Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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26 Feb 2007

Exclusive to Transition Culture – An Interview with Tony Juniper, part 2. Climate Change, Technofixes and TEQs.

jp2**Do you think that a low-carbon business-as-usual is possible, or is a low carbon world so radically different from the present that we can hardly begin to imagine it?**

I think there will be a transition, and I think it is pretty impossible for us to have an orderly withdrawl from the Carbon Age that happens very quickly, we can’t do it. Our infrastructure, our transportation systems, our fuel mix, our agriculture crucially, everything, is geared up to being heavily dependent on fossil fuels. It will take a while to get out of it, but the quicker we start it the sooner we’ll do it, but also the more orderly the transition will be. This mixing up of decarbonisation with a shock built around the rapidly rising price of oil will be harder to cope with. If we start now and begin to decarbonise, with all the technological things we already have, from the bicycle to concentrating solar power, all that stuff already exists, we need to get it moving and get it into the market fast, so we can start the process while we still have the economic stability and the money and the social comfort to do this without even noticing it.

The place we could finish up could be so much nicer than the one we’ve got now! That’s the other thing that’s crucial to get across to people, we’re not heading back to a new Stone Age or a Dark Age, we’re heading towards a much brighter, more secure future, where communities are rebuilt, pollution is a thing of the past, we’ve got food security, biodiversity, people have long comfortable lives, energy is secure for ever, getting that picture across is very difficult to do, because the only thing you can ever paint an accurate picture of is the past of course. When people look back to the pre-oil age, the pre-carbon age, it was miserable. People died at young ages, there were diseases, there were not very high levels of social comfort, and the tendency is to equate that with the future, whereas in fact the future could be very different indeed. We do have to paint that positive vision, but its not easy because we haven’t been there, so you can’t show people a film of it, but that’s the kind of pictures we have to create.

**If you were to wake up in 30 years in the kind of world you’re talking about, what would it feel like, smell like, sound like, walk us through it…**

It would be calmer, it would be quieter, it would feel as though there was more time, rather than everything being completely rushed and needing to be high speed like car and train. Things would be more localised so you wouldn’t need to go so far, to have your needs met, in fact it would be actively encouraged to be doing your business where you are, so we’d have a less pressured life. It would smell fresher, there’d be less pollution, there’d be less noise as well, and in moving to a low carbon economy, if there are motor vehicles they’d be running on hydrogen so it’d be a lot quieter, there’d be more bicycles, more birdsong because the pollution that has been associated with industrial agriculture would have declined, there’d be more organic methods so there’d be more wildlife back in the countryside and the cities. There’d be more sounds of people and less sounds of machines, because communities would have been rebuilt and there’d be people back in the streets once more, meeting each other rather than exchanging abuse through their car windscreens (laughs) and so on and so forth.

We’d probably be spending less money on energy too, because our houses would have been geared up to be self sufficient, or certainly taking much less from outside than they used to. I think it could be a very positive set of changes that could accompany this, but the level of scepticism mustn’t be underestimated, and the big thing we’re strugging with at the moment is the aeroplane question, and how people see the idea that they can’t fly as much as a complete affront to their freedom. The same with congestion charging, this petion that has come into Downing Street is unbelievable, where is this coming from? What do people think is going to happen to them if they have to pay a little more for their privilege to clog the roads up, this is quite a worrying reaction to what could be a very positive change; its not being seen like that yet, and we have to face up to this, because people don’t get it and we have to think carefully about how they are going to get it…

**Richard Branson and Al Gore just launched this £25 million prize for someone who comes up with the technofix…. do you believe that there will ever be a technofix.. should we wait for it?**

Well I thought I might take my bicycle round and claim the £25 million! It has already been invented, it is pretty simple, it works, it is a basic technology! There is a lot of it there, from wind turbines to CHP plants, whatever it is, the technology already exists. We can make super efficient computers and television sets, they’re not being sold because they are slightly more expensive, the regulatory framework at the moment encourages the cheap crap to get onto the shelves, we don’t need that. Small changes to policy, small changes to the way the market works could make a revolution happen very quickly.

We don’t need a £25 million prize to do that. Actually what we need is people like Richard Branson to be saying to the Prime Minister and others that he wants a legal agreement to be put in place that’s going to require emissions reductions across the piece, including his industry, and its going to apply to all players. If there’s a level playing field there, people can still have a business, but they are going to be working to different rules. That’s what he needs to be saying, not creating spurious discussions about technologies that maor may not exist to remove carbon from the atmosphere. What he has to do is stop putting it up there in the first place, not worrying about how it’s going to come out again, but for an airline executive, that’s not a very palatable message!

**Do you put any faith in carbon sequestration at all?**

We have published certain research recently called The Future Starts Here – The Route to a Low Carbon Economy and we did a lot of number crunching with the Tyndall Centre, and we looked at all the different things that could be done over the next 10, 20, 30 years. We were confronted with quite a gap between what can be achieved with the existing technology and what can be done without nuclear. This is the crucial question, because we think nuclear would be a very bad choice from lots of different perspectives. In the short term, as we get past this next 30 or 40 year period before we can really scale up the renewables and you get the efficient technologies coming forward, we have to have quite a bit of carbon capture and storage.

