From climate quacks and mining maniacs to more-than-enough solutions

Amidst the ongoing debate over phasing out fossil fuels at the UN Climate Summit number 28, it became clear that extra renewable energy and higher efficiency without reducing our reliance on fossil fuel gave us a two and soon three degrees of catastrophic warming. The scientific consensus is clear: phasing out fossil fuels is not just an opinion; it’s an imperative, regardless of the objections and opinions of vested interests. Nick Meynen reports.

The end of the EU fairytale

Ironically, Dubai’s state oil company wants to limit warming to 1.5°C by making 15 new oil deals with countries. In the meantime, the US will double its exports of extremely climate-wrecking shale gas in five years. And who would be the new European climate boss? A Shell alumni. Those players seem to think they are the ‘good guys’ by virtue of doing ‘just enough’ to continue business as usual.

Throughout this climate quackery, mining-men now claim a superhero role. A copper industry representative expressed the European political consensus when he stated at the EU Raw Materials Week that much more copper is needed for wind turbines and batteries. However, the fact of the recent copper price doubling in the US was mainly due to the increased demand from arms manufacturers was not something you heard from him. Or that there are already numerous mining conflicts and just one of them recently brought down an EU government. What you did hear was that, in the EU, the likelihood that copper supply and demand will continue to match in the coming years is virtually non-existent.  According to a Norwegian scientist, it already costs four times more material to squeeze a ton of copper out of the ground than it used to, because most of the good sources have run out. For good measure, a geopolitical expert destroyed the delusion that the EU, like the superpowers, will force its way to access the copper mountains outside the union. But with which army?

And it’s not just copper. One scientist told me how sickened he was after finding out how far the EU hydrogen week fairytales were from reality. A new study warns that, by 2030 in the EU, we will have only 16% of the crucial raw materials – lithium, cobalt and nickel – required to make the electric vehicle batteries we want to make. By 2050, the EU wants 60 times more lithium than it uses now.  Yet, when it comes to critical earth metals, China has a virtual monopoly. Now, what could possibly go wrong?

Experts are panicking

“Panic” – an expert from the European Commission said when asked off the record about the atmosphere within his apolitical research service on raw materials. Many political leaders in the EU already understand that the carbon budget is shrinking. That is why targets and climate laws are in place, even though most of them are still too weak. 

“We are still in the Stone Age for the raw materials we are left with. There are no goals or laws that try to use what is left strategically.” These were the words I said in the European Commission headquarters to economics experts, adding that the EU is stuck in a disastrous carbon tunnel. I said it was fine if their boss, Ursula von der Leyen, said in the Beyond Growth Conference that not only fossil-fuels-based growth was obsolete – but that growth relying on lithium, cobalt and copper was also obsolete. According to even an integrated assessment model they financed, the pie-in-the-sky future EU economy is currently built on quicksand (which, actually, is also running out).

More than enough

And yet, we have more than enough knowledge, policy alternatives, stories, financial resources, existing materials and even political will to make the necessary type of transition. This will exist at the grassroots, in civil society and among citizens. Trade unions and eco-entrepreneurs, anti-poverty and major environmental organisations, authors and UN rapporteurs: they all endorse alternatives beyond the resource-consuming growth economy. The coalition wants to bring physical and social reality back into the public debate and make positive alternatives open for discussion. The supporters call for a broad movement that dares to take concrete action. From a political-economic point of view, the current ‘consensus reality’ is light years away from geological, geopolitical and social reality. The cost of inaction is a rapid collapse of legitimacy, democracy and society as a concept.

Meanwhile, an appeal court has obliged the Flemish, Brussels and Belgian governments to convert their constitutionally enshrined duty of care into a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. That is quite modest when you know that the fair share is, in fact, 81%. But Prime Minister De Croo portraying that court ruling as irrelevant or Minister Demir – as a cultural conflict – is tantamount to an attack on the concept of the rule of law itself. 
Why do we accept that some people colonise the future with social and environmental ‘debts’ that will reduce any financial debt to a trivial problem? Money is a social construct, but fertile soil and drinkable water are existential. If we need austerity at all, then it has to come from both the carbon budget and the raw materials budget. The alternative is war, a crisis of the legitimacy of governments and a true civilisational collapse as a logical endpoint. The idea that the EU will beat the real superpowers in such a context is horribly naive. This is precisely why the EU will have to rely on its own strengths, such as the power of democracy with real debates, even on difficult topics. That is precisely what the More Than Enough coalition wants to achieve in Belgium.