When you get a moment, check out this article over on the New York York Review of Books site, A Future Without Fossil Fuels?, by Bill McKibben. In it, McKibben reviews two books, 2020 Vision: Why You Should See the Fossil Fuel Peak Coming by Kingsmill Bond, and A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation a report by the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation. Both books make the point that the end of the fossil fuel economy may be coming quite quickly.
Thus, notes McKibben, “Over the last decade, there has been a staggering fall in the price of solar and wind power, and of the lithium-ion batteries used to store energy. This has led to rapid expansion of these technologies, even though they are still used much less than fossil fuels: in 2017, for instance, sun and wind produced just 6 percent of the world’s electric supply, but they made up 45 percent of the growth in supply, and the cost of sun and wind power continues to fall by about 20 percent with each doubling of capacity. Bond’s analysis suggests that in the next few years, they will represent all the growth. We will then reach peak use of fossil fuels, not because we’re running out of them but because renewables will have become so cheap that anyone needing a new energy supply will likely turn to solar or wind power.”
But what makes this particularly important is what it may mean in terms of politics. Since the industrial revolution began, fuel companies (coal, oil, now natural gas) have been the central drivers of the economy. That’s meant that those who owned such companies were enormously powerful — think Standard Oil. But now, that could be changing, even as people like Trump and the Koch Brothers do their level best to shut down renewables. Again, to quote McKibben, “That’s why the most important aspect of the decline of fossil fuel companies might be a corresponding decline in their political influence.”
Which means, of course, that a world which is vastly less dependent on oil may be vastly more free. That is a hopeful thought, even if that world takes rather longer to arrive than we might be like.