Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. While I do make mistakes, I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct (old habits die hard!) Also, don't ask me why I called it "Volewica". It's too late, now.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

So what can you do?

By Fritz Ahlefeldt (Source)

In my last post, I was extremely depressed about the likelihood that mankind would slash carbon emissions in time to save our civilisation.

Of course, coal and oil producers would love us to give up the fight, as would denialists of all stripes.  Because in fact we still can, if we all put our minds to it, avoid the potential catastrophic futures which might happen if we don't act.

What do we (collectively) need to do?

We must switch all electricity generation from fossil fuels to generation methods which produce no CO2: wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, biomass, geothermal.  This is key.  In principle we can run almost all our other activities using electricity, and if that electricity is carbon-free we would have de-carbonised the whole economy.  Right now, though, there are some industrial processes which will be hard to make carbon-free.  For example, manufacturing iron and steel and cement produces CO2 as part of the process.  So we'll need to find ways of making iron and steel and cement which do not emit CO2, or find ways to store the CO2 as rock or deep underground.  This is called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and is much more expensive than not emitting the CO2 in the first place.

In addition, we need to electrify our transport--we need to switch the whole car fleet to electric vehicles (EVs).  We need electric lorries (trucks) and aircraft and ships powered by bio-diesel or batteries.

Finally, we need to stop clearing and burning forests and bushland.

If we do these three things, we will cut emissions by 70 or 80%. That's a huge step forward on the road to zero emissions.  But we need to do this as soon as possible.  Not by 2050 or 2100 but in 20 years.  Every country should have a target of replacing 5% of electricity generation  each year with carbon-free generation.  That would mean that within 20 years we would reach zero emissions for electricity.  And every country should have a target of increasing the percentage of EVs in total car and truck sales by 5% a year.  In 20 years 100% of car and lorry sales would be electric.  At that point 50% of the total fleet would be electric, and by 10 years after that 100% would be carbon-free.

Here's what you can do personally to move the world to zero emissions:

  1. Buy your electricity from a 100% green supplier.  If enough of us do that we will force dinosaur utilities to install more green generation.
  2. If you have the roof space, fit solar panels.  6 kW should be enough to supply your electricity needs on average over the course of a year in most places on the planet.  In most places this will save you money.  The panels will pay for themselves in 5 to 7 years, which means that for the next 20 years thereafter, your electricity is free.  You don't need a battery to do this, but where the feed-in tariff is very low (Australia, for example), a battery behind the meter will save you more money on top of the savings from installing solar.  If you wait 3 or 4 years, though, batteries will be 50% cheaper.
  3. Consider buying an electric car or a plug-in hybrid with a decent electric range.  The Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, and the new long-range Nissan Leaf all cost the same as the average car.  In 5 years, they will be cheaper still, but after that the absolute price declines will slow.  If you're in a place where there are government incentives to buy electric, these will probably be removed by then, so the net after-subsidy costs may not fall that much.
  4. Nag your local council to buy clean electricity for all its uses: street lights, traffic lights, municipal sports centres and swimming pools, old age homes, schools, etc.  Remember, renewables are as cheap as or cheaper than fossil fuels.  Your municipality might even save money.
  5. Contradict the lie that renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels whenever you can, wherever you can.  They are not.  Point out that wind is getting cheaper by 5-10% a year (thanks to new turbine designs), solar by 15-20% a year (thanks to efficiency improvements and economies of scale)  and batteries by 25% plus a year.  Point out that the battery in your phone used to cost $800 25 years ago and now costs $25.
  6. Vote for political parties which are serious about doing something about climate change.  Some are downright hostile to the idea of global warming and the use of renewables, even though they are cheaper.  Many more pay lip service to the goal of zero emissions, but don't actually implement effective policies.  Give us virtue but not  yet.  Global warming is the greatest crisis facing our civilisation.  Its negative effects are already visible.  This should be your first criterion when you choose which party to vote for.
  7. Push for the removal of subsidies to fossil fuels, which total billions of dollar globally.  It's demented to pay fossil fuel producers to ruin our planet.
  8. Push for a carbon tax starting at $20 per tonne of emissions, rising by $5 each year, with the proceeds of the tax being returned to all citizens by way of a quarterly cheque. That makes a carbon tax politically palatable.  British Columbia's carbon tax worked spectacularly well.  And push to tax imports from countries which do not have a similar tax or carbon reduction scheme.
  9. Pass on the posts I make here to all your friends.  Keep them informed and determined.

We can do it, if we truly want to.   It's up to us.  There's not going to be some magical wand-waving fairy who saves us.  It's our world, and it's the only one we have.  Start pushing, today.

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