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Freeman Cebu Business

Clean-tech 2.0: The time has come

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

Garrett Hedlund, a country singer, had a big hit called “Timing is everything.” Every lyric of that song is so meaningful. However, there is a stanza in that song that will surely strike us. It said, “It can happen so fast or a little too late. Timing is everything.”

No, we are not to talk about Defense Secretary Lorenzana’s and Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin’s warnings or reprimands (way too late) to China for their incursion to our territory. Our space here is just too precious to be devoted to flip-flopping human beings totally devoid of principle. Their timing is totally dependent on their own or their bosses’ political exigencies not of the country and its people. The fact is, with the COVID-19 vaccination also coming too late, it seems that our government leaders’ way of addressing concerns is to procrastinate.  

Yes, with the deafening uproar it generated, it is so serious to be just set aside. But let us not be myopic. There is something of global concern too that no war can disrupt, no vaccine can prevent and no medical treatment can cure. That’s climate change. 

According to credible scientists, climate change does not only refer to rising temperature. Global warming is just one aspect of it. It talks about extreme weather that is caused largely by carbon dioxide emissions out of the production of fossil fuel and the use of it. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2019, “global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide totaled 33.1 billion metric tons.” That’s how huge and dangerous global CO2 emission is. No. 1 among the top ten emitters (in billion metric ton) is China with 10.06, followed by (2) United States-5.41, (3) India-2.65, (4) Russian Federation-1.71, (5) Japan-1.1, (6) Germany-0.75, (7) Islamic Republic of Iran-0.72, (8) South Korea-0.65, (9) Saudi Arabia-0.62, and 10) Indonesia 0.61.  Clearly, these countries are either fossil fuel producers or highly industrialized (therefore, major users of fossil fuel) or both.   

One may say, we don’t produce much fossil fuel, so, we aren’t guilty of it. The International Energy Agency (which estimates CO2 emissions) said, however, that these are coming “from the combustion of coal, natural gas, oil, and other fuels, including industrial waste and non-renewable municipal waste.” Apparently, therefore, we are contributors too.

Yes, we, the global citizens, are all guilty of it. There are just so many of them to enumerate.  However, in the interest of space, we only have to mention what we use every day, plastic shopping bags. Just in case you missed it in your science class, plastic bags come from fossil fuel. And if in case you further missed it, according to the United Nations Environment Program, we produce about 300 million tons (almost the weight of the entire human population) of plastic wastes annually.  

These huge emissions did not happen overnight. Decades of greed made it happen. Notably too, more than a decade (2006-2011) ago, a group of start-ups and venture capitalists attempted to solve this malady by pushing the “clean-tech” initiatives (referred to as Clean-Tech 1.0). Sadly though, it never took off and venture capitalists lost billions in investments. 

While the technology was there, John Weyant, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford, said that the “advanced biofuels, thin-film solar companies, and all sorts of energy storage startups of the era were simply too immature and too expensive to be commercialized.” 

Today, however, Clean-Tech 2.0 is creating a stir.  Whether it is driven by the effects of the ongoing pandemic, we do not know.  There are, at least, two reasons though that might be credited for that.  US President Biden’s call for clean energy and the technology that is getting better and cheaper. 

As one of the biggest producers and the largest consumer of fossil fuel, that was the right call by Pres. Biden. Whether he should be credited for it, the fact remains that huge and influential investors (like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson) are either joining or bolstering their investment in clean technology. 

On the other hand, we may have a lot of issues against China, but it is a fact that 8 of the 10 biggest manufacturers of solar equipment (panels, batteries, etc.) are Chinese. This is one of the reasons that clean technology is getting cheaper. 

Well, it might be a little too late. But as Garrett Hedlund puts it, timing is everything.

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