An optimistic take on climate change

Human-created climate change is probably real, and it may turn out to be more serious than we previously thought, and yet I am optimistic.

Article updated: 12 August 2019 11:00am Author: Michael Baxter

Please don’t interpret what I am about to say as in any way down-crying the dangers of climate change. In fact, I want to stop calling it climate change, a phrase introduced by skeptics, no, the original phrase, global warming, is more apt. I am simply optimistic because I can see potential fixes, the problem lies with us. Denial is incredibly dangerous because it delays the adoption of fixes — the risk is that they are delayed and delayed until it is too late.

But I do think that both sides in the debate are at fault. Don’t get me wrong, the fault is more serious amongst the deniers, and I really can’t get my head around it when high profile individuals, who bask in the media glare, use this attention to peddle their views denying climate change — how will history recall their words, how will their name be recalled by their children and grandchildren in the decades to come, if they are proven wrong? No, if I was such a person, I would be unable to sleep at night.

But the climate change lobby err too. And their mistake is to put too much emphasis on the negatives and not enough on the positives.

What do you mean by positives? I hear you ask. Well by that I mean there are some very exciting fixes out there — fixes which could create economic boom.

Take meat. I read that we eat too much. We don’t necessarily need to become vegetarians, but we need to seriously cut the amount of meat in our diet. For many people, such an idea is horrific — and as a big meat eater myself I get this reaction, in fact I am none too happy about it myself. You can see why avowed meat lovers would latch on to any hint that human made climate change is not real — that, I don’t know, rising temperatures are down to sun spots, or something equally daft.

Yet it may be possible for us to, as it were, have our meat loaf and eat it. Take Impossible Burgers for example, they taste like burgers but they are made from plant.

But then, when you think about it, meat is made from plant. Cows are meat processing machines, they eat plants and inside their guts, turn the plants into meat. Suppose technology could mirror that process — turn grass into beef, lamb or pork. Such is the dream of lab grown meat — meat from stem cells.

I read that by 2035, 22 per cent of meat consumption will be in the form of meat from stem cells, 23 per cent plant based and 55 per cent conventional. By 2040, 35 per cent of meat will be lab grown. This is an exciting solution, but these time frames need accelerating. The eventual prize of lab grown meat will be cheaper food, so there is a double benefit, cheaper food and remove one of the biggest contributors to global warming. This will be massively disruptive on the meat and related industries, such as milk and cheese. Investors need to understand this inevitable change. But given the potential upside, why are we wasting time arguing about whether this is required? Governments should be collectively throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at the race to create cost effective, non-global warming, alternatives to meat from animals.

Or take water. I read that countries around the world, including Belgium, face a high risk of a water shortage. It’s a horrific prospect — in my view the most likely cause of a global conflict will relate to water.

Is there a fix?

The only possible fix lies with water desalination. But this process is expensive and requires an awful amount of energy.

Hold that thought . As you may know, I am a big advocate of renewable energies because of the rate at which their cost has fallen, and is likely to carry on falling. But there is a snag — when it’s particularly sunny or we have the optimal amount of wind, we generate more energy than we can either consume or store — so it goes to waste.

But suppose that otherwise wasted energy, meaning the cost of using it is essentially free, was channelled into uses which are not time sensitive. Let me give you three examples of high energy usage: large scale 3D printing, deep learning (a cutting edge application of AI) and water desalination. Technologies will be able to channel this spare energy into other areas, some of which are not currently economically viable because of the enormous cost of energy.

Given this opportunity, why do we waste valuable time in the war against climate change arguing about renewables? Of course they are essential. Investors: look at areas that could benefit from super cheap energy as and when it is available.

Before I close, however, there is one respect in which the world will have to dig deep into its pockets and that relates to deforestation. Sooner or later the world will have to pay those countries — typically poor countries — with rainforests, not to knock them down. The world’s most important resource is in Brazil and the country gets nothing for preserving it. That will have to change.

These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre, its officers and employees

Michael Baxter portrait photo
Michael Baxter

Economics Commentator

Michael is an economics, investment and technology writer, known for his entertaining style. He has previously been a full-time investor, founder of a technology company which was floated on the NASDAQ, and a director of a PR company specialising in IT.

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