The Limits of Renewable Energy

Excellent research in the full report

By Philippe Gauthier:  “Due to the various constraints outlined above, it seems clear that renewables will not completely replace fossil fuels for existing energy needs. The transition will be partial, perhaps in the range of 30-50 per cent. Given that, in the meantime, the depletion of oil and gas resources will reduce the quantity of fossil fuels available, we may well have to rely on much less energy than is available to us at the current moment. This will put the nail in the coffin of economic growth as we know it.

What also seems clear is that the energy transition would be easier if we set our sights lower and agreed to dial down our level of material consumption. The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. With a 30-per-cent drop in GDP, we would revert to a standard of living equivalent to that enjoyed in 1993, while a 50-per -cent drop would mean a standard of living equivalent to 1977. A 50-per-cent reduction in energy consumption would bring us back to the level prevailing in 1975, while an 80-per-cent reduction would be similar to the 1950s. This is hardly a return to the Middle Ages. Our parents and grandparents didn’t rub sticks together in caves!

What’s crucial to take away from this discussion is that there are no purely technical solutions to the problems we face. To be successful, the energy transition must also be based on a change in needs and habits. For that to happen, we need some critical distance from the dominant discourse around the energy transition, green growth and the circular economy. These concepts are not the path to salvation. On the contrary, they serve to reaffirm faith in industrial capitalism as the system with all the solutions.

The obstacles to the transition to renewable energy reveal the limits of mainstream thinking and the impossibility of never-ending growth. Technological change will not suffice. We need to rethink consumerism and growth, which is all but impossible within the current capitalist framework.

Degrowth may be a more difficult road to travel, but it is more likely to get us where we need to go without planetary climate upheaval and without exacerbating social inequality.”

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