I can’t remember exactly how much, its on our website, its 10% maybe of the emissions reduction, something like that, but that technology can work, we believe, and the IPCC have done some numbers on this which look quite encouraging, at least in the short term. The thing that encourages me about the need for that particular technological approach is what is going on in India and China. No matter how successful we are in the next 10 or 15 years in the West in bringing down emissions from things we can do immediately, there is so much momentum behind large scale coal burning in Asia that it strikes me as being pretty essential that we get that technology operating and we get it to the Chinese and the Indians as a matter of urgency and get them to fit it to all the new stations they are building.

The Chinese have got 600 stations on the drawing board, whether they will build them all or not I don’t know. If they do build them all in the next 20 years, over their 50 year operating life they will emit something equivalent to all the carbon dioxide emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until now. That’s one country burning coal. Can the Chinese economy be more efficient? Yes it can. Can they embrace renewables? Yes they can. Can they do it immediately? Probably not. Therefore how can we take down the worst effects of the coal, and I think carbon capture technologies have to be a bit of that. Tech transfer incentives, all the rest of it, are going to be needed to give them the incentives to do it. I take the point from colleagues who say we shouldn’t be doing this because it is going to be adding momentum to the fossil fuel habit, and it is probably true, but in terms of what is going to be a realistic transition, both socially and politically I think we have to embrace it.

**Do you see a role for TEQs and is there any serious interest in them from Government?**

Yes. It is a fair way. It could be economically just in terms of people who haven’t used their quotas being able to sell them, it would be something that basically meets with FoE’s principles about how we should do environmental justice. The difficulty I think is practical, and getting in place a system that is going to be able to manage this mass of data in a credible way and then to be able to set up the markets to be able to exchange credits as it were. If one looks at what is going on with congestion charges right now which is a much less dramatic version of that, in terms of road rationing almost, the public reaction, while not absolutely hostile, is pretty hostile, and getting beyond that and building the case for that is going to take some time.

I think we need to be making the case for that, we need to be getting ministers to back it, but in the meantime, what we must not let them do, and I think David Milliband has been slightly in this camp, we mustn’t let them divert attention from what they can do now in order to talk about what they might do in 10 or 20 years time. That stuff, if it works, if we can get the technology operating, and get political consent, it is still 10 years out, before we can do it, at minimum. In the meantime, we need to be doing something about aeroplanes, about renewables, about energy efficiency, about all the things that could be done to peoples’ houses, and that stuff Government is just not doing, just not delivering.

There are some modest programmes, some of which are quite welcome, but the overall effect of them is to just keep emissions pretty static or going up slightly, whereas in fact we should be well on the way to 60%+ cuts in emissions. I fear that going into that discussion in a political way in terms of TEQs and making that a priority, means that we could inadvertently put the discussion into a politically very difficult area, and take the heat off ministers who should be doing a lot more now. Those are my feelings on that subject, but the idea is good, and we should champion it and we should make sure it is linked to the science in terms of what we need to cut by when. I am getting the feeling that that will be the next wave, that that discussion will come to the fore over the next year or two, and we should support it as a principle that could work, but I do think it is important not to take our eye off the things that could work now. because it will take time.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Ben Brangwyn
26 Feb 3:06pm

I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t explicitly make the connection between China/India industrialisation and the excessive consumption of the products they build by the West. We stop buying their stuff, they won’t make it. Not rocket science.

Re TEQs, I think many of the practicalities have been thought through and that it could work using todays’ technologies. Also, when he suggests the government should focus on other reduction strategies rather than TEQs, how about a bit of “both/and” instead of “either/or”. Or am I being over-optimistic…

Incidentally, I searched for a while but couldn’t find the 10% reduction through sequestration document that he refers to.

David Unson
18 Jun 5:17pm

The emergence of PO and CC together in the headlines is very opportune, a wake up call. CC tells us that we should drastically reduce our dependence of carbon based sources of energy and on a world wide scale, shift to non-CO2 producing sources where ever possible in order to continue mankind’s survival on planet earth. With a shift to solar, wind and more importantly, nuclear power, we will automatically solve the problem with Peak Oil. The world, especially the advanced countries, need to rapidly expand their usage of nuclear power to produce base electric generation. France has partially addressed the problem of nuclear waste and security. They are working on more advanced solutions. For the long term, research on fast breeder reactors need to be intensified so the world will have an infinite source of electric power to sustain human civilization.

As to India and China towing the line, this is not a problem. They need more power to support most of their production activities related to exports. As major importers, the US and EU can take action to reduce imports from these countries.

Of course the real reason why we have a Climate Change problem is because the world is now overpopulated. The amount of energy needed to support each person throughout his lifetime today is just way too high compared to that before the industrial revolution. The world needs to curb population growth. China is way ahead of everyone in this category.

14 Dec 9:35pm

This is the biggest piece of nonsense I’ve ever read. No answers to hard questions. Then there is now REAL doubt that man is causing global warming anyway as a heat sink as been discovered under Greenland and man only produces 1/2 of 1% of all carbon emmissions anyway. And that current global warming is far within statistical variances of the past 10,000 years– meaning the globe has warmed up faster and farther than this before for short periods when man was preindustrial. I say only the people worried about global warming should pay all the costs of stopping it… if they are truly committed they will.