Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Will Renewables Ever Replace Fossils? The Results of a New Survey

The readers of "The Doomstead Diner" are very skeptical about the possibility of a rapid transition to a 100% renewable powered world. 54% of them say that it is impossible. 

A few weeks ago, I posted on "Cassandra's legacy" the result of an informal survey among experts in renewable energy. It asked about the chances of a transition to a world that would be completely powered by renewable energy, and about the chances of being able to attain that before climate change becomes a true catastrophe. Out of some 70 respondents, the large majority was of the opinion that a fast 100% renewable transition is possible and that can be attained without the need of heroic efforts.

I must confess that I found that result surprisingly optimistic, probably because I tend to frequent rather doomerish circles (and note the name of my blog!). Indeed, the people who read doomer sites seem to be even more pessimistic than me. So, "Reverse Engineer" of the "Doomstead Diner" ran the same survey with his readership, finding completely different results. In the Diner's survey, some 250 people participated and 54% of them said flatly that the renewable transition is impossible.

So, what can we say about these surveys? An obvious observation is that reality will decide what's going to happen about the renewable transition without paying too much attention to what puny human beings think. However, there are a few points that may be worth remarking.

1. The optimism of the experts should be considered as something more than just the opinion of the general public. Here, it is clear that the experts have a direct connection with the progress of the field and they perceive the rapid growth in efficiency and the reduction of costs. They are seeing a glimpse of hope.

2. The strong skepticism of the doomers shouldn't be discounted as a fringe opinion. It is an attitude that pervades society and that is not due to ignorance since the respondents to the Diner's survey reported a high level of formal education. However, that didn't shield them from believing in some of the various legends pervading the web. For instance, one respondent said, " All Electric RE require >70 elements of the periodic table. And they are NOT RENEWABLE."

3. The greatest shortcoming of renewables according to the doomers is their intermittency. That is a little strange, and it indicates how most of us tend to think in the BAU frame only. People are accustomed to have electricity "on demand" and won't consider the possibility of a world in which the supply is "demand managed."

4. The majority of the doomers indicated that the best renewable source is human slave labor. That's not surprising; after all, they are doomers!

5. It is refreshing, however, that only 2% of the doomers indicated that they believe that homo sapiens will soon go extinct.

There are a lot of details that you may find interesting in the survey published on the Doomstead Diner. But I would like to conclude this post with a personal note. It is something that I was telling to RE (Reverse Engineer) yesterday. I find that I am becoming less doomerish than I used to be. I can't really say why, but I think I see a chance.  Just a chance, and that won't save us from crashing against the limits of the ecosystem. But, with a little luck, we will emerge into a new world, better than the present one.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)