have a problem, and a good grasp of the solutions. 

When people see no solutions, they are more inclined to believe there’s not a problem. Isn't that the nature of every marriage? What laundry? I don't see any laundry.

So that brings us back to the solutions. If people really understood that the solutions to climate change were real, and doable, and financially manageable, they would be much more willing to accept that yes, we have a problem, generating the social will which leads to political will, which gets it done. 

And Mark Jacobson says yes, it can be done. 

Mark's BCSEA webinar was on Tuesday September 17th, sponsored by Vancity.

Here’s the the video, and here are his slides

It was a great webinar!