As expected, Daniel Yergin’s public talk on “Future Energy” yesterday at Vienna’s new University of Economics and Business Administration was centered around the US shale gas revolution. The Pulitzer-prize winning author, energy advisor to Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama and fossil fuel advocate didn’t surprise the audience with his controversial viewpoint:
Renewables aren’t competitive without support and unconventional oil and gas are the most important energy innovation of the 21st century so far (comparing its inventor to Steve Jobs), making the US the largest oil and gas producer in the world and changing the mentality from an “era of scarcity” to a “mentality of abundance”. Environmental questions simply need more examination, 2 million added jobs and lower energy prices in the US are a striking economic argument and the low US gas prices are a threat to Europe’s competitiveness.
So far, so bad. Ignoring not only the IEA’s recent doubts about a prolonged US shale gas boom (“There’s a great desire in Europe to dismiss the importance of US shale gas”) and other countries’ capabilities to replicate this boom, but also the IEA’s warning that we’re heading to a world of 3.6° warming due to our fossil fuel dependency, Yergin expects real changes in the world’s energy mix only in 20, 25 years at the earliest due to long lead times.
Instead of addressing the chances of a more ambitious energy transformation fueled by renewables and energy efficiency or the need for behavioral changes, he relies on innovation as the only answer to our energy and climate challenges. According to his words “Be prepared to be surprised”, Yergin hopes for distant innovations while ignoring the fact that we already have the technology for a 100% renewable energy future.
By relying on future technological solutions alone, he is not only gambling with our planet’s future but also paving the way for geo-engineering and other hazardous solutions when people finally realize that it’s too late for a smooth transformation. So, I was relieved that many people in the audience probably didn’t share his views, especially when Yergin mentioned that “Austria has some of the most promising shale gas reserves” in Europe.
At least, there was one point where I could agree with Yergin: In his opinion, the problem with energy efficiency is that “there’s no one big thing” and that “there’s no red ribbon to cut, there’s no photo opportunity”. Thinking of our Minister of the Environment and the importance of photo opportunities for his policies, this would explain why we’re still waiting for an energy efficiency law here in Austria.