The world is adding more renewable energy capacity. But it may be too little, too late.
It may be the most consequential Valentine’s Day ever: February 14, 1945.
That’s the day King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia boarded the USS Quincy on Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal to meet with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
FDR was on his way back from the pretty-consequential-in-its-own-right Yalta Conference, which proved to be the last time he met with his “Big Three” counterparts – British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin – to discuss World War II.
Decisions made and deals consummated at Yalta set the stage for the defining conflict of the second half of the 20th century, the Cold War.
The relationship that King Ibn Saud – the founder and first monarch of modern Saudi Arabia – and President Roosevelt forged on Great Bitter Lake continues to shape U.S. entanglements in the Middle East in the 21st century.
As early as 1943, FDR understood the importance of Saudi Arabia’s oil – discovered in 1938 by American geologists working for Standard Oil – to the Allied war effort and started funneling foreign aid to what was then one of the poorest nations on Earth.
We needed that resource to fuel our own war effort. And we needed to prevent the Axis powers from gaining access to it.
FDR, the consummate politician, also respected the Saudi king’s strict Sunni fundamentalist beliefs and refrained from smoking and drinking during their meeting.
Churchill, who also enjoyed an audience with Ibn Saud aboard the Quincy, took no similar precautions.
The differences among the two Western leaders didn’t end with decisions on the vices.
As Marine Col. William Eddy tells us in a 1954 narrative of the historic meeting, the king said:
The contrast between the president and Mr. Churchill is very great. Mr. Churchill speaks deviously, evades understanding, changes the subject to avoid commitment, forcing me repeatedly to bring him back to the point. The president seeks understanding in conversations; his effort is to make the two minds meet, to dispel darkness and shed light upon the issue… I have never met the equal of the president in character, wisdom and gentility.
Circumstance and time have only validated, reinforced, and reconfirmed deep, durable U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia.
Witness the Obama administration’s strident opposition to a bill granting litigants the right to sue Saudi Arabia and its agents for damages related to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent efforts by members of Congress to declaim responsibility for votes in favor of such legislation.
It may or may not be the case that American power is basically deployed on behalf of allies such as Saudi Arabia and in service of major fossil fuel companies such as Halliburton Co. (HAL) and Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM).
But Turkey’s government-run Anadolu news agency has put together some pretty compelling evidence, in the form of maps, that the conflict playing out in Iraq and Syria boils down to the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other fundamentalist Sunni allies versus Russia, Iran, Shia, and non-fundamentalist Sunni allies.
What we’re witnessing, according to Eric Zuesse of Strategic Culture, is an old-fashioned oil and gas pipeline war.
The world continues to tear itself apart over fossil fuels.
And we continue to kill the planet with emissions from burning them.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), “Globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015.”
As the WMO notes, “The longest-established greenhouse gas monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, predicts that CO2 concentrations will stay above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and not dip below that level for many generations.”
The spike in 2015 and into 2016 was caused by a “very powerful El Niño event.”
At the same time, “Between 1990 and 2015, there was a 37% increase in radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide (N2O) from industrial, agricultural, and domestic activities.”
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As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains, “Four hundred parts per million is an arbitrary milestone, but it also may be a window on our future.”
Earth last saw CO2 levels of 400 parts per million about 3 million years ago, during the mid-Pliocene warm period.
As NOAA notes, “Paleoclimate research suggests that there was a lot less ice to cool the planet then. The extent of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were severely reduced.
“Ditto for the Arctic.
“Sea levels were up to 65 feet higher.”
Trees replaced tundra. Tropical rainforests nearly disappeared. Snow in what’s now the United States was a rumor.
Says Bruce Bauer of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, “There were some differences in continent locations, and in Earth’s orbit around the sun, but the Pliocene is considered a bellwether for what future climate might be like.”
And yet we continue to fight that future.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables accounted for more than 50% of new power capacity installed around the world during 2015. Wind- and solar-power projects drove a 15% year-over-year increase in new installed capacity to 153 gigawatts.
As the IEA notes, “About half a million solar panels were installed every day around the world last year.”
The IEA upped its growth rate for renewables and now sees wind, solar, and other clean resources growing by 13% more between 2015 and 2021 than it did in the 2015 forecast.
Competition in the industry is heating up, prices are coming down, and technology is advancing rapidly. Public policy moves – including ratification of the Paris climate agreement – are also driving a significant shift toward renewables.
Global renewable power capacity now exceeds coal-fired capacity. But renewable generation still lags, as you can’t run a solar photovoltaic plant or a wind farm when there’s no sun or no wind. Storage technology just isn’t there yet.
And the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 Early Release: Annotated Summary of Two Cases still projects that fossil fuels will dominate the mix until 2040.
Natural gas, oil, and coal meet about 85% of U.S. energy needs today. And they’ll account for about 77% in 2040.
It may or may not be the case that going green means making peace.
Of course, human nature being what it is – and governments being what they are – we’ll probably pivot to wars over (instead of just on) sand.
Courtesy of the blog 15 minutes in the morning, “The NYT buying Wirecutter and Sweethome is so much more amazing than you think.”
This is a think-outside-the-box story with a very happy ending. Matt Haughey identifies six steps crucial to the enormity of Wirecutter and Sweethome founder Brian Lam’s success:
- He single-handedly built his own empire without having to cater to advertisers or investors.
- He built a site that made revenue in a way that was previously uncharted.
- He built it according to his own rules, without needing to pressure writers and editors to publish as often as possible.
- He built a brand and a site that launched many copycats but no one ever matched it.
- His sites work thanks to trust built up between readers and writers, and it works because editors help maintain integrity since the day it launched.
- He did it all in a place far, far from the tech hubs of SF and NYC, in Honolulu. Where he gets to surf almost daily.
And here’s a bonus for today: large dogs surfing.
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily