He was the first to tell the world what is awaiting ahead. In 1989, his book «The End of Nature» about a threat of climate change induced by greenhouse gas emissions opened up a possible future for the world. Bill McKibben has been and still is the loudest voice that warns humanity of destroying the planet and calls for stimulating emissions reduction and switching to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible. What you need to know about climate change and which way should choose Ukraine – in an exclusive interview with Bill McKibben.
Bill, you started the movement for the decarbonisation of the world 30 years ago. Who is winning this race now - humanity or global warming?
Mankind lags far behind in preventing climate change. We have done very little in the last 30 years. Scientists say that this crisis is due to our slow response. As a result, we have great losses around the world: droughts, floods, forest fires. But there are still some opportunities. Engineers, having worked well, have sharply reduced the price of solar and wind generation. We could take advantage of this and make even more progress. This may be the first sign that we will finally be able to fight climate change.
There are two versions of the world in the nearest future. The first, where millions of tons of coal continue to be burned. The second, where decarbonization is fully implemented. What is the difference between them?
There is currently no opportunity to stop climate change completely - we have waited too long, but there is still a huge difference in the scenarios of the world, which depends on what we do now. Mankind continues to burn mountains of coal and other minerals. In this case we are definitely on the way to a temperature change of 3.5–4.5, or even 5 degrees. If this happens, civilization will not stay like it is today. The overload of the planet will be too great, and the emergency will happen sooner than we expect.
On the other hand, now we can choose a radically different way: to make sure that all new advances in energy will be based on renewable generation technologies, to start implementing energy plans, to start driving electric cars and so on. If we do everything quickly enough, it will not stop climate change immediately, because there are already many processes that will continue irreversibly, but perhaps we will prevent their deterioration if we make this world cleaner than it is now. A world in which several major players who control coal, gas and oil will have no influence on political life.
How do you evaluate the pace of development of renewable energy in the world? Are they fast enough to displace "traditional" energy?
Today, renewable energy is developing rapidly because it is quite cheap. Solar and wind energy are today the cheapest ways to produce energy almost all over the world. The sharing economy provides for the rapid development of renewable energy, but the problem is that the economy alone is not enough to catch up with global warming. If we want to avoid the worst climate change, we need to involve governments to speed up the transition to renewable energy. We can briefly describe the situation with climate change, or at least the first attempts to do so, as follows: we need to do everything much faster.
Do you think that nuclear energy production is a promising technology? Should new nuclear power plants be built?
Today, one of the biggest problems of nuclear energy is its cost. It is very expensive. Countries that have built nuclear power plants in recent years have lost a tremendous amount - millions of dollars more than planned. Finland is a good example of this.
In Ukraine, about 55% of the energy produced now comes from nuclear power plants, 36% of thermal power plants. 80% of these traditional generation facilities are in a condition close to emergency. What methods of generation would you recommend to develop in Ukraine and why?
For the most part, the generation sector of fully renewable energy is developing quite rapidly in the world today, which is an unconditional trend. Most often it is the energy of the sun, wind, in some cases, hydropower. Ukraine is now in an interesting situation, as the energy resources that are its base - nuclear and thermal energy, in addition - most power plants are old and need to be replaced. The nuclear system they work on is one of the worst Soviet technologies. I have already said that nuclear energy is extremely expensive. That is why countries such as France, which have made great efforts to develop nuclear energy, are now working more with renewable resources. My advice to Ukraine is to follow the best practices of the world - to switch to renewable energy. The positive side is that the sun and wind are available everywhere.