Debunking some Misinformation on China and Clean Tech

Oh, Bjorn Lomborg…the Wall Street Journal just can’t quit you.

Every climate denier’s favorite pseudo-intellectual was at it again last week in the WSJ (it’s not worth linking to). Yet another op-ed from Bjorn (he’s had many in the WSJ over the years) about how the clean economy is a fantasy perpetrated by angry, deluded environmentalists who want people to live in caves.

Lots to unpack, but here are a few of the biggest doozies…

– We should “ramp up investment in green innovation, eventually driving the cost of clean energy below that of fossil fuels.” Evenutally? We’re already there, chief (I asked the CEO of a giant utility if they were heading toward 80% renewables because it was cheaper. “Yes,” he replied. That was the whole conversation).

– It will require “trillions” to tackle climate change. You got us…building a solar plant costs money. So does investing in fast-payback energy efficiency which, um, pays back fast. (And so does, believe it or not, building a coal plant.) So clean tech is an investment, but you know what is incredibly expensive? Climate change.

– China is doing nothing. That’s the real theme of the article and a favorite myth. Look at the chart below on the sources of electricity in China for one angle on this…


Ok, near the bottom, in 3rd and 4th place, are wind and solar. They look small (but they are growing exponentially, and this is what ALL tech adoption curves look like*). In 20 years, their share of electricity has gone from ~zero to over 15%. That sounds only ok until you see that total electricity generation has QUINTUPLED over that time (see chart in first comment).


That’s meant a LOT renewables and, yes, as skeptics point out, more coal also. But look at the slope of the line on the share taken by coal. It’s dead fuel walking* (ok, it may be a touch hyperbolic, but the transition is moving). In short, the clean economy is now “unstoppable”, says the International Energy Agency. Is the shut down of coal assets fast enough to stop climate change quickly? No, but neither is it fast enough to somehow impoverish people. Quite the opposite actually.

Look, as a writer, I kind of admire the efficiency of Lomborg writing the same op-ed for 25 years. But it’s increasingly embarrassing and tiresome.

(This was a LinkedIn post. See the robust discussion here.)


*Since there was discussion about tech adoption in the LinkedIn debate, I thought it would be useful to look at a classic. My main point is that when there are better technologies, they don’t take over immediately. There are years of shifts — which is especially true for physical infrastructure and the energy system, perhaps the largest human-made system ever. Here’s a chart of sales of VHS tapes vs. DVD sales. When DVDs passed VHS, the latter still sold $10B a year. Five years later, it was near zero (and VHS tapes sat around in homes until, well, now). Coal may take 50 years instead of 5 to disappear, but it’s happening.