Is technology constraint the main reason we have been unable to drive carbon out of the economy? Is there a stark choice between on the one hand cutting back on our high carbon burning lifestyles in the West and on the other hand allowing global warming to damage the most vulnerable? Or are there viable technology solutions that allow our lifestyles to continue?

The answers to these questions, when widely known, will change the way the public responds to climate change. If people think that it is a choice between their lifestyle and the environment, then it is human nature that they will do all they can to resist the message of man-made climate change. They don’t want to give up so much that is precious to them just because some ‘experts’ they don’t understand say they must.

So what is the answer regarding technology? Imagine a single solar panel array laid out in the desert and of sufficient size to provide all the global energy needs. That is the energy needs for all factories, homes, transport, agriculture and all. All the energy for heating, power and other uses that produce our full lifestyles . Using a single solar panel in one place would be ridiculous, but it is interesting to imagine to get the scale of the problem. How big would it need to be? As you guessed the image above shows that panel in the northern Sahara desert. The panels needed to serve the EU and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa region) are also shown. These seem pretty modest in terms of how much land surface is needed, if solar panels are viable on price.

Areas of Sahara needed to supply solar power for different regions of the world

Solar panels are now competitive with fossil fuels on price. Supplying the worlds energy needs without burning fossil fuels is now technically possible. Certainly there are challenges in storing and distributing the power, but it is not a simple choice between lifestyle and the planet. There is even a city, Georgetown, in that bosom of climate change denial – Texas – that as far back as 2014 opted to use 100% renewable energy in the form of wind and solar power. It was to save cash, not the planet. It was not a decision about going green, a city official said:

I’m probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find

What all this implies is that the economy is ready to transfer away from burning fossil fuels if it can be induced to do so. Policies to induce that will not end in hitting a brick wall of technical impossibility and neither will they be certain to prompt popular backlash as people’s lifestyles are interrupted. But this cannot happen by itself because our energy subsidy, distribution and storage is currently set up around fossil fuels. Policy intervention is required and further technical innovations will contribute.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby proposes a simple policy intervention that will enable lifestyles to be retained by those willing to pay while driving carbon out of the economy. It will drive investment in further technical innovation and will cause people and businesses to change technologies to save money not because the ‘experts’ say they must.

It is a win for the planet and the economy.