Think back to how Britain looked during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries: It was the era of the Industrial Revolution; a time of expansion, and technological innovations; of commerce and free market; or factory workplaces, and coal mining.
Britain’s economy was born through the grimy work that was forged through the use of the only fuel we could imagine: coal. BY 1859, Edwin Drake had discovered how to drill and use crude oil, and so our use of fossil fuels increased further.
The same applies to the USA, Germany, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Canada. All of these countries became what they are through the use of fossil fuels.
They became wealthy, industrialised, key global actors who would still be developing nations had they not discovered the power of burning coal, oil and gas.
Now, however, it is all change…or is it?
The climate talks in Paris are entering their third day, and little has been given away as to the actual scope of any possible deals being made by the end of them.
However, so far the talks (as they always appear to do) have become a game of point-the-finger. The rules are quite simple: say you are making concerted efforts to reduce your country’s carbon footprint, and tell the person next to you they need to do more.
India has already laid down an uncompromising position, saying they will not reduce their carbon footprint as they grow their economy, unless western/ wealthier powers provide viable sources of green energy.
So far, this latter point appears to many to be somewhat distant. Perhaps not so. Nature Climate Change announced that between 2007 and 2014, the cost per kilo-watt-hour of an electric vehicle (EV) battery had dropped from $1000/kWh to $410/kWh.
Even more astonishing, General Motors revealed their li-ion batteries now cost just $145/kWh – an astonishing drop!
And so we see: the technology is there; there are exerted efforts being made to combat the inefficiencies and harmful effects of fossil fuels.
So why is everyone so slow to take it up?
There is one – rather pessimistic – theory, which is the West fears its position as the economic hub of the planet will be threatened from those pesky come-uppers like the BRIC nations.
Unfortunately for them China is now the world’s largest economy – so yeah, sorry Europe and USA.
The theory could be derived because, as Indian PM Narendra Modi has stated, these countries are doing exactly as the UK did during the Industrial Revolution, where fossil fuel fed the economic boom. “Why should we not have the same?” they ask. It is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the developed world.
Therefore, whilst the rest of us work to switch or industry from fossil to green, other countries will slowly but surely creep up on us.
But why should that be the case? As we have seen, the cost of green energy has significantly declined in the last decade, and more technology continues to emerge into making green energy cost-effective and powerful.
As Jeff Spross points out in The Week, this could kill two birds with one stone: cost-effectiveness and efficiency will benefit the western powers, but also the developing nations.
While the developed world already has a whole fossil-fuel-based infrastructure it needs to replace, the developing world is still building its infrastructure. To a large extent, it doesn’t have to make the switch. Simply building green energy infrastructure from scratch is already an economically viable prospect. They just need someone — i.e. rich countries — to build all that green energy capital so they can buy it.
With China, the USA, and Europe being some of the largest producers of carbon emissions, it makes sense for the process to start there. Meanwhile, although the environmental impact of developing nations’ continued use of fossil-fuels, they will be able to create green energy replacements in the future.
I, like Spross, believe we are almost there. We are at the tipping point; it is close, although it may not be the this week, next year, but I expect in a decade there will have been significant shifts to a cleaner, greener, cost-effective replacement to our impractical situation.