A couple of years ago my wife and I climbed Mount Snowdon. We left the car in the car park and set out along the Ranger path. There was a point where we’d been walking for about an hour and it felt like we hadn’t started yet. We had to walk to the mountain before we could walk up the mountain. Then we spent a long while winding back and forth in the foothills, the mountain still looming ahead of us as if we hadn’t gone anywhere yet. So we gave up and went to the pub.
No we didn’t. We pressed on to the top of course. But I mention this because it feels like a lot of people are at a similar point in the energy transition.
We’re a decade into a 50 year process, and some people are looking around and going ‘this isn’t working. We should give up and go back.’
They look at electric cars charging on coal power, or early renewable energy projects reaching the end of their lifespan. They see greenwash from big corporations, empty words from governments. They remember big claims that came to nothing, hopes for international cooperation overturned. They see renewable energy creating new problems while addressing old ones. And in their movies and books they say ‘we’ve got nowhere. We might as well not have bothered.’
I get this. I feel heartsick on a daily basis at the cars and the planes and the waste, the apathy and the resistance to minor changes to our lifestyles. And if I lived in the US or Brazil, I’d be in therapy right now.
But if you give up an hour up the Snowdon Ranger’s track, you end up back at the hostel early with nothing to do. You miss out on queueing for your selfie at the summit, and shaking your fist at the tourists who got the train to the top.
If you give up a decade into the clean energy transition, the fossil fuel incumbency wins. The world burns. Civilization collapses.
We can’t afford to look around and mope about what hasn’t gone well. Sure, mistakes have been made. Integrities have been compromised. There have been false starts and disappointments. We have to learn from them and do better next time – but there has to be a next time. We have to go forward from here.
If we look back, it looks like we haven’t come very far. But look ahead. There are others further along the track – countries that are already at or near 100% renewable energy. Or where electric cars are now outselling petrol, or where the Green New Deal is actually happening. Places where flying is no longer aspirational, cities that have chosen not to grow their airports. Economies where consumption and energy use have peaked. There are governments declaring that they’re more interested in wellbeing than economic growth.
All of this is fragile, yes. The way ahead is hard and there’s no point pretending otherwise. More mistakes will be made. Some people are going to give up and turn back. But you’ll see what you look for. If you look for reasons to turn back, you’ll find them. Look ahead. There are people further up the track. If they got that far, we can too. Look, some of them are waving at us.
Take a moment. Have a square of chocolate. Have a handful of raisins and some water. And let’s go on again.