The first section is an exploration of the comprehensive challenge of climate change and energy security. The key problem we are facing is that our economic system, as it has developed since the second industrial revolution, is fundamentally built on the consumption of fossil fuels, which are already responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we do not succeed in altering the ways we produce and use energy, we are heading toward a catastrophe.
The second section depicts what a third industrial revolution could look like and what it would need to induce it. The decrease in energy consumption and the increase in energy efficiency will have to be at the heart of this revolution. All sectors of the economy including households, transportation, and businesses must be made more energy efficient. The potential of producing energy through the exploitation of non-fossil fuel sources are enormous. Hybrid battery technology will be able to “break our oil addiction, cut driving costs, and reduce pollution.” Technological change, however, is happening too slowly. Governmental action will have a key role in accelerating technology innovation, development and deployment.
The third section, after comparing many costs and benefits, concludes “the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.” Society as a whole, not just the individual using the commodity, has always paid an enormous price for maintaining a fossil-fueled economic system. For example, the acceptance of energy as a scarce (or at least expensive) resource might well have played a major role in Europe’s current economic success; the opposite would be true for the US. Several myths about how change will be too expensive or about how economic growth leads to greater energy consumption are clogging debates on climate change and energy security. This is getting in the way of urgent action. We will need a patchwork system of regulations and incentives on all levels of political organization to induce an energy revolution.
The final section provides suggestions for how the climate-change dialogue between Germany and the US can be strengthened. Disagreement between the United States and Germany on energy security and climate change has hampered progress for decades. However, both countries are currently witnessing an unprecedented amount of debate on key challenges, and opportunities for transatlantic reconciliation on climate and energy issues will further improve in the next two years. Preparations must be made now for America’s return to an international leadership role on climate and energy. A new, “can-do” attitude is necessary in order to focus on the various benefits of a well-designed policy approach.
Alexander Ochs is the director for International Policy at the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) and founding editor of the Forum for Atlantic Climate and Energy Talks
This policy report, “Overcoming the Lethargy: Climate Change, Energy Security, and the Case for a Third Industrial Revolution,” was written for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. You can read the complete report here.