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Alex Steffen on "The brutal realities of energy politics" - and how to overcome them

2 min. read

Grist is posting sections from a new book, called Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by sustainability expert and author Alex Steffen. The book begins with Superstorm Sandy, warning that it's a "forewarning of what a planet in climate chaos has in store for us." So what are we doing to avoid this chaos? In Steffen's view, clearly not enough. Instead, he argues - correctly, we believe - that "we're losing the climate fight," with "unimaginable catastrophe on ourselves, our children and our descendants" the likely result if we don't start winning it fast.  Why are we "losing the climate fight?" Steffen has a clear answer to this question. Here's an excerpt, courtesy of Grist, which we think is particularly clear and powerful.

It’s true that clean energy innovation is proceeding at a rapid pace. I believe that as clean energy generation drops in price, simple economics will drive a shift to solar and wind. I believe carbon pricing, the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, and changes in public opinion can massively accelerate that shift. But I don’t believe this will happen on a large enough scale, quickly enough, to make clean energy production the sole (or even primary) focus of climate action while world energy consumption doubles. That’s absurd.

The brutal realities of energy politics

For one thing, some of the largest companies and wealthiest people on the planet are determined to slow the spread of clean energy. These powerful interests are actively hostile to clean energy deployment, have war chests of tens of billions of dollars, and operate what’s probably the nastiest, smartest, best-funded political lobby in history.

This certainly doesn't appear encouraging at first glance. Fortunately, Alex Steffen has some powerful thoughts on how to overcome the "brutal realities of energy politics." The key, in his view, is "to use less energy while leaving us more prosperous." And the key to that, in turn, is transforming our cities. If we do that, Steffen argues, then climate change goes from "likely unsolvable as an energy problem" to "entirely solvable as a cities problem." We look forward to reading more in future chapters about how this can be accomplished.