Researchers suggest the Earth’s fossil fuel addiction could be kicked in less than a decade.
Scientists at the University of Sussex looked at previous energy transitions for clues about the current energy crisis and how human systems might respond.
Though previous transitions — from wood to coal for example — were more time-intensive affairs, researchers believe current constraints and technological advantages are likely to inspire more rapid change in the coming years.
Researchers point to several factors unique to our current energy crisis: scarcity of resources, the threat of global warming and rapid technological change.
In addition to looking to the past, the new study — published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science — also points to more recent sustainability projects. Between 2003 and 2014, Ontario did away with the use of coal entirely. In Indonesia, more than two-thirds of the population moved from kerosene stoves to LPG stoves in just three years. France’s nuclear power went from supplying just 4 percent of the nation’s electricity in 1970 to 40 percent by 1982.
Besides speed, all of these projects had one common characteristic: strong government intervention. A combination of taxes, tariffs and other incentives are necessary to change consumer behavior and the decision making of energy suppliers.
But researchers say it’s possible.
“Moving to a new, cleaner energy system would require significant shifts in technology, political regulations, tariffs and pricing regimes, and the behavior of users and adopters,” study leader Benjamin Sovacool, a professor of energy policy at Sussex, said in a news release.
“Left to evolve by itself — as it has largely been in the past — this can indeed take many decades. A lot of stars have to align all at once,” Sovacool added. “But we have learned a sufficient amount from previous transitions that I believe future transformations can happen much more rapidly.”