$45 Trillion Needed to Save the World

Blue Marble

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Some freaky numbers from the IEA:

In one of the strongest warnings so far about the world’s thirst for energy, the International Energy Agency said Friday that investment totaling $45 trillion might be needed over the next half-century to prevent energy shortages and greenhouse gas emissions from undermining global economic growth.

The executive director of the agency, Nobuo Tanaka, called for “immediate policy action and technological transition on an unprecedented scale.” Tanaka said the world needed to “completely transform the way we produce and use energy.”

The IEA report said that the combination of growing demand for energy, especially in countries like China and India, the dangers of climate change and the scarcity of resources was going to require huge shifts in the way the global economy was organized. To meet those challenges, it said, nations would have to overcome objections to building nuclear power plants and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide underground or beneath the ocean floor.

“I am very pleased the International Energy Agency has put such a high figure on the cost of making this transition,” said Pierre Noël, an energy expert and senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It is high time we got rid of the myth that we can decarbonize our economies on the cheap,” he said.

You know, I grew up in the era when “a million bucks” meant a lot of money. “a billion” was usually stated with heavy emphasis on the B, so you knew we were talking about that enormous number that most people could barely conceive of without having Lovecraft-style screaming fits — “B”illion was the non-Euclidean geometry of the ’70s.

It wasn’t that long before the joke in government and politics was “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

I can still remember when I saw Declan McCullagh on TV talking about the Y2K problem. This was early in the societal freakout process — I don’t know, maybe 1997, 1998. McCullagh asserted that estimates held the total economic damage from a Y2K crash could be $4 trillion. When he said “TR,” his eyes sort of popped wide and he leaned forward, as if to say “no fuckin’ shit, dude, we’re not fucking around here.”

Well, now we can apparently toss numbers like $45 trillion around, and say things like that money is needed to “prevent energy shortages and greenhouse gas emissions from undermining global economic growth.”

Funny how now as a culture we can talk about sums that vast and not say what we mean. What the fuck is “Undermining global economic growth”? That sounds like a problem with the fucking exchange rate. $45 trillion is a lot of money, but there’s a lot more than economic growth at state. Undermining economic growth means a whole lot of fucking dead people everywhere — but especially in the Third World. But then, it always did.

Image from NASA.gov


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