What is the just transition to solve the climate crisis ?

“Relying on green capitalism to implement a prevention program using the usual market-driven mechanisms is a recipe for disaster. Global carbon emissions continue to climb while market-led renewable energy growth is much too slow to replace fossil fuels in such a short window.”

This is an excerpt from an interview of biochemist David Schwartzman by Jacobin magazine. The interview is worth reading in full.

Here is the question dealing with the transition strategy and how a certain amount of oil expenditure may still be needed to fund the transition to full renewable energy:

* What should the climate justice movement be doing differently?

“More attention and energy should be focused on framing. For example, today key players in the present climate justice movement present misleading prescriptions for change like the slogan “keep the oil in the ground.”

This prescription ignores energy poverty and presents an unrealistic framework for change. Instead the movement should argue first for rapid phasing out of the fossil fuels with the highest carbon footprints (coal, natural gas, and tar sands oil), and using the minimum necessary amount of conventional liquid oil reserves to replace all fossil-fuel consumption with a sufficient global wind and solar power infrastructure. Yes, keep most of the oil in the ground, but not all.

What is sufficient in this regard? An amount that is capable of terminating the energy poverty that now affects the majority of the world’s people, while simultaneously facilitating climate adaptation, the sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil and crust, and bringing (and keeping) the atmospheric carbon dioxide level below 350 parts per million.

We will likely need more energy capacity than we currently have to realize these objectives. At present, primary global energy consumption is equivalent to 18 trillion watts. Meeting the requirements listed will require at least double this consumption level in the twenty-first century (although efficiencies gained by solarization will ultimately lower this level).

Some climate justice activists accept the collapse of civilization and call for a radical reduction in global energy consumption regardless of its impact on humanity. For example, Derrick Jensen — an extreme anti-extractionist — calls for an immediate shutdown of all oil wells (taking “keep the oil in the ground” literally).

This strategy is extremely problematic. It prevents a solar transition with the capacity to both eliminate energy poverty and work through the climate crisis. Only a global clean energy infrastructure supplying more energy than is produced now can allow for ongoing climate adaptation and the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil and crust.

A global wind and solar transition replacing unsustainable energy supplies must be parasitic on these supplies, just as the industrial fossil-fuel revolution was parasitic on biomass (plant) energy until it replaced the former supply with sufficient capacity. Liquid oil, which has the lowest carbon footprint of the fossil fuels, is the preferred energy source to make this renewable energy transition.

A rapid phase-out starting with the most carbon-heavy fossil fuels, coupled with a full transition to a global wind/solar power infrastructure, should be a global objective. If it begins robustly in the near future, this could keep overall warming below 1.5°C.

With the creation of a cooperative global regime on climate change, each nation will have an opportunity to fully benefit from this transition, while contributing resources compatible with their naturally existing oil, wind, or solar resources.”

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