The distraction of reporting more wind and solar

August 8, 2021 by Joshua
in Nature

Headlines keep reporting how much more wind and solar power we’re producing, how much batteries are improving, and how fast their costs are dropping. Providing new sources of energy is important, but history has shown that when we find new sources of energy, we use them and keep using the old ones.

As great as the problem that fossil fuels will run out, burning them poisons our planet, lowering its ability to sustain life. So does turning them into plastics, artificial fertilizers, poisonous chemicals, and more. If we don’t stop using them, they will kill us. Did that sound too blunt? Nearly ten million people die each year from breathing air. Fossil fuels kill us in other ways too, on top of global warming.

In other words, we have to stop using fossil fuels, which providing more renewable energy doesn’t necessarily do.

More valuable than reporting increases in renewables is reporting decreases in fossil fuel use. Providing more renewables without focusing on reducing fossil fuels, which we can’t take as a given, can distract from stopping using fossil fuels.

How to lower fossil fuel dependence: lower their production. People will solve problems as they arise better than theoretically before starting.

I propose headlines should report fossil fuel reductions. You could argue that increasing renewables enables fossil fuel reductions. History shows not focusing on reducing using fossil fuels will lead us to depend on them as much as ever. I suggest that, in fact, the fastest most effective way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels is to stop producing them, ramping down in advance of knowing exactly how to solve every problem. Make sure hospitals, subway systems and some essential services, and people who can’t spare any loss of energy, living on the margin, have energy supplies. People on the margin barely use much energy. The people with the most pollute the most, and have the most resources and cushion to avoid suffering problems. They can sell a few mansions or cars.

Start by reporting fossil fuel reductions

Step one: focus on reducing fossil fuels over increasing renewables. This strategy works especially in the U.S. because we use so much needlessly. Most of us will improve our lives burning less oil, gas, and coal.

I’m not saying the following is politically feasible, but it’s not crazy simply to drop linearly to near zero in ten years. We will adjust to each drop within weeks. We’ll solve each problem as it arises more effectively by facing it than by imagining all possible problems and trying to solve them all theoretically before starting.

Adding solar and wind doesn’t reduce burning fossil fuels. Only burning less fossil fuels burns less fossil fuels, which I suggest we focus on.

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