Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Department of Integrated Science and Technology

Abstract

As the effects of climate change become more and more evident, the necessity of transitioning to a carbon-free economy and powering our energy and transportation systems from renewables energy sources is quite evident. This transition to a renewable- based energy system will be a massive undertaking, similar to the efforts put into WWII, where the country was united with unity of purpose. Taking on the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry and all their subsidiaries will take a political will that does not exist in this country at this time. Hermann Scheer describes what he calls a social movement; he feels only this can overcome the “agency capture” of our political systems by the fossil fuel industry. In my analysis of economic theory I concentrated on Nikolai Kondratiev’s “long-wave theory” of the capitalistic system of growth and recession, which take place over approximately a fifty year cycle. Further, I examined Joseph Schumpeter’s adaptation of Kondratiev’s theory; Schumpeter ties every wave to a new fuel source that overtakes and replaces the existing fuel source and creates a new prosperity. In the “technology wave” (which we are currently in) it is my theory that the new fuel source will be renewables: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc. The American spirit of entrepreneurship, invention and innovation will move renewables along the normal diffusion curve creating this new wealth and prosperity. Using these natural forces to provide the energy to run our society will keep us in harmony with the planet. The processes used to extract our energy from the planet are destructive and must end because they cause environmental and health problems. There has been a very well-funded and effective campaign to deny the effects of fossil fuels on our climate and it is having a very profound effect. Society’s indolence on this matter is a poor choice. The real question that needs to be asked is, while there might be the fossil fuel reserves to last the world well into the 21st century, can the environment survive this? No. We see CO2 concentration in the atmosphere rising and climate change precipitously taking place as evidenced by flooding, severe storms and other extreme weather events. The recent super storm Sandy, which has devastated parts of the east coast, exhibits this. I believe Sandy was climate change related and the climate change models have predicted these extreme events. I argue in this thesis that current conditions: reaching “peak oil,” rising CO2 emissions, maintaining American military hegemony to secure fossil fuel supplies and the enduring severe weather events, will drive our capitalist system toward restructuring itself to create a new energy system fueled by innovation, invention and entrepreneurship with the government taking on a support role for the new renewable energy system. The laggards of the old fossil fuel energy system will desperately cling to their positions, but these will eventually give way to the new wave. This will create a future where energy is produced from the earth’s natural forces and not torn from the earth to be burned. Government’s role should be to provide incentives for investments in renewables through favorable legislation and regulations. A level playing field needs to be created for renewables to put them on par with fossil fuels.

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