The production and consumption of energy cause serious problems -- such as global warming, pollution and geopolitical conflicts -- that make the current energy system unsustainable. Transformation into an alternative, sustainable energy system is essential. J้r๔me Dangerman studied the world energy system and concluded that the system is locked into its current situation and no transformation will come abut without intervention or a crisis. On 5 November he will defend his doctoral thesis at Radboud University.
In his interdisciplinary thesis, Dangerman maps out the entire global energy system in its full complexity and the elements that play an important role, such as economics, technology, politics and sociology. He does this to answer the following question: is a transformation taking place or is the system 'locked-in'? He concludes the system indeed is in state of lock-in and it will not transform without determined intervention or an uncontrolled crisis. So there is hope, but only if forceful and decisive measures are taken.
But things are going well, aren't they…?
An important mechanism in technological industries, which affects the classical principles of free market forces and which conserves the current energy system, is what Dangerman calls the principle of 'success to the successful'. A successful activity attracts more success, at the expense of alternatives. The question of whether alternative action should be taken is essentially not addressed -- until it's too late. That is, until the climate has been irreversibly disrupted, essential ecosystems have collapsed or energy has become unaffordable. For this reason it is important that the current flows of subsidies and investments, which are now primarily aimed at conventional energy, be redirected towards renewable energy.
Ray of hope
Although Dangerman observes there are still many signs indicating the absence of transformation of the current energy system, he sees a ray of hope in the fact that production and consumption of renewable energy are nonetheless growing -- albeit much more slowly than possible and still insufficient in absolute terms. In this phase of the system, targeted involvement of governments stimulates that growth through legislation or subsidies. The experiences thus gained in Germany are highly instructive for the rest of the world.
Shareholders should also pay
An intervention that Dangerman previously suggested in an article in PNAS is to have shareholders also pay for environmental damage (http://www.nrc.nl/klimaat/2013/01/08/aandeelhouder-laten-opdraaien-voor-milieuschade/). With such measures, investment flows will shift towards companies that produce and use energy more sustainably.
According to Dangerman, if we continue on the current path, it cannot be excluded that critical transitions (jargon for irreversible crises) will occur in the global energy system and global ecosystem. 'The cynic may say that the loss of an old system creates lots of room for change and innovation,' says Dangerman. 'That may be true, but what is the cost of allowing the entire system to crash? Moreover, only a few of the strongest and a couple of lucky ones can absorb the consequences of a crashing system. It will be less painful to take measures now.'
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