Too much of a good thing is bad for you. That’s what my mother always told me. Her pronouncement was echoed by my father, teacher, doctor….

That appears to be the case for environmentally-friendly green technology. I mean, how can you go wrong with windmills, solar panels, tidal power and pedal power? They are the good, politically correct thing.

Well, according to a report recently published by Cambridge University, green technology could cost the world economy up to $4 trillion by 2035. This, is of course, grist for the mill of the climate change denial lobby—until you examine the fine print. The cost is the poorly planned transition from non-renewable to renewable energy.

The reasons for the potential problem are manifold: It is costing more and more to extract fossil fuels from the earth; the additional extraction cost requires time and heavy investment; green energy technology also requires investment and time before it can come fully on stream, and the transition between the switch over from fossil fuel to environmentally-friendly energy production will be very expensive.

The countries that will hurt hardest will be the ones who currently benefit the most from recently increased fossil fuel production—the US, Russia, and Canada.

Canada and the US, especially, are now heavily into shale oil production. The US invested $22 billion from private equity sources alone in the US shale oil business in the first three months of 2018. Oil production is this year set to reach a record high of 9.7 million barrels a day. American investment in green energy was about half of the money put into fossil fuels.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world invested around $700bn in oil, gas, and coal in 2016. China is leading the way in investment in renewable energy. It is still building coal-fired power stations, but in 2017, according to Bloomberg, it poured $132.6 billion into green energy resources. This was more than twice the investment of the US and EU combined and half the world total invested in renewable energy.

At the moment, relatively high oil prices make fossil fuel look like an attractive place to put your money. When North American shale oil started coming on stream a few years ago, OPEC responded by boosting production which saw prices drop to an average of $40.68 a barrel. Since then the cartel has teamed up with Russia to cut production which has pushed the price back up to $65.63 a barrel. Higher world oil prices have increased the profits for the relatively expensive fracking business.

The result, says Cambridge University, is that the world is heading for a “carbon bubble” which could do more damage to the world economy than the 2008 banking crisis.
According to another recent report, up to twenty percent of the world’s power plant capacity could become “stranded assets” as the world economy shifts from non-renewable to renewable energy resources. The Cambridge report adds that further damage could be done to the world economy by the rapid sell-off of oil and gas reserves by producing countries eager to dump those industries before they become worthless.

All this depends, of course, on the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Accord. The authors of the Cambridge report say that if it is implemented as currently stands the cost to the world economy will be a mere $1 trillion dollars. But if proposed new policies are set the price will rise to the $4 trillion mark.

The good news is that not all countries will suffer. Some will do well. China’s heavy investment in green technology is expected to pay it major dividends. The EU is also expected to enjoy a relatively easy ride. But, said Prof Jorge Vinuales, the report’s co-author, said: “It is potentially catastrophic for high-cost producers” of fossil fuels.

The solution? Well, according to Prof Vinuales, it is simple: Cut investment in fossil fuel production and increase investment in renewables. But to do that would mean abandoning the short-term profits to be made now.

Tom Arms is editor of Lookaheadnews.com

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