In December, we heard the sorrowful and accusatory screed of an earnest Swedish teenager who cast gloom and guilt globally while comfortably ensconced in a heated auditorium at the United Nations climate change conference in the heart of coal country in Katowice, Poland.
The crusading young woman, Greta Thunberg, asked what the rest of us will say to our children and grandchildren when they have to deal with the catastrophic effects of climate change, previously known as global warming (the climate is always changing, we just aren’t absolutely certain how).
The United States did nothing about global warming over the past year, yet carbon dioxide emissions went down by 0.5 per cent while the economy expanded by about 2.5 per cent.
In the European Union, bastion of those who say they really care about polar bears, horrific droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels, CO2 emissions rose 1.5 per cent while economic growth was only slightly higher.
The difference is that the U.S. has allowed the private sector to find and exploit vast reserves of tight natural gas via hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, whereas the EU has tried to engineer lower emissions via government mandates, restrictions, taxes and subsidies.
The result for the EU is much higher energy costs, closed-down no-carbon nuclear plants, and greater reliance on dirty coal and Russia and its natural gas.
The rejoinder has been that wind and solar power need subsidies to get established, but that they’re competitive with any of the cheaper forms of conventional electrical power.
But that’s only true of these ‘green’ alternatives’ marginal cash costs, which, of course, are close to zero, other than cleaning, repair and maintenance. The only things that makes them viable now are direct subsidies to the buyers, and forced or fixed buying by utilities, compelling the latter to buy expensive power elsewhere when the sun or wind aren’t co-operative.
Batteries could make these forms of power viable. But the silence from the climate zealots on this topic is notable.
Several new forms of batteries could be good contenders, according to the website Pocket Lint, including solid state lithium metal, Grabat graphene, aluminum air, Ryden dual carbon, carbon ion, liquid sodium and the ever-faithful fuel cell. Other major hopes include vanadium redox flow, now fully commercial, and zinc ion, from the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
While there have been tests and pilot projects involving these batteries, it would make a lot of sense to use some such storage to level output and consumption of electric power, for utilities and users alike. The cost of such projects are far less than other grand, disruptive schemes such as ending the use of all internal combustion engines.
Exploring how and where to use these (in the grid, at power plants and major power buyers, with some smaller consumers) to test their technical and economic merits would seem to be relatively low-cost and shrewd.
That there’s so little discussion of this engenders suspicion that the true motive of the climate change crusaders is not clean, green energy, but something else: either to end fossil fuel use, or to kill western industry and even capitalism itself.
These sorts of suspicions also arise because the crusaders apparently see nothing wrong with China, India and other major developing nations being given free licence, according to the 2015 Paris climate accord, to build as many new coal-fired power plants as they like, even as the rest of the world is told to drastically change its industrial structure to conform to the Paris strictures.
Fracked gas and batteries can change the world for the better. Emotionally overwrought, ill-informed accusations and campaigns against ordinary consumers and citizens will only generate mistrust.
Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.