There is No Energy Transition

27 June 2024 - // Between
Stuart Reigeluth
Founder of REVOLVE

Sans Transition, Une nouvelle histoire de l’energie

Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2024. 408 pages. 24.00 euros.

Fressoz avoids the climate action discourse entirely, and rather would say: look closely at Germany as an example, they claim to be going for renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels but then reality kicks in and coal continues to grow: old worn-out mines are closed, but new bigger ones are opened to fuel the transition, and renewables are growing but they can be intermittent, so we need nuclear too, and nuclear remains a massive baseload for maintaining and buffering this supposed transition to clean sources of energy that will eventually be zero emissions and good for the planet and people so we may live happily after.

Red flag, Fressoz whistles loudly. We may think that supporting the ‘energy transition’ as a concept is good for planet-people-profit in principle, but the reality is a deeply embedded and intertwined co-dependence of energy sources that continue to destroy the very same planet we claim to be wanting to protect. While the irony is not missed, his argument is not new. There are powers at play that are much bigger than mere mortals. What is refreshing is the slap in the face that says: you are part of an economic system that is ‘hooked on fossils’ and on the road to self-destruction.

Coupled with population growth and exponential subsequent demand, the “symbiotic relation” between energy sources is causing the continued expansion of these mutually reinforcing sources of energy. In not either/or, it’s always x times y on the matrix: there is always a co-relation of cause and effect. There was no ‘quick switch’ from the Stone Age to Bronze Age, or from steam to coal to fossil fuels to renewables. Fressoz’s leitfmotif is that the histories of energy based on ‘phases’ or ‘ages’ are misleading and fall back on the generalized convenient transition theory. 

Ecotopia, Diane Schatz, from RAIN: Journal of Appropriate Technology, vol. 2, n° 6, April 1976

An energy transformation with time and technology would be a more adequate description of our evolution of energy times humans: Wood is still used for coal mining. Coal is fueling the transition to electric vehicles. Cardboard is the largest packaging polluter on Earth (three times more than plastics). After 100 years, wooden oil barrels are no more; now the barrels are metal. Fossils are fueling the growth of renewables. Some windmills are now being built out of wood. In 2020, ¾ of global steel is made by burning coal. Wake up call. There is a systemic challenge that we are looking at but not really seeing properly. Malthus is turning in his grave. 

Watch out for frenetic, unabated growth.

Reviewed by

Stuart Reigeluth
Founder of REVOLVE

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