Energy Post editor Karel Beckman went to the première of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new movie “Total Transition” which had its first showing in the European Parliament in Brussels. His verdict: not too much action, but definitely worth seeing if you have anything to do with “transitions”.
Photo: Eva Rinaldi, Celebrity Photographer
The movie opens in Albertslund, Denmark. We see a bicycle path. Excuse me: a cycle super highway! 17 kilometres, running straight from the suburban town of Albertslund into the centre of Copenhagen. Commuters whizzing by. Trees, sunshine. No cars in sight. Fade.
Suddenly we are in a conference room at the European Parliament in Brussels. We are present at the Annual Covenant of Mayors Ceremony: a gathering of local politicians from across Europe who have undertaken to do the sustainable thing. They are watching the bicycle super highway in Albertslund on a big videoscreen. At the same time we see the “Covenant” go round the room and Mayors and Governors signing it. Scene ends with number of towns and provinces that have signed on so far: 4,769!
Alright, alright. I hear you think – what kind of movie is this? Bicycle paths? Mayors signing a Covenant?
It’s what I thought too when I walked into this movie. But then: next scene. Hero leaves Parliament building and walks into Rue Belliard. Tries to cross. No such luck. Four lanes of cars roar through the street like a bunch of crazy monsters. Get it? Contrast with Albertslund cycle path! Here is a super highway instead of a super cycle highway and one that runs straight through the heart of the EU Capital.
Hero wonders: what are we doing to our cities? Why do we allow this to go on – this infernal noise and stench and dangerous racing in places where people are supposed to work and live?
You get the picture. But wait, there is a deeper message as well. I think it’s this: all this “energy transition” stuff, which it is easy to be cynical about – and which we should follow very critically – is not a black-and-white thing.
For example, it is about more – much more – than just “climate change”. It’s also about pollution. About noise. About safety. Security. Health. Community. Human relations.
Climate change? Let’s not get carried away by climate change. Back at the European Parliament, the hero, whom we now recognize as no one other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, aka the Governator, kicks off the Covenant of Mayors Ceremony with a fiery (if somewhat heavy) speech. He actually says something funny. He seems to think that CO2 if you breathe it will kill you. “Are greenhouse gases a pollutant?” he wonders. “Duh! It does not take much brain power to figure that one out. I’d like to hook up the naysayers [i.e. climate change sceptics] to the exhaust pipe of a truck and then turn on the engine and they would find out very quickly it is a pollutant!”
Well, no, Arnie. You did not pay enough attention in biology class. CO2 is not a pollutant.
So, OK, I could say, stick to acting, Arnold, or bodybuilding. But then maybe it’s me who would miss the point.
Enjoy a free ride!
Arnold is followed by other speakers. For example, the mayor of Ghent, Daniël Termont. He tells his colleagues he met with a lot of resistance in his hometown when he first announced he wanted to make parts of it car-free. But after he had done so, everyone was enthusiastic. Car-free, he says, means