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Climate change mitigation through energy transition

“Salvation gets cheap” was Paul Krugman’s opinion column headline in the New York Times on April 19.
The column explicated costs and economic impacts of energy measures to mitigate climate change effectively, following the recommendations of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change science body.
Being a recent Nobel prize laureate in economics, the author’s assessment of the cost projections carries weight in business and policy-making circles. Its tone engenders optimism that decision makers, nationally and globally, may heed the call to deal with the climate threat while there is still time.
Krugman notes that the report’s findings on future weather disasters are “as grim as you might expect,” unless major policy changes and drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases are undertaken very soon.
If they are, however, the economic impact would be surprisingly small. The “salvation” from a hellish climate that future people could face would come at cost, only, of reduced economic growth basically amounting to “a rounding error [of] around 0.06 percent per year.”
The optimism stems from what has been happening, quietly for a while but rapidly of late, in solar and other renewable forms of clean energy. The cost of installations has been plummeting with wider-scale adoption, and their technological performance has been continually improving.
As CNN News writers Hayes and Denman in Earth Day coverage note, and the U.S. Department of Energy and many other sources have documented, renewable energy production has been rising much faster than nuclear or other traditional sources.
In the U.S. by last year’s end, 1.6 million homes drew their electricity from the sun; and worldwide, Hayes and Denman show, wind and solar installations added almost 75 times more energy to electric grids than did new nuclear power plants.
Bloomberg News in April published a power-generation cost comparison between newly built wind and solar plants and newly built nuclear plants. It found the former to generate low-carbon electricity at substantially (50 percent) lower cost than the latter; even with natural-gas backup costs included, they “can make power a fifth cheaper than nuclear plants.”
These developments, encouragingly, seem headed to a new energy paradigm. This consists of moving away from 19th and last century production methods to new and sustainable, and ultimately non-nuclear and safe, carbon-free energy.
If our apparent leap in this direction continues apace and the “Energiewende” is achieved fast enough, humankind can be spared a looming future climate catastrophe.
It won’t be achieved without growing pains and opposition from the energy interests invested in the traditional fuels and methods. Transformative changes of such magnitude don’t come easy and, indeed, industry opposition to them is well under way.
But, as Amory Lovins, longtime national leader in sustainable energy systems, asks: “Should we have rejected mobile phones because they threatened to displace land line phones?”
For its importance in climate-change mitigation and with its many public health and environmental benefits, we have reason to celebrate and quicken, not delay, the renewable-energy paradigm shift to which we are seemingly heading.