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Lecture | Studium Generale

The Energy Transition

  • Speaker: Gert Jan Kramer, Professor of Sustainable Energy Supply at Utrecht University
  • Discussant: Paul Behrens, Assistant Professor of Energy and Environmental Change, Leiden University College
Date
8 February 2017
Time
Address
Anna van Buerenplein
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG Den Haag
Room
Auditorium

The Energy Transition, Or, The Undoing of a Faustian Bargain

The dependence of our civilization on fossil energy cannot be overemphasized. From the food we eat to the travel we do and the cities we live in, none of it would look the same without fossil fuels. From 1865, when Jevons tabled The Coal Question (“an inquiry concerning the progress of the nation, and the probable exhaustion of our coal mines”) to the first Oil Crisis in the 1973, the world has mostly worried about the finitude of fossil fuel resources.

Today, our worry is not the lack of fossil resources, but rather that there is too much of them. The real limit to fossil fuels is the atmosphere, not the geosphere. It the present rate, the world has only 9 years of carbon emissions left before it has a 50/50 chance of exceeding the limit of 1,5 degree global temperature rise.
Our Faustian bargain is that fossil fuels allowed us to build an affluent society and to multiply our numbers. Now the reckoning has come: we have to face up to the finitude of our planet. 

Thankfully we have to technology to rebuild our energy system and make it sustainable. We ‘just’ need to get our act together and raise The Energy Question to the top of the world’s agenda and deliver the change. How we might do this and what this would likely entail – technically, economically and socially – is the topic of this lecture.

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