The Angry Clean Energy Guy’s Top 10 Reasons to be a Climate Optimist.
Anytime you get depressed by the climate catastrophe all around us, come back here, to this Episode, to refresh, then go back out and fight: The case for climate optimism is strong.
Photo by Assaad W. Razzouk
A friend of mine recently unfollowed me on Twitter. Because he was a good friend, I called him up and I said, What’s going on? He said, and I quote:
“To be totally honest, I have had a tough time coping with all the depressing environmental stuff
Taking a bit of an ostrich attitude
I turn off the TV when there is something on plastics etc
Not that I am not super environmentally attuned I use a reusable coffee cup, I recycle, I avoid using single-use plastics, I drive electric, etc … But I find the constant barrage of depressing stuff wears me down”
That’s what he told me.
I was generally aware of this type of attitude. So I’ve worked hard on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn and on this The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast to balance the bad news with the good news.
But apparently not hard enough.
This and multiple similar interactions I’ve had made me want to use this Episode to set out the case for climate optimism.
The good news is that there is indeed a strong case, so any time you are depressed by the climate catastrophe everywhere around us and you want to do something about it, come back here to refresh. Come back to this Episode, then go back out and do something because we can all do so much better.
Welcome to Episode 27 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy, with me, Assaad Razzouk
TOP 10 REASONS FOR CLIMATE OPTIMISM
On social media and in my previous podcasts, I shared with you the catastrophic state of the planet.
I covered lots of topics from the decimation of insects; to the multiple ways the climate catastrophe is upon us; to the sixth mass extinction; to the wall of money and deceit by Big Oil; to the plastic we’re buried in; to the scourge of industrial fishing and the environmental horrors of the fashion industry.
Just a couple of days ago, the World Meteorological Organization issued a bleak report that said the world’s average temperature is rising faster than previously thought and that we’re headed for a gain of not one degree centigrade, not two degrees centigrade, not three degrees centigrade, but almost triple the goal set by almost 200 countries in 2015 in the Paris Accord – and suggesting an increase of three degrees to five degrees Celsius (that’s 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) was on the cards by the end of the century.
Now that’s the kind of news that just floors me.
But in the words of the song,
“I get knocked down. But I get up again.
And you are never gonna keep me down”
So today I want to set out the case for climate optimism and frankly, it’s a strong one. And it keeps me going.
You’re going to have to bear with me while I go through my top 10 reasons to be a climate optimist.
My number 1 reason to be a climate optimist is that there is enormously more awareness everywhere and mobilization about climate change and therefore the corporate response is strong and getting stronger, and governments are taking action at last.
Let me give you some data points.
Just like with my unnamed friend, the barrage of bad news on climate is actually working, and we probably need more, not less.
Do you think the point of the Extinction Rebellion protests is to close roads?
Or that Greta Thunberg travels by boat because she wants to save fuel?
Of course not.
The point is to increase awareness about the climate emergency. And, boy, have they been successful.
Here are a few corporate data points to start.
By 2021, according to a recent survey by Nielsen, 25% off total store sales in the U. S. – that’s $150 billion worth – will be sustainable products. What’s more, these products are expected to make more money to those manufacturing them than traditional products.
Another data point: In 2017 Walmart launched what they called Project Gigaton to reduce emissions from their global supply chain. Not even two years later, everything around you is changing, and most of us don’t even notice. But it’s also accelerating. Shocking as it may sound, sustainability today, right now, is in your laundry; it’s in your refrigerator, it’s in your showers.
I’ll give you an example. 90% of a washing machine’s energy use goes towards heating water. So Tide, the consumer brand, reformulated their laundry detergent to clean well in cold water and launched a new campaign to challenge consumers to switch to cold. That alone brought sustainability very much into your washing machine.
Kellogg, the cereal company, set a goal to train 500,000 U.S. farmers in techniques that lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Unilever reached almost 50% post-consumer recycled materials for plastic packaging
and on and on with the corporate examples around the world.
