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Home / News / World on the brink

World on the brink

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A&M duo warn of overheated, overpopulated planet unless mankind changes ways

By Ian White

THE GREENHOUSE-GAS targets to which more than 190 nations signed up in Paris in December have been declared “unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve” by a professor and PhD student at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus.Texas A & M Galveston

But they warn that failure to make “a significant shift to renewable sources” during this century will have perilous consequences for mankind’s energy consumption.

The two researchers say that keeping global warming to less than 2°C – 3.6°F – above temperatures of the 1850s “would require rates of change in our energy infrastructure and energy mix that have never happened and that are extremely unlikely to be achieved”.

Marine sciences professor Glenn Jones and Kevin Warner, who is studying for his doctorate in marine biology, published their claim in the latest edition of the journal Energy Policy after modeling the projected growth in global population and per-capita energy consumption, as well as the size of known reserves of oil, coal and natural gas, and greenhouse-gas emissions to determine how difficult it will be to achieve the sub-2°C warming goal.

The goal was considered acceptable, or “safe”, by all participants at December’s United Nations climate-change conference, which ended with the signing of the Paris Accord, in which each participating country agreed to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to limit global warming to less than 2°C above temperatures experienced around the start of the industrial revolution.

The Paris Accord’s overall goal is to use renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power and biofuels to replace fossil fuels, which emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, leading to higher temperatures.

“Just considering wind power, we found that it would take an annual installation of 485,000 five-megawatt wind turbines in 2028,” Jones said.

“About 13,150 were installed in 2015. So that’s a 37-fold increase in the annual installation rate in only 13 years to achieve just the wind power goal. Similar expansion rates are needed for solar and biofuels.

“An increase like that has never happened in the history of the world’s energy use.”

As if to back up the pair’s conclusions, recent statistics show that last month was the warmest February ever, while 2015 was also the warmest year since records have been kept.

“There will be about 11 billion people on Earth by 2100, compared with 7.2 billion today,” Jones said.

“So the question becomes how will they be fed and housed and what will be their energy source. Currently 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity and there are plans to try to get them on the grid. The numbers you start dealing with become so large that they are difficult to comprehend.

“To even come close to achieving the goals of the Paris Accord, 50 per cent of our energy will need to come from renewable sources by 2028 and today it is only 9 per cent, including hydropower.

“For a world that wants to fight climate change, the numbers just don’t add up to do it.”

So what if we do not believe in global warming?

Jones said: “If we don’t worry about global warming and the 2°C goal, we can continue to burn known fossil fuel reserves, but even then we will have to achieve more than 50 per cent renewable energy by 2054, but warming will exceed 2.5 to 3°C.”

He added: “A person living today uses about four times as much energy as a person did in 1900. By 2100, that figure goes up to five times. And 87 per cent to 94 per cent of all energy used will be from renewable sources regardless of whether we achieve and maintain the goals of the Paris Accord.

“Our study does not present an either-or situation. The world will require a significant shift to renewable energy sources whether we care about global warming or whether we are more concerned with providing society’s energy needs. Hopefully, our work will serve as a wake-up call.”

Jones and Warner point out that every hour of every day:

  • 3.7m barrels of oil are extracted
  • 932,000 tons of coal are mined
  • 395m cubic meters of natural gas are extracted
  • 4.1m tons of carbon dioxide are put into the atmosphere
  • 9,300 more people inhabit the planet
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