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kottke.org posts about Bill McKibben

“Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Writing in the New Yorker and citing a report by Carbon Tracker Initiative, Bill McKibben provides some hope that we can address the climate crisis.

Titled “The Sky’s the Limit,” it begins by declaring that “solar and wind potential is far higher than that of fossil fuels and can meet global energy demand many times over.” Taken by itself, that’s not a very bold claim: scientists have long noted that the sun directs more energy to the Earth in an hour than humans use in a year. But, until very recently, it was too expensive to capture that power. That’s what has shifted — and so quickly and so dramatically that most of the world’s politicians are now living on a different planet than the one we actually inhabit. On the actual Earth, circa 2021, the report reads, “with current technology and in a subset of available locations we can capture at least 6,700 PWh p.a. [petawatt-hours per year] from solar and wind, which is more than 100 times global energy demand.” And this will not require covering the globe with solar arrays: “The land required for solar panels alone to provide all global energy is 450,000 km2, 0.3% of the global land area of 149 million km2. That is less than the land required for fossil fuels today, which in the US alone is 126,000 km2, 1.3% of the country.” These are the kinds of numbers that reshape your understanding of the future.

But world governments will need to invest in renewable energy sooner rather than later and fossil fuel companies will fight tooth and nail to slow the transition to renewables. If they win in slow-walking the response to the climate crisis, as McKibben puts it, “no one will have an ice cap in the Arctic, either, and everyone who lives near a coast will be figuring out where on earth to go”.