The Battle Over Culture Puts Green Energy Transition at Risk

Nick Eyre, a professor at the University of Oxford, had a groundbreaking realization about the future of energy generation when he discovered that solar power was cheaper than oil in the Gulf. However, despite the evidence, public opinion and corporate interests are still reluctant to embrace renewable energy in various parts of the world. Eyre believes that attitudes towards renewables in the UK are behind the times. Some newspapers wrongly claim that renewables are expensive when in reality, they are a cheaper alternative to gas or coal. The International Energy Agency confirms that solar power is now the most affordable source of electricity in history, costing 20 to 50 percent less than previously thought.

Several governments, including France, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, and Belize, are implementing legislation to transition away from traditional energy sources by banning the production of fossil fuels. However, there is no consensus on this transition globally. The UK government, for example, recently granted “hundreds” of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, which raises concerns. Eyre emphasizes that this issue should not become a divisive culture war. Regardless of political beliefs, it is logical that we should strive for a livable planet.

Renewable energy is not only a cost-saving measure but also crucial for decarbonization. Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation, warns that if we do not change our energy sources drastically, atmospheric carbon levels will exceed those seen in the past 3 million years. However, a new disagreement has arisen in Jamaica regarding the transition to clean energy. The International Seabed Authority recently met to discuss deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules, which contain essential metals for electric vehicle batteries. While this mining could provide a new source of materials, scientists have serious concerns about its potential carbon release. In an open letter, 700 scientists called for a pause on deep-sea mining, citing uncertain impacts on carbon sequestration dynamics and deep-ocean carbon storage.

Although opposition to deep-sea mining is significant, some argue that it is necessary for the green transition. The Metals Company, a Canadian start-up, believes that mining will be required to meet the demand for these rare metals as we transition away from internal combustion engines. However, Steve Trent argues that deep-sea mining has no place in a sustainable future. He believes that investing in recycling, new battery technologies, and a circular economy can achieve our goals without damaging the deep ocean.

Many companies, including BMW, Volkswagen, Google, Philips, and Samsung, have joined the call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the consequences are better understood. Critics argue that recycling these materials is a greener solution. A report by The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform suggests that by 2030, at least €408 million could be recovered from recycled electric vehicle batteries. Trent believes that as opposition to deep-sea mining grows, more companies and investors are realizing the risks involved and backing out.

Deep-sea mining poses the risk of releasing more stored carbon from the ocean sediment, which acts as a crucial carbon sink. The ocean absorbs over a quarter of all human-generated CO2 emissions. Trent and others advocate for a swift shift towards recycling to reduce our reliance on newly mined materials. He believes that a generational shift is occurring, with young people recognizing climate change as a current reality that demands urgent action.

As climate change continues to impact business, markets, and politics, it is crucial to understand the intersection between climate change and sustainability. The Financial Times covers this topic extensively. For more information on the FT’s environmental sustainability commitment, explore their science-based targets.


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