Vaclav Smil is widely regarded as a big thinker on energy and other matters.
Ambitions to reach zero emissions by 2050 are unrealistic and the target will take much longer and be much more difficult than most people realise, said University of Manitoba’s Vaclav Smil, a top scientist and policy analyst, cautioning against expecting much from the upcoming international climate summit in Glasgow.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink Louise Kennerley
Professor Smil, an adviser to Bill Gates on energy, told the Credit Suisse 3rd ESG Conference it could not be expected that within just 30 years, the use of fossil fuels, which currently burns over 10 billion tonnes will fall to zero.
BlackRock’s chief executive officer Larry Fink didn’t express the same level of despair as Professor Smil when he addressed the conference later in the afternoon.
But the boss of the world’s largest asset manager, with $US9 trillion under management, agreed the task of de-carbonising the economy was so enormous that BlackRock had even turned to a Bill Gates-backed philanthropic investment scheme to speed up the technological transition.
“We’re not making money on it, we’re doing it to [help] do some very nascent technologies to accelerate the process,” he told the conference, pointing out there were reasons to be optimistic about technological leaps, citing to the huge advances in wind power over the past 30 years.
Last month, BlackRock injected cash into Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy, which is using philanthropic money to accelerate investments in new technologies. The Gates-backed group has reportedly secured $US1 billion in investments from Microsoft, General Motors, American Airlines, Boston Consulting Group, Bank of America and ArcelorMittal.
But Professor Smil noted some 83 per cent of primary energy comes from fossil fuels at present, a figure that has dropped by only 4 percentage points in 30 years.
“That strains one’s imagination, especially if you think about the numbers involved: we are burning more than 10 billion tonnes of fossil fuels, and we are dependent on them in every facet of our existence,” Professor Smil said.
“This is an absolutely daunting task. And we’ll be moving very slowly.”
He made a strong case for keeping natural gas in the energy supply mix, pointing out the risks to agriculture, food supply and other critical materials from gas shortages.
“There is no responsible body … no responsible energy research saying that there is a fast road map to zero carbon by 2050,” Professor Smil said. “There is one: to simply give up and live in the dark.”
John Droz, Jr: Media Balance Newsletter: October 18, 2021
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