I remember how excited I was in 1986, when, for the first time, I was able to use a calculator that was powered by solar energy.
My expectation, then, was that in a few years time, all hand-held appliances, and many that were stationary, would be equally solar-powered. And since we in Africa have sunshinesunshinesunshinemost of the time, our countries would soon become industrialised and we would attain living standards akin to what obtains in the “developed countries.
But alas!, here we are in 2021, and I still have to plug my telephone into the mains [electricity supply] to charge it. That is, when the electricity supply has not been interrupted by the power distributors!
The funny thing is that back in 1986, I was living in England – by no means a country which had a super-abundant supply of sunshine! In my naivety, I thought that countries like Ghana would buy into solar and be able thereby to declare installations like the Akosombo Dam “obsolete!”. Because, of course, sunshine was, for them, almost omnipresent, direct and relatively easy to tap.
Oh well – little did I know that precisely because the use of solar energy would give relatively better economic advantages to “poor” but sunshine-drenched countries like Ghana, the advance of solar energgy advance would be deliberately slowed down by the very countries whose technological know-how had brought solar power into our lives in the first place.
The main reason why solar has not taken over the power supply of Planet Earth is that the world economy does not operate to satisfy the laws of logic! On the contrary, it is operated to satisfy the wishes of the powerful, the chief of which appears to be that if you are rich and powerful, don’t allow others to become rich and powerful too. Otherwise, you cannot hold them to ransom.
Is holding other nations to ransom that important in human life? I don’t know, for I have never held anyone to ransom. And those who do, won’t tell us why they do so. In fact, they go to great lengths to try and hide that fact!
What is undeniable is that the strongest operators in the world economic power game, go to great lengths to maintain the “narrow” advantages that have accrued to them through the piratical activities in which they have, willy-nilly, engaged in during years past.
In the 1950s, for instance, an alliance of seven multinational Western oil companies – Exxon, Mobil, Socal, Royal Dutch-Shell, BP, Texaco and Gulf – held dominance over 85% of the petroleum reservesof the world. Their dominance endured until the late 1960s. At the time they held supremacy over oil supplies, World Governments did their bidding; so much so that they were sarcastically nicknamed “The Seven Evil Sisters”!
They didn’t practise magic as such, but such was their economic clout that they controlled world economies through a “cartel” pricing system, which in turn, gave them enormous power over the Stock Exchanges that controlled the world’s most important companies.
When these powerful interests realised that solar energy and other renewable energy sources were threatening their dominance of the world economic system, they twisted the arms of their governments and slowed down the move towards renewable energy.
One study states the position quite starkly: “….Because the renewable energy transition is fundamentally a political struggle, efforts to shift from fossil fuels and [thereby] decarbonize societies, will not prove effective without confronting and destabilizing dominant systems of energy power”. In this confrontation, the future of the world counts for little.
As the study acknowledges, “Our present era of fossil-fuelled economies, societies and civilizations has given rise to an anomalous and dangerous moment for contemporary humanity and our shared biosphere… The accelerating trends of planetary warming, evidenced through storms and ice melts, droughts and hunger, unrest and migration, increasingly compel a heightened sense of urgency regarding the need to rapidly end the age of fossil fuels”.
Ending the age of fossil fuels? That won’t occur without a major struggle.
The struggle has begun: a growing consensus now views the transition to renewable energy systems as a key strategy to address “the climate crisis” which the world is facing and whose results are being presented to us on television with increasing frequency. But despite the growing sense of urgency, felt throughout the world about the effects of climate change, the deployment of renewable energy technologies has been frustrated or even halted.
As humanity watches helplessly, fierce fires kill people and destroy homes in California, Turkey, Greece, Siberia and other countries.
But now, at last, the United Nations Organisation (which is not always to be trusted to take action to save humankind from self-destruction, despite the “good intentions” that underlay its formation after the Second World War) has published a Report that unequivocally calls for the elimination of climate change from the world.
Produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the Report depicts, in stark terms, the choice between urgently acting to save Planet Earth or killing it off with all its inhabitants. Unlike previous reports, there are no reservations in this one.
The Report has, in fact, been described by the UN Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, as a “Code Red for humanity”. It declares unequivocally that human activity is changing the world’s climate in unprecedented and irreversible ways.
Increasingly (it acknowledges) extreme heat-waves, droughts and flooding, are being experienced, as a key temperature limit is in danger of being broken “in just over a decade.”
Scientists drawn from all over the world, took part in producing the Report. It is to be presented to a UN Conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. The only comfort it offers is an affirmation that a catastrophe can be avoided “if the world acts fast.”
It advocates “deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases” which, it says, could “stabilise” the rising temperatures being recorded in recent years.
The Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is contained in a 42-page document known as “The Summary for Policymakers”. It will be followed by a series of other “sub-reports”, dedicated to specific issues, that will be published before a key climate summit scheduled to be held in Glasgow (known as COP26.)
The IPCC was set up in 1988 to assess the science around climate change, and provide governments with scientific information upon which a large group of scientists drawn from all parts of the world are agreed.The new document declares that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”.
One of the authors, Mr Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, used “sports terms” to depict the dire situation facing the world: “one could say” (he noted) that the [earth’s] “atmosphere has been exposed to doping, which means we have begun observing extremes more often than before.”
The Report’s authors conclude that since 1970, global surface temperatures “have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.” The warming is “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe” they say.
Whether it’s heat-waves like the ones recently experienced in Greece and western North America, or floods like those in Germany and China, “their attribution to human influence has strengthened” over the past decade. Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900 (they add). And the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850, they further elaborate.
Additionally, they say, the recent rate of rise of sea level rises has nearly tripled, compared with 1901-1971. Human influence is the main driver – to the extent of 90 percent! – of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s, and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice. It is also “virtually certain” to the scientists that hot extremes, including heat-waves, have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events, on the other hand, have become less frequent and less severe.
The makes clear that the warming the world has experienced to date has made changes to many of our planetary support systems that “are irreversible, on timescales of centuries to millennia.” The oceans will continue to warm and become more acidic. Mountain and polar glaciers will continue melting for decades or centuries. “AND FOR MANY OF THESE CONSEQUENCES, THERE’S NO GOING BACK,”the Report concludes.
These things are happening in spite of the fact that almost every nation on Earth signed up to the goals of a Climate Agreement reached in 2015. That pact’s aim was to keep the rise in global temperatures well below 2C this century and to pursue efforts to keep it under 1.5C.
The question is these truths may be indisputable, but if the scientists who began discussing them in Paris in 2015 failed to convince the politicians of the world to take immediate action to halt the descent into world climate-led catastrophe, what hope is there that Glasgow  will fare any better?
We can only hope that the state of the world, at the time of the Report’s release, will serve as a warning to world leaders that they will be playing an end game if they do not rise up to their responsibilities in Glasgow in November 2021.