Earlier this month, news of a report reached my ears that proposed there was no way to have green energy and economic growth, and that poverty, unemployment, and “zero economic growth are the likely outcome for countries which choose renewable energy sources over fossil fuels.”
The report was authored by economist Dr Nikolaos Antonakakis, Visiting Fellow at the University of Portsmouth Business School and Associate Professor at Webster Vienna University, and Dr Ioannis Chatziantoniou, at the University of Portsmouth, and Dr George Filis, at Bournemouth University. Their report — which is said to have been published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews — and in the article abstract, includes this little gem:
“However, we cannot report any statistically significant evidence that renewable energy consumption, in particular, is conducive to economic growth, a fact that weakens the argument that renewable energy consumption is able to promote growth in a more efficient and environmentally sustainable way.”
Because the journal article, Energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and economic growth: An ethical dilemma, is locked behind a pay-wall, I’m going to have to rely on the press release published by the University of Portsmouth, which was also published on Phys.org. The press release starts out by saying that, “Poverty, unemployment and zero economic growth are the likely outcome for countries which choose renewable energy sources over fossil fuels, according to a study.”
“Energy from fossil fuels appears to ignite economies into greater and more sustained growth, whereas energy from wind and solar power not only fails to enhance or promote economic growth, it actually causes economies to flat-line.”
“Put simply, the more energy a country consumes, the more it pollutes the environment, the more its economy grows,” explained Dr Antonakakis. “And the more the economy grows, the more energy consumption it needs, and so on.
“This poses big questions. Should we choose high economic growth, which brings lower unemployment and wealth for many, but which is unsustainable for the environment?
“Or should we choose low or zero economic growth, which includes high unemployment and a greater degree of poverty, and save our environment?”
The authors of the study gathered data on gross domestic product (GDP), CO2 emissions, and total and disaggregated energy consumption for 106 separate countries, based on data between 1971 to 2011. Their findings revealed that, “Of the countries studied, not one showed good economic growth while promoting and investing in renewable energy.”
Unfortunately for those involved in this study, their results run blatantly counter to readily available evidence from numerous countries all over the world.
Literally within days of publishing their article, the European Commission published its second State of the Energy Union report, which among other things, showed that the European Union’s total emissions had fallen by 22% between 1990 to 2015, while the EU’s GDP had increased by 50%. Importantly, much of the reduction in emissions in the EU has been as a result of numerous trends — including increased renewable energy capacity, increased energy efficiency, and massive decreases in reliance upon fossil fuel-generated electricity.
In fact, one need only follow our own decoupling tag to see numerous instances proving the continued decoupling of economic growth from global emissions. Limiting ourselves to evidence published in 2016 alone, we see that in March, the International Energy Agency — never one to be overly optimistic about things — showed that 2015 figures revealed economic growth increased while emissions stayed flat for the second year in a row. In April, a researcher from the World Resources Institute showed that more than 20 countries since the year 2000 had successfully decoupled their GDP from emissions — countries including France, Germany, the Unoted Kingdom, and the United States.
In May, a new report showed that energy production for the 34 countries within the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had increased 4% in 2014, while CO2 emissions fell by 1.4% — and 8% between 2007 and 2014 — showing yet another aspect of decoupling, this time between energy production and emissions.
Finally, in October, a CDP report highlighted the increase in companies transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Amidst the report was the small note that, of the 62 companies which reported information to CDP, there was significant evidence of a decoupling between a company’s economic growth and a decline in its emissions output.
So even in five stories published over the past 12 months, we see that the fundamental conclusions from the Antonakakis-led report are fatally flawed, which in and of itself must represent some fallacy introduced through the research portion of their work.
I also took the time to reach out to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), for their take on this report. Tom Sanzillo, the IEEFA’s director of finance, was unsurprisingly unimpressed with the conclusions made by Antonakakis and his colleagues.
“Trying to pit economic growth and environmental progress against one other is a worn-out proposition,” Tom Sanzillo explained. “When the coal industry collapsed globally, the global economy did just fine. In the US, where coal companies have declared bankruptcy left and right over the past couple of years, the stock market has soared to record highs. As China began a retrenchment from coal now, GDP growth is 6% annually, a growth rate that is the envy of the world.”
Further, the alternatives implicit in a made-up world where we have to choose between economic growth and green energy are inherently faulty all on their own.
“Renewable energy is now cheaper than coal-fired power and is increasingly competitive with natural gas in most places in the world,” continued Sanzillo. “Poor people need cheap electricity, and renewable technologies are expanding and emerging quickly to fill that need.”
Specifically, renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are uniquely qualified to combat energy poverty in rural and poverty-stricken areas. A point I have been advocating for several years now is the role these technologies can play in providing cheap, reliable, and efficient electricity to communities who have no access nor any chance of access to large, bulky, fossil fuel infrastructure. Those advocating for fossil fuels to be the cheap option for rural and poor communities throughout the third world completely ignore the overwhelming expense of building infrastructure to make fossil fuel-generated electricity to people well beyond the grid. Whereas, renewable energy often needs no, or little infrastructure, as solar and wind can both be built on site and provide significant levels of electricity in the process.
Further, as Tom Sanzillo explains, “GDP growth is an essential component of poverty reduction, but is not enough on its own. Fossil-fuel projects as tools for economic growth and income distribution have been a failure. Such project usually use design and construction labor from elsewhere, employ only highly educated workers who also usually come from other countries, export the commodity that is produced, and send most of the profits to foreign investors.”
In the end, it is ‘scientific evidence’ such as this which betrays the underpinnings of independent science. I will not out-and-out claim that there is some link between the authors and fossil fuel interests, but the decisions necessary to reach a conclusion such as this speak volumes either about the integrity or the intelligence of the authors.