In the run-up to the Paris climate talks, a new Stanford study shows that the world can run completely on renewable energy by 2050. Stanford university researchers have detailed how most countries can completely transition to clean energy across all sectors, from electricity to agriculture to transportation. A switch to 100% renewable sources would actually lower a country’s total energy usage, because clean energy sources are more efficient than fossil fuels. Such a switch would also curb global warming, create an estimated 22 million jobs, reduce air pollution, and boost public health.
Increased clean energy use is technically and economically feasible, but studies have found that social and political factors are the biggest roadblocks to an energy transformation. In the words of lead study author Mark Z. Jacobson, “the burden of proof is now on the people who want to grow fossil fuels in any shape or form to explain to [the public] why they are doing something that we know is worse for the planet."
In order to overcome the social and political roadblocks to clean energy, we need to effectively present to the public the proof that clean energy is much better for our planet, our economy, our health, and our future. Higher ed has an important role in disseminating climate information; academics, scientists, and researchers are at the forefront of climate change knowledge. We need to keep climate facts relevant, personal, and local – such effective communications can help overcome the social and political barriers to climate action. By also presenting a positive future and encouraging pride in the next big thing (clean energy), we can meet the climate challenge – and enjoy the many benefits of doing so.
A new study claims to leave little room for doubt that the world can run 100 percent on renewable energy, and it even maps how individual countries should best make this transition—by mid-century.
The main barriers to overhauling the global energy system "are social and political," said Mark Z. Jacobson, lead study author. "They aren't technical or economic," added Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.
Jacobson and his Stanford colleagues published the analysis in a draft paper online to coincide with the start of global climate talks in Paris on Nov. 30. In those vastly complicated negotiations, most of the world's nations have agreed on at least one thing: keeping the earth's warming to within 2-degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels—a target that scientists agree is relatively safe for the planet––will require a wholesale transformation of the world's energy economy.
The paper, which will likely be submitted to scientific journals for publication next year, offers detailed roadmaps showing how most countries can make the switch to run entirely on clean energy across all sectors, from electricity to transportation to agriculture, as early as 2050.
Focusing on the 139 countries with available 2015 energy data, researchers first used computer models to calculate how each nation's energy demand and mix would change by 2050. This so-called "business-as-usual" scenario was based on the assumption that the countries would continue to rely on conventional fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.