IKEA, Apple, Google, Facebook are investing billions in renewable energy because they want to be 100 cent powered by renewable energy. These companies and another 200 companies are grouped under an umbrella NGO called RE 100 and if these RE 100 members were a country, they would be the 21st largest electricity consumer in the world and that’s just 200 companies.
So it’s happening and it’s all around you.
Now let’s talk about governments.
This year alone:
In Greece, the Cabinet approved plans to reduce carbon footprint by more than 55% by 2030; to close down all their coal fired power plants; to go 35% renewables and to invest two billion euros in climate defense, in climate mitigation.
So the Greek government is responding.
In New Zealand, the government passed a law to reduce carbon emissions to pretty much zero by 2050; go 100% renewables by 2035; plant one billion trees and invest $15 billion into transit, biking and walking infrastructure.
So New Zealand is taking climate action.
Ireland is also taking climate action. It’s planting 22 million new trees a year, with a goal of reaching 440 million trees by 2040. It’s pushing a massive increase of electric vehicles with a goal of having one million EV’s on the roads by 2030 and it’s retrofitting 50,000 homes to make them more energy efficient.
California, as most of you know, has passed a law to go 100% zero carbon energy by 2045.
Also this year, the U.K. became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050 and the U.K. is a good case study because it’s already reduced emissions by 42% – mostly by closing down its coal infrastructure – while at the same time growing its economy by 72%.
And last but not least, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency a week or two ago and the new European Commission has taken office on a promise of an imminent Green New deal.
And remember these regulations tighten over time. And that’s the case without exception, including in Trump-Land, where, despite a takeover of the environmental policy of the federal government by Big Oil, they are finding it really, really hard to roll back environmental protections because of the pushback by the judiciary and by the states.
My number two reason to be a climate optimist is that the cost of capital of oil and gas is going up.
That means their money is getting more expensive. The fossil fuel industry today (and they know it) is under enormous pressure. Did you know, for example, that the market value of the U. S. energy sector not only is down this year, but the entire sector is now worth less than the most valuable stock in the world, which is Apple?
This has never been the case since the Industrial Revolution, and these numbers are hard facts.
Exxon Mobil’s credit rating was just downgraded by Moody’s because of concerns over its substantial cash burn. It’s spending a lot more money (trying to get less and less gas) than even Exxon can afford.
Another U.S, company called Chesapeake, which is a fracking giant, lost 98% of its market value since 2008 and it’s basically going bankrupt.
What all this means is that over the next few years, Big Oil will find it increasingly hard, increasingly more expensive to finance new projects. And that’s exactly how it should be.
My number three reason to be a climate optimist is that renewable costs are going down and down and down.
Renewables today are cheaper to build and operate than then their fossil fuel competition.
We’ve seen absolutely stunning developments in terms of cost reductions in solar, in wind and in storage. There is plenty of literature on this, but I’ll give you two data points on that.
Data point number one is from Dubai. They put up a solar park for auction in 2015 to build 200 megawatts. The lowest cost that came in was almost six cents per kilowatt hour. Not even four years later, in 2019, to build 900 megawatts, the bids came in at 1.69 cents a kilowatt hour. That’s down 71% in just five years.
Data point number two is from the U.K. where recently a bunch of offshore wind projects won contracts to sell power at guaranteed prices at auction, and the price was 31% below a similar auction just two years ago.
The drop in offshore wind prices is such that that particular technology is now the cleanest and cheapest baseload power in the world, ahead of both fossil fuels and nuclear. And it’s expected to go up eight times by 2030 with $500 billion of investments going into it.
So these cost reductions have basically taken fossil fuel power out of the game. It’s just that some countries don’t know that yet.
My number four reason to be a climate optimist is that bubbling just below the surface and somewhat still amazingly, I don’t know why, unseen, is an electrification revolution which cuts across cars, buses, scooters, trucks, and it’s coupled with a 21st century approach to mobility, where we’re redesigning cities away from cars.
There is no reason why cars should take up so much space in a city, and the less of that we have, the better off we are from a climate and environmental perspective.
So a few data points on my number four reason.
The public charging points where you could charge your car or your scooter or your truck installed globally, have gone up from less than 200,000 in 2015 to about a 1,000,000 this year. So that’s five times in four years. And we expect these to be in the millions by 2022.
