Report: World could end fossil fuel use by 2090

Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution report, released Monday, outlines how solar power, wind farms, geothermal stations, and biofuels could meet all of the world's energy needs by the final decade of this century.

Robert Harbison / Staff / FILE
Sun sets between oil rigs off Huntington Beach.

Eighty-two years from now, as Guns N' Roses releases its seventh studio album and the events of "Leprechaun 4: In Space" take place, humanity could, if it so desires, belch out its very last puff of fossil-fuel emissions.

At least that's what a new report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council says. Their Energy [R]evolution report, released Monday, outlines how solar power, wind farms, geothermal stations, and biofuels could meet all of the world's energy needs by the final decade of this century.

Getting started would cost a pretty penny – $14.7 trillion by 2030, according to the study. But according to the International Energy Agency, the world will spend $11.3 trillion on energy investments anyway, with a much greater focus on coal, oil, and nuclear power.

That's still 30 percent less, but the study argues that the difference would be more than made up for by slashing $18 trillion in fuel costs and creating a $360-billion-per-year industry. Additionally, the report says that the extra expense is justified given the costs – both economic and human – of global warming.

Greenpeace said that, in these tough financial times, a green energy revolution would be a smart move for the economy and for the planet.

With today’s economic instability, investing in renewable energy technologies is a ‘win-win-win’ scenario: a win for energy security, a win for the economy and a win for the climate. While ‘business as usual’ energy scenarios come at the cost of the climate and the economy, the Energy [R]evolution makes a clear case for ‘business as unusual’. The renewable industry is ready and able to deliver the needed capacity to make the energy revolution a reality. There is no technical impediment to doing this, just a political barrier to overcome as we rebuild the global energy sector.

Reuters calls the study "one of few reports – even by lobby groups – to look in detail at how energy use would have to be overhauled to meet the toughest scenarios for curbing greenhouse gases outlined by the U.N. Climate Panel."

The report's authors call for a three-pronged approach. The first prong is electricity efficiency. According to Greenpeace, we are wasting 61 percent of the electricity we consume "mostly due to bad product design." If we do nothing, electricity consumption is expected to increase by 33 percent by 2050. But by better insulating our homes and offices, improving the energy efficiency of our appliances, and by replacing water heaters with solar collectors, industrialized countries could decrease their power consumption by 10 percent, allowing for developing countries to increase their consumption by 20 percent.

The second prong is structural changes. The study calls for an ambitious program of replacing large power stations with a decentralized power system that makes use of locally available energy. The roofs and facades of homes and other buildings would be decked out with solar arrays with geothermal pumps underground. Local power systems can drastically reduce losses due to transmission.

The report also strongly advocates cogeneration, that is, capturing the heat generated in a power station and using it to heat buildings.

The third prong is reducing energy use by transportation systems. The report calls for "a shift from road to rail," improving and expanding public transportation and encouraging the shipment of goods by freight trains instead of trucks. It also calls for setting strict fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, and ultimately switching from internal-combustion engines to electric ones.

Greenpeace's video that coincides with the release report is an unsettling, digitally manipulated speech on climate change by John F. Kennedy, dubbed by a voice actor who has evidently never set foot in Massachusetts:

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