No False Solutions for Climate Change

At the COP21 here in Paris there is a lot of talk about emission reductions, the decision on reduction goals and financial support for economically weak countries. However, no concrete measures how to achieve those goals are necessarily presented.

There is, nonetheless, a number of ideas that are popular amongst politicians, some of which are coming directly from multinational corporations. Besides all the talks about “the best we could hope for in this situation” and “there is no more efficient alternative”, it is important to critically reflect on the proposals and not simply accept the official arguments. The campaign trying to achieve that is known as No False Solutions. It targets actions that instead of solving climate change, are in the worst case even contributing to it, in the best case are not changing anything at all. Today’s blog entry therefore is about raising awareness about critical reflection of proposed solutions to climate change.

We came up with three main areas of initiatives, which we believe are false solutions.

First, technological fixes that try to solve the problem not by changing the logic that actually contributed to the emergence of it, but simply by applying technologies to reduce impacts or consequences. Examples include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), geo-engineering and bio-fuels.

Second, policy mechanisms that are ineffective and perpetuating the logic of exploitation, irresponsibility and profit-oriented decisions as opposed to value-driven decisions. Most known is the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), the emission market of the European Union.

Last, supposedly less carbon-intensive energy forms that are presented as the smaller bad compared to the combustion of coal. This regards first and foremost gas and nuclear energy.

Given the space and time constraints and that some aspects require quite deep technical background knowledge, we decided to focus on the last point, to go into some more depth, as it is a point most of us can relate to. In any case, we are happy to discuss the other alternatives with you as well, if you are interested. So you are welcome to send us a message and we will be happy to discuss them with you.

About 71% of the world’s emissions are related to energy production (1). By far the dirtiest energy form is coal, especially lignite coal (like from the open pits near Hambach Forest in Germany). Consequently, some argue we should reduce coal immediately, but because capacity of renewables is still not enough, less carbon-intensive energy forms like gas should be used, until we have enough renewable capacity. Others suggest, given the urgency to act on climate change, we should immediately increase nuclear power capacities, which is supposedly not emitting any carbon in the process of energy production.

Why are those two proposals False Solutions in our eyes?

In the case of gas, it is a fossil fuel as well, i.e. its supplies are limited, its sourcing is environmentally and socially disruptive and its burning releases toxics. Maybe even more important, the focus on gas as a bridge technology is likely to divert attention and money away from the development of renewable energy capacities.

In the case of nuclear, there is obviously a moral dilemma of producing radioactive waste for future generations to deal with. That aside though, nuclear energy production is not as carbon-neutral as claimed. The burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gasses are involved in the mining of uranium, the transport, the construction of the power plant, the demolishing of it after the end of its life expectancy (~ 30–60 years), and in the storage of the nuclear waste and the contaminated power plant materials (2). Emissions will even increase in the long run, as natural uranium deposits become increasingly depleted. Ultimately, nuclear energy can even cause more emissions than the burning of fossil fuels.

What then is a real solution? Obviously, renewables will have to play a big part in the solutions, but also the reduction of energy consumption (which is frequently forgotten). On a finishing note, we would like to introduce the concept of energy democracy as a promising way forward, in which small local initiatives take back their local energy infrastructure and democratically decide on the source of renewable energy. One of the many benefits is that the logic of profit-maximisation is replaced by one of meeting local needs. Additionally, the money generated can be reinvested in the region. The energy mix and solutions will depend on the locality, aiming for energy sufficiency.

All in all, energy is one of the most crucial topics regarding climate change. Proposed solutions often sound reasonable, attractive or even glamorous, but cannot really deliver on close scrutiny. We have to remember what we really want and if the solution is actually contributing to that goal.

 

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