Today, the biggest problem in driving electric is that you cannot find a vehicle. But as far as us, the consumers are concerned, manufacturers are going to have to give us a choice to buy electric or they will go bankrupt. It’s simple as that.
So guess what these manufacturers are doing. There is a tsunami of electric car choice coming our way. I counted 84 models being rolled out over just the next two years from the likes of Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Range Rover, Jaguar and many others.
These car companies now get it because even BMW and Volkswagen and General Motors and Peugeot are now offering electric scooters and electric bicycles, not just cars. They see the way urban transportation is headed, maybe they’re fighting a little bit off a rear-guard battle, but they know that it’s not a pretty picture for conventional cars.
And frankly, this transition to electric cars would have been a lot less painful on the industry and on car industry workers if the automakers had spent the last decade preparing for it, instead of fighting it tooth and nail. So today they’re laying off people when they shouldn’t have, had they been thinking.
In addition, more and more cities are closing off areas and sometimes large areas to car traffic in favour of bikes, scooters and other small vehicles.
Electric scooter sharing companies are exploding in popularity.
Electric bicycles are on fire. Their sales are at an all time high and growing faster than ever. Just one Taiwanese company called appropriately, Giant, is selling 600,000 electric bicycles worldwide this year.
Even aviation is on the move. We already have 100 different electric planes under development. That’s 100 different electric planes.
We lost 40 years of technology development and R&D in the electrification sector because of the obfuscation and lobbying campaigns of Big Oil. But it’s so clear that we are getting finally a move on.
And keep an eye on what lithium-ion batteries are doing. What they’re doing is absolutely spectacular. Their price has dropped 87% in 10 years.
And there’s something else which is very exciting also at play here. All these electric cars and electric trucks and electric busses that I was talking about can enable a full clean-energy power grid because they can support the grid, not only take power from it. There’s an emerging technology called vehicle-to-grid or V2G, and that allows a plug-in vehicle or electric vehicle to act as a form of energy storage. So the batteries in your car can be used to let electricity flow from the car to the distribution network and back.
Think about it this way. Just the Tesla cyber-truck that was recently announced can power a standard home for two weeks or more. Its battery will last one million miles, or 200 years in other words, as a clean energy battery and storage pack.
So if these cars and trucks and buses using vehicle-to-grid technology can be plugged in to both take power from the grid but also give the grid power, you would close down 45 natural gas power plants for every three million electric cars on the road.
Then add on top the greening of the grid because we’re adding more renewables everywhere and you can see that electrification is basically unstoppable today.
My number five reason to be a climate optimist is climate lawsuits.
Columbia Law School documents that there are more than 1,640 lawsuits right now against fossil fuel companies and governments. So, yes, the wheels of justice are slow and sadly, justice maybe cannot be guaranteed to prevail in some countries, but the sheer number of lawsuits and the dedication, the commitment, the passion that I’ve seen of those launching them is a big cause for optimism.
These lawsuits are increasingly exposing the misinformation, the obfuscation from Big Oil. And we know now and everyone will know very soon that oil majors like Shell and Exxon understood exactly what they were doing to the planet for nearly 40 years. They ignored it. Then they tried to deceive us.
But the good news is that they failed.
We are no longer derailed in fighting emissions, we are fighting them.
We are no longer derailed in finding alternatives to oil, gas and coal and frankly we’ve got plenty. Actually, we have everything that we need.
We’re no longer derailed in terms of investing in clean tech are R&D. These numbers are finally going up.
Even though we are in a planetary emergency, we are fighting back.
My number six reason to be a climate optimist is that rating agencies and their bosses, the central banks, are on the move.
You might have heard recently that Moody’s is considering stripping Exxon off its triple A credit rating because of the risks in its adjustment (or probably more accurately lack of adjustment) to a low-carbon economy.
That’s nothing but a clear signal that the times they are a changing.
A real game changer popped its head recently via the European Central Bank. Christine Lagarde, its new president, is now pushing to include climate change considerations in how the ECB conducts its monetary policy. Now that would be a huge move because central banks are by far the biggest influence on financial markets.
Remember that monetary policies right now have an implicit carbon bias because we rely on normal credit ratings where climate exposures are basically irrelevant. So if that changed and the rating agencies followed, that would mean that financial markets would stop mis-pricing climate risks. And that’s in and of itself an absolutely huge lever for change.
My number seven reason to be a climate optimist is that there is a gradually stronger and global push-back against single-use plastic and its proponents, our friends at Big Oil, Big Gas and Big Petrochemicals.
There’s more than 40 countries with some form of ban or surcharge on single-use plastic.
Single-use plastic is a big chunk of the future demand for oil forecast by OPEC or the International Energy Agency and their friends trying to cook the books. So if you take out single-use plastic, what happens is that you see that demand for oil and gas will decline. That, in turn, has all sorts of consequences for the cost of capital of oil and gas companies, which ultimately means that they will be able to do no more new oil and gas exploration and close down, gradually, what they’re doing now.
My number eight reason to be a climate optimist is reforestation.
Yes, the world is burning right now: Australia, California, Indonesia, the Amazon.
But we are no longer on the defensive.
Costa Rica increased its forest cover from 21% in 1986 to over 52% today.
Africa is building a Great Green Wall, the world’s largest living structure, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. That’s 7,600 kilometers of trees 15 kilometers wide across 20 countries.
Pakistan’s already planted one billion trees and it’s now moving to plant 10 billion.
Ethiopia recently planted 350 million trees in one day as part of an initiative to plant four billion trees.
China is planting forests like there is no tomorrow.
India is trying to do the same.
In Western Europe, in 10 years, forests grew by an area larger than Switzerland.
This is a one-two punch. Reforestation is coupled by something else, which is very important, which is a rise in nature and marine reserves, areas that we designate a sanctuaries where we leave nature alone.
In fact, there are now more protected nature and marine areas than at any time in the history of the world.
My number nine reason to be a climate optimist is that we are near peak emissions, finally.
Over the past five years, the global economy grew by 3.5 percent per year, but emissions grew by only 0.8% per year. Now that’s still a disaster because they are growing. But the growth phase is slower. We’ve seen a 1.5 percent increase in 2017, 2.1% in 2018 and now it’s dropped to 0.8%.
So one more push by all of us, and we will set-off on a downward slope for emissions.
My number 10 reason to be a climate optimist is: You.
Everyone I meet these days is aware, is committed, is doing something about our climate emergency, and that is just beautiful to see.
That was certainly not the case even last year, let alone two years ago.
So your numbers are increasing and you all now know that every action you take counts.
In addition, there are literally tens of thousands off climate activists at it, and they are doing an amazing job.
We have activist lawyers, activist teachers, activist unionists, activist engineers, activist consultants. We even have some activist bankers. We even have some activist oil & gas professionals working at changing the oil & gas fat cats from inside. Activist politicians.
And most important of all, we have activist citizens everywhere I look.
I love it because climate change is not a “do or die” moment.
It’s a crisis that’s unfolding and is affected by the decisions that we make all of us individually and as a group every day. What this means is that it’s always worthwhile to try and do more to cut carbon emissions.
And remember, we have the solutions. We are implementing them. Yes, slowly for now, however, soon they will be ubiquitous all of a sudden, a bit like your mobile phone.
So here’s a recap of my top 10 reasons to be a climate optimist.
1 Enormously more awareness and mobilization about climate change
2 The cost of money of oil & gas is going up
3 Renewables costs are going down, down and then down some more
4 An electrification revolution in cars, trucks, buses, scooters
5 Climate lawsuits galore
6 Rating agencies and central banks on the move
7 Strong global push back against single-use plastic
9 We are at or near peak emissions
10 You, my most important reason to be a climate optimist
So yes, take action. Take all these wins, bank them, then go back for more. And always remember that we are winning. If in doubt, come back to this Episode 27 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy and refresh!
We are winning. For now, slowly, slowly, but soon we’re going to be winning all of a sudden.
Thank you so much for listening to me everyone, and have a great couple of weeks.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.