Green energy is rapidly nearing a turning point. To combat climate change, our leaders need to point to a cleaner, cheaper tomorrow.

Green energy is rapidly nearing a turning point. To combat climate change, our leaders need to point to a cleaner, cheaper tomorrow.
© REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque Environmental activists protest climate change on Indigenous Peoples Day, outside the White House in October. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast.
  • In a recent episode, he spoke with two professors at the Institute of New Economics at Oxford University.
  • There are many flaws in the way we discuss the problems of, and solutions to, climate change.

For decades, our conversation about climate change has been stunted by mixed signals. Our elected leaders’ speeches aim high, with lofty talk about coming together to avert calamity, but their policies fail to address the scale of the crisis. Now, with most parts of the country regularly experiencing extreme weather events, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the government should do more to combat climate change — but world leaders still failed to take dramatic action to limit the global rise of temperatures at the COP26 climate conference convened by the United Nations this fall. 

On the latest episode of Pitchfork Economics, two professors at the Institute of New Economics at Oxford University, Erick Beinhocker and Doyne Farmer, join Nick Hanauer to address the flaws in the way we discuss the problems of, and solutions to, climate change.

“We’ve had the wrong economic ideas about how climate change is framed,” Beinhocker explains. As an example of this flawed thinking, he cites the the Nobel Prize-winning work of Yale economist William Nordhaus, which has warned since the 1990s “that it’s going to be very expensive and costly to transition from our fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy, but those costs have to be weighed against the benefits of avoiding an ecological collapse and potential mass extinction event.”

Nordhaus’s models have helped frame the conversation about climate change as a negative one. We’ve been told since the dawn of the modern environmental movement in the 1990s that saving the planet will cost us all a great deal in profits, convenience, and quality of life.

Environmental advocacy groups often explain their policies in terms of what ordinary people will have to give up, both financially and in terms of convenience, in order to save the planet. 

New research indicates that this punitive, eat-your-spinach style of thinking may be completely wrong. “We think that converting to renewables, and doing so reasonably quickly within a span of about 20 years, is going to save the world money,” Farmer says. “It’s going to make energy cheaper for us, as well as evading climate change.”

Farmer participates in one of the two major academic groups researching rates of technological advancement, and the indicators point to a fast-growing future for affordable green energy. While green energy keeps getting cheaper, fossil fuels and their attendant costs have remained basically flat for nearly a century and a half. If solar, wind, and hydrogen power continue to stay on their current development path for another decade or two, and if battery storage capacity continues to improve as well, green energy will overtake fossil fuels to become the world’s dominant power source. 

“We’re going to see energy cheaper than it’s ever been” in the history of the world, Farmer predicts. 

“We still have a long way to go,” Beinhocker warns. “Only about 20 percent of global energy is from non-fossil fuels today, and 80 percent from fossil fuels. But the growth [of green energy] has been extraordinary.”

Beinhocker says that renewable energy capacity increased by 45 percent in 2020, making it “the only energy source to actually grow during the pandemic, and 90 percent of new power additions in the world now in the electrical sector are from renewables.” The global switch to green energy is nearing “a tipping point,” he says, “but it’s a race against the clock.”

This research, though, should mark a significant change in the conversation about climate change. Rather than focusing on punitive policies which make fuel more expensive for the average American, our leaders should instead be investing deeply into research to advance cheap clean technologies, as well as speeding up the construction of green infrastructure, making the adoption of clean fuels more desirable. As we’ve seen in increased electric vehicle adoption rates around the world, consumers are happy to make the switch to a clean alternative, when they’re presented with an affordable, convenient option.  

The evidence is clear: it’s time for the environmental conversation in America to become an additive, positive one, rather than a negative story of sacrifice and punishment. When it comes to the green economy, it’s no longer about saying no to Exxon; it’s about saying yes to building a faster track to a cleaner, cheaper future for the whole human race.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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