The speed of change

UK coal decline

UK coal decline

Things are happening faster than most people predicted, and certainly faster than most governments even begin to understand, in both positive and negative ways. The bad news is that the climate is warming at an ever increasing rate as a brilliant new graphic from climate scientist Ed Hawkins shows. The evidence is mounting that fracking is even more destructive than previously thought. The failure of most of the fossil fuel giants to change is sealing their demise: huge bonuses to top executives at the loss making BP, Exxon and Chevron companies symbolises their decadent slide towards probable bankruptcy.

Last week for several periods of a few hours at a time the UK stopped generating any electricity from coal fired power stations, for the first time since the nineteenth century. For a few years yet a little coal will be used, especially in winter, but within a decade it will have totally ceased. Globally coal is now in rapid decline.

Meanwhile renewables are experiencing exponential growth. The amount of solar power deployed in the world has doubled seven times since the start of the millennium and wind four times. The mathematics of exponential growth is extraordinary: a few more doublings and the era of fossil fuels will be over. I’ve long advocated 100% renewable forms of energy for electricity, heating, cooling and transport, and now momentum is really building globally toward this goal. The cost of renewables continues to fall and it is simply killing off the competition.

The transition from fossil fuels to renewables is now happening faster than just about anyone had been expecting, but whether that is going to be fast enough to avoid the worst ravages of climate change is still unknown. Of course for humanity to secure an ecologically sustainable and socially just future much more needs to change than just the energy we use, but make no mistake, this change is a vital step in securing that future, and it will have huge repercussions throughout the global economy.

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