Is Anybody Listening?


December 12, 2011 10:41 EDT
Current warnings of global warming are being ignored.

Nowadays, it seems you cannot have an energy conference without a discussion about climate change. I had a fresh realization of this last month at an energy conference, which took place in the northern limits of the Netherlands, home of Europe’s largest gas field, which is known as the Groningen Field. Throughout the conference, the paradigm of moving toward a more environmentally-sound energy scheme was a dominant, if unspoken, theme. But though we seem to be pretty good at talking about the environmental challenges that face our energy plans, I wonder if we are very good at listening.

A bit paradoxically, the opening remarks possessed quite a cheerful tone: “Someone wrote recently that ‘ten years ago we had Johnny Cash, we had Bob Hope, and we had Steve Jobs. Now we don’t have cash, we’ve lost hope, and there’s no more jobs.’ This someone apparently wasn’t in the energy industry, because here we have plenty of cash, a lot of hope, and lots of jobs.”

But while the sentiment above may be a garment of optimism during a cold winter, what followed was such a blast of cold air that you would think most people would start running for warmer shelter. And perhaps that’s exactly what we did.

Shortly following the opening remarks, Aad van Bohemen, Head Emergency Policy Division of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, stood in front of the audience to report to us the findings of the IEA’s 2011 World Energy Outlook (WEO), which hit the press November 9. The most chilling findings were that if we (human society) continue with our current policies we will have a 6°Celsius increase in temperature by 2035. If we implement new policies that are being put forth, we will have a 3.5°increase by the same year. If we continue without a dramatic shift in policy design and implementation, we will ‘hit the wall’ in five years. That is, from 2017 onward, everything built: cars, power plants - everything - must be carbon neutral, if we are to moderate human-driven temperature increases to 2°. To help put these numbers in perspective, a 6° rise translates into about ½ a meter sea-level rise. A 2° rise means about ¼ of a meter sea level. An average of these two calculations, a 1/3 meter rise, would imply that just under 60,000 sq. km (roughly 150% of the size of the Netherlands) of the United States would be under water, or under threat of it (of course, flooding is just one of a litany of effects).

After reflecting on what was being said, I looked around a bit, and thought, ‘are we really hearing this?’ The answer is, yes, we are hearing this. I guess the real question is, ‘Is anybody listening?’ Well, this observer would say that it didn’t seem like it for the duration of the conference. We simply continued, unaltered. It was like we sank deeper into the warmth of our immediate comfort.

Admittedly, this brief article so far does not convey much of a two-sided picture. The conference was filled with roomfuls of innovative people driven to implement courageous ideas to shape tomorrow’s world to be a more environmentally sound one. And out of that, and to that end, the conference was concluded with a session devoted to the creation of an Energy Academy in Groningen, a forum for bringing businesses and academics together on the subject of energy. This is being implemented with the idea that students can be furnished with the tools to tackle the energy demands and challenges of the future.

“If we don’t change directions soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading.” Those were the words on the first slide of Mr. van Bohemen’s presentation, and this is the opening caption of the executive summary of the WEO report. With our current projection, we are on a road to a worsening environment, not an improving one. Likewise, we are currently on a road to a worse energy situation, not an improved one.

Whether or not the graduates of the Energy Academy will have been good listeners, they’ll probably find plenty of jobs.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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