Sovacool highlights a number of modern energy transition success stories to drive his point home: Ontario completely divested from coal as an energy source within 11 years (it had previously accounted for 25 percent of the province’s energy); Indonesia moved two-thirds of its population from kerosene to LPG stoves in just three years; within six years of implementing the Proálcool program, 90 percent of Brazilian cars could run on ethanol.
As we stare down the barrel of a world totally transformed (read: destroyed) by climate change in the not-so-distant future, a lot of the brightest minds around the world are spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how to mitigate its effects. Considering that fossil fuel use is the primary driver of climate change, it makes sense that a lot of the proposed climate change solutions involve phasing out fossil fuels entirely. While some have derided this fossil fuel divestment plan as unattainable, others think it’s entirely possible—so long as we have 20 to 80 years to make it happen.
Unfortunately, ridding ourselves of fossil fuels by 2100 (a plan the G7 leaders were all too happy to pat themselves on the back about last year) will be too little, too late. If we keep burning fossil fuels at the current rate, some have predicted that we will cross a threshold into “environmental ruin” as early as 2036—but it doesn’t have to be this way.
In fact, according to a new study released last week by a major energy think tank in the UK, we could completely phase out fossil fuels within a decade...if we really wanted to.
Published in Energy Research and Social Science, the study was led by Benjamin Sovacool, the director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex. As Sovacool notes in the introduction to his study, “transitioning away from our current global energy system is of paramount importance” and “the speed at which a transition can take place—its timing, or temporal dynamics—is a vital element of consideration.”
The reason why Sovacool is so concerned about how fast we can move away from our current energy paradigm is due to something that has been called the “climate paradox,” or the idea that by the time humans realize they need to divest their economies of fossil fuels, they will have passed the point of no return for climate catastrophe.