Originally published on CleanTechnica
by Zachary Shahan
As the cleantech transition speeds up, many of us are jumping for joy. Trump may be king of tweetland, but he and his oil & gas buddies can’t stop renewables or electric robotaxis. They know that.
Their goals are pretty clear, though: pump up the carbon bubble as much as possible, stuff as much cash into their own bank accounts before it pops, and hopefully retire and die before the whole global economy is brought down with the the thin soapy liquid that was probably much prettier as a bubble.
(Okay, I’ll admit it — Trump probably doesn’t realize there’s a carbon bubble and that cleantech is ready to pop it, but plenty of his hired henchmen certainly do.)
Photo by the Kremlin
I’m not the first to point out this issue. A few years ago when I was here in the UAE for Masdar’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Andrew Winston was in our media group and kept asking basically anyone with influence, “What do you think of stranded assets?” He didn’t really need — and didn’t get — answers. The question delivered the point well enough. In simpler terms: “Renewable energy — great, fun! Our whole economy collapsing when trillions of dollars of assets quickly turn into useless pieces of junk and liabilities — uh oh.”
Someone else coined the term “carbon bubble” a few years earlier (perhaps Bill McKibben). Alex Steffen recently wrote a great piece on that topic as well that was widely loved and shared. Some researchers have tried to quantify the carbon bubble and put it at $20 trillion, while others put it at $100 trillion. Whatever the total amount of the bubble is, it isn’t small.
The carbon bubble has long been clear, but it is becoming almost palpable … especially here at a renewable energy summit in the oil-rich Middle East.
But before discussing that oddity, let’s take this threat to its logical economic conclusion: If the investment community puts trillions of dollars into the coal, oil, and gas industries expecting many trillions more in returns, and then these industries collapse, the global economy is going to come crashing down as well. We got a short preview of that with the US housing bubble and the “dot com” bubble. A short preview.
Wait, actually, as Alex Steffen pointed out, it’s not the point of collapse that will bring the whole thing down — it’s the point at which the investment community stops acting psychotic and decides it’s time to get out of fossils. When investors really start to bail, well, we know how prone investors and traders are to bipolar swings.
As I said, the thing that struck me today — at the International Renewable Energy Agency’s General Assembly — is that this coming pop, this explosion of the carbon bubble, this ensuing global disruption, is becoming palpable.
One of the world’s top renewable energy experts expressed a bit of bewilderment on the sidelines when I asked him what he thought of some of the hydrogen-related comments that had just been made by Engie and Statoil — he noted, in what seemed like slightly confused surprise, that there had been several other comments about hydrogen today and yesterday already — unlike in previous years. What’s up with that? Where did that come from? Hydrogen? Didn’t we debunk the “vast potential” of that option years ago? (Yes, I’m projecting a lot and don’t fully know what this expert thought of it all.)
There was a focused repetition on the extremely low cost of renewables in various sessions and several of the industry leaders’ and political leaders’ statements, but certain players kept hyping hydrogen.