Scientists, economists, policymakers, and the public worry that global warming threatens human survival. Climate scientists fret that continued emissions of global-warming gases will push the globe past an unknown tipping point beyond which there is no return. Respected experts such as Nicholas Stern have warned that we need to reduce hydrocarbon consumption dramatically to avoid catastrophe. In that respect, the International Energy Agency postulates we will have to lower use almost 20 percent from current levels to move to achieving the 2040 targets established at the 2015 United Nations COP-21 climate conference in Paris.
Most who are familiar with energy-use patterns and their relationship to global economic growth believe the COP-21 goals are unreasonable. President Trump thinks meeting the targets would cause too much economic harm to the United States, and said so when he announced on June 1 the intended withdrawal of the United States from the climate accord.
Surprisingly, there is good news. Fossil fuel combustion will probably decline sharply over the next thirty years, and that decrease may slow global warming sufficiently to avoid the tipping point. This positive news is tempered, though, by the fact that declining fossil fuel use will coincide with big energy's economic collapse, which promises to make destitute many nations and millions of individuals. Venezuela's self-induced economic failure offers a preview of what is coming.
Like Venezuela, entire states will likely fail as the governments of fossil fuel-exporting nations become unable to continue to provide their citizens with the goods and services they enjoy today. Many of these nations will be in the Middle East, and some of their people may turn to terrorism, possibly creating organizations ten to one hundred times the size of ISIS.
Those living in rich and poor fossil energy-consuming nations will not escape either, because the transition away from hydrocarbons will almost certainly be accompanied by a period of extraordinarily high energy prices. The resulting economic pain will depress incomes and economic activity around the world.
This global economic Armageddon will be the consequence of the fossil fuel industry's demise. To survive, the industry needs to make large investments to increase production to meet consumption projected by fossil fuel proponents or even just to sustain existing output. Only a small fraction of such investment is being made. The IEA forecasts that $ 17 trillion must be put into projects to meet the fossil fuel demand expected by 2040. Today, it appears less...