In “Solar and wind are viable, not just ‘feel-good’ climate solutions” (Sept. 27), Jim Davidson made a Counterpoint to my recent arguments about green energy (“Feel-good solutions won’t solve climate change,” Sept. 22).
Davidson supports my championing of spending $100 billion a year on green energy R&D. He suggests that this is a new position. But I have in fact advocated it consistently for a decade, including in a front-page article in the British newspaper The Guardian in 2010.
Although he supports a considerable increase in research in green energy R&D, Davidson asserts that solar and wind are competitive today. If that were true, they would need neither subsidies nor regulations to push consumers into using them. Countries that have cut such subsidies — Spain for wind or Britain for solar energy — have seen construction rates plummet. Global solar and wind subsidies are close to $100 billion annually today, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that they will still be close to $100 billion annually in 24 years.
Davidson makes several mistakes when he questions my point that “solar and wind supply just 0.5 per cent of the world’s energy.”
He has confused the global International Energy Agency, which is the hub for international energy statistics and my source, with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
He has conflated solar and wind energy with all renewables. Less than 4 percent of all renewable energy comes from solar photovoltaic and wind technology. More than 96 percent comes mostly from hydro and from the wood and dung used in developing nations to cook and keep warm, causing terrible indoor air pollution. All renewables make about 14 percent of the world’s energy, but most either cause terrible pollution, or (in the case of hydro) is hard to significantly expand.
Davidson has also confused energy with electricity. Electricity, which is where solar and wind work best, only supplies about 40 percent of the world’s energy. Focusing only on electricity more than doubles the percentage supplied by solar and wind. But global warming is caused by all energy production. Ignoring the other 60 percent misrepresents my point and is misleading.
And instead of responding to my point about the state of energy today, Davidson focuses on 2040. It is true that in 2040 we will get more energy from solar and wind than we do today — but this will still be only 2.4 percent, according to IEA figures.
In short, to make a case that solar and wind are far more ready than they really are, Davidson has confused the IEA and EIA, disregarded the vast bulk of renewables that are not solar and wind, has chosen to focus on electricity instead of energy, and has shifted the discussion from today to 2040.
I have no doubt that Davidson cares about the very poor, but I respectfully and strongly disagree with his assertion that carbon cuts are the best way to help.
These will trivially change the temperature in 100 years. And carbon cuts are not what are wanted: The U.N. has asked 9.7 million people what their top priorities are. Both globally and for the world’s poorest, the answers are the same: health, education, jobs, food, an end to corruption. Climate policies come out 16th — and last.
We should take heed. That way, we could be judged not just on our well-meaning rhetoric, but also for actually helping in ways that are most-needed today.
Bjorn Lomborg is president and founder of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School.