Boštjan Videmšek: Any Technology Can Turn Into a Weapon
Date: November 18th 2020
Author: Alenka Lena Klopčič
“The climate crisis is a great, full-scale, wide-ranging war. A war of humanity against humanity. A war of humanity against the new generations. A war of humanity against animals. A war of humanity against ecosystems. A war of humanity against the planet that hosts us. A war of humanity against balance, (co)existence, the future,” writes Boštjan Videmšek, former war reporter and current member of the Slovenian President's Standing Climate Policy Committee, in the introduction to his book 'Plan B: How Not to Lose Hope in the Times of Climate Crisis'. Videmšek’s ‘pioneers fighting the climate crisis’ were also the central theme of Energetika.NET’s video interview (in Slovene) with the renowned journalist and publicist.
The achievability of the climate objectives depends on what we want
The European Commission recently published a 2030 climate assessment which shows that the annual reduction in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to be 2.7% from 2020 to 2030 if the target of a 55% reduction in GHG emission is to be met. With the current target of a 40% reduction in GHG emissions up to 2030, this will equate to an annual reduction of just 1.5%. This is quite a substantial increase in the ambition. If the proposal for a 55% GHG emission reduction is accepted, the economy-wide shares of RES projected in 2030 will need to reach 38-40%. The current 2030 RES target is 32%. In comparison, the RES share was around 19% in 2018. Across all scenarios, the 55% economy-wide reductions would lead to GHG reductions of around 70% in electricity generation. On the other hand, a 40% GHG reduction would lead to GHG reductions of around 55% in the electricity sector (this figure stood at 25% n 2019) (MORE).
Opening the interview, Energetika.NET mentioned the recent publication of the European Commission’s 2030 climate assessment, which shows that if the target of a 55% reduction in GHG emission is to be met, the annual reduction in global GHG emissions from 2020 to 2030 will need to be 2.7%. We asked Videmšek, as someone reporting on the times and practice examples, whether this objective is achievable considering the work done by the ‘climate crisis pioneers’ whom he was able to get to know and whom he presents in his book Plan B.
The answer is far from one-layered: our wishes are one thing and reality is another, noted Videmšek. After a quarter of a century of reporting on war and seeing what humanity is and what he wished it was not, the author believes that this figure is completely unfeasible, as we are driven by greed, a lack of empathy, and increasingly also by a lack of a feeling of guilt and self-reflection. However, since we are still able to decide whether we want to live until we die or die until we die, he hopes that we will choose the former – of course not at the expense of other living beings, including animal and plant life. For this reason, Videmšek and the Slovenian photographer Marjaž Krivic decided to start a book project, during which the pioneers whom they met on the way gave them some hope for the future.
Shift only possible with significant financial incentives – and humanity
However, counting solely on technology can bring about another kind of hell, said Videmšek, paraphrasing the Slovenian ultra light pilot and climate change researcher Matevž Lenarčič, adding that technology, which is otherwise an excellent tool, can quickly turn into a weapon. “Without a bottom-up approach and a simultaneous top-down approach I very much doubt that there can be some sort of global solution ‘here and now’,” said Videmšek. Nevertheless, he mentions a range of local cases which he was able to learn about and which could perhaps be applied to other environments.
“Let’s be honest: there can be no shift without significant financial incentives and without a notable focus of both the political and the corporate world on a green transformation – making sure not to mistake ‘black’ for ‘green’.” Videmšek therefore welcomes a paradigm shift, paving the way for a green future, even for players who perhaps spent hundreds of years in the ‘fossil pits’, as we will not get far with only small projects and it is too late to choose allies, he explains, borrowing terms from his former war reporting profession.
However, the new sociological paradigm should include de-growth, a transition away from the dogma that economic growth brings us a better life, and towards seeking the most useful technological practices. He believes that the ‘technological shell’ should be filled with high-quality social and humanistic content.
Examples of good (renewable) practice – a clear signpost for a green future
Renewables provided the largest source of electricity generation in Europe for the sixth straight quarter in the third quarter of 2020. They saw an 8% increase compared to Q3 2019, while fossil fuels and nuclear saw a 4% and 15% decrease respectively, said the energy data company EnAppSys recently. Meanwhile, the European Commission assessed that electricity networks proved their ability to handle high levels of renewable penetration (MORE).
So is there cause for optimism in Europe, as well as globally, in terms of transitioning to renewable energy sources, which, due to their intermittent nature, also bring instability to the grids? According to Videmšek, there is definitely reason to believe that a shift will happen, noting also last year’s EU parliamentary elections in which young voters showed overwhelming support for green options. Regarding the related issues and challenges, Videmšek stressed that he did not “seek out the issues” during the project, but that the pioneers discussed in his book definitely faced different kinds of challenges.
He mentioned the Greek island of Tilos, the first energy self-sufficient island in the Mediterranean, where the legislation was completely outdated, but they nevertheless managed to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles, as the locals immediately recognised the business opportunity and showed an entrepreneurial spirit, building a hybrid wind and solar power station enabling not only energy self-sufficiency, but also energy exports. Additionally, the island developed its own energy storage which was the most advanced storage system at the time.
Another inspiring example is Iceland where, as described in Plan B, hydrogen fuel cells could be the central part of the socio-economic future. The author also presents the breakthrough in producing green hydrogen in Scotland’s Orkney Islands where he and the Slovenian photographer Matjaž Krivic visited a hydrogen station and met up with Tom Muir, the local storyteller, who was very excited about hydrogen technology. Asked whether some of Muir’s enthusiasm had rubbed off on him, the author responded pragmatically – the Orkney Islands (also home of the European Marine Energy Centre) have clearly shown what can be done with the power of the sea without any excessive investment which would be necessary if these were oil wells, for example, and without collateral damage. Videmšek believes that marine energy has a lot of potential, adding, however, that it depends on the geography and that the Orkney Islands case cannot easily be applied on a wider scale.
We need to shift our climate considerations into second gear
Noting Iceland’s recent commemoration of its first glacier lost to climate change and Greece’s Crete recording its highest snowfall for the third consecutive year in 2019, Videmšek alluded to Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his theory of thinking fast and slow, adding that humanity should switch to fast thinking also in terms of fighting the climate crisis.
Additionally, Videmšek’s book presents Austria’s Güssing which chose to focus on wood biomass years ago and which opened the European Centre for Renewable Energy in 2008. As they told the author, they see synthetic gas as a possible substitute for gas and diesel as well. Additionally, Videmšek was able to gain insight into Norway’s carbon capture and storage technologies and the direct air capture facilities in Switzerland where the company Climeworks offers individuals the opportunity to buy a personal carbon offset subscription. Although not a fan of such carbon offsetting, Videmšek adds that the idea – and the undertaking – is interesting.
Asked whether he agrees with one of the German interviewees in his book, who said that the European Union “despite its sleepy appearance, which it seems unable to get rid of”, could be an important player in renewable energy markets and the electric vehicle market, which will soon become the largest consumer of lithium carbonate, Videmšek replies that he does, adding that he actually sees no other option than for Europe to take the lead in this green breakthrough which he believes should be at the core of the European external policy.
The video interview is available HERE (in Slovene).
This article is available also in Slovene.