We must mobilise clean energy as though for war, and a solar revolution must be part of that mobilization.
I experience daily both the potential of solar and its sister technologies, and the deadly effectiveness of the carbon incumbency in holding clean energy back.
I think that our best chance of derailing the suicidal carbon train is to switch off its capitalization process. Investors continue to pile into carbon fuels because we allow companies to account coal, oil and gas as assets at zero risk of impairment today.
But such “assets” are at risk of ending up stranded, once a critical mass in society begins to realize there is no choice but to cut emissions. Researchers at CarbonTracker, a small think-tank that I chair, have shown just how big a problem this is, and how relatively easy it would be for all types of players across the financial value chain – regulators, actuaries, auditors and so on – to do their jobs properly and recognize the risk.
If they did that simple thing, in their different ways, things would change quickly. The Mississippi river of capital flowing to carbon would have to begin diverting to clean energy. That such dysfunctional behaviour is the norm today is just one symptom of the fact that capital markets have been allowed to behave in suicidal ways generally, for many years now.
I have come to believe that we must re-engineer modern capitalism root to branch. One simple example among many is that we should require pension funds to invest as though pensions are for the long-term benefit of retirees, not the short-term enrichment of a bonus cult.
In all this, we must not forget that huge part of the developing world where carbon fuels are an ever-inflating burden and conventional energy is not a realistic option for development. Here the challenges ought to be simpler.
In both my Solarcentury and SolarAid roles, I see how easy it ought to be to knock out diesel and kerosene in power and lighting, because solar is cheaper today. All we need to do is create channels of distribution and credit. As I look at the soaring solar lantern sales of SunnyMoney, SolarAid’s commercial brand, I feel that we have identified a real candle for hope. We aim to be a leader in ridding Africa of the kerosene lantern by 2020, and I think we can do it.
This contribution was one of 50 made to the “50 Month” campaign, which draw attention to the 50 months from now greenhouse-gas concentrations will go beyond the point where it would be “likely” we could keep global warming below the dire-danger threshold of 2 degrees, on current emission trends. Jeremey Leggett is the founder of Solar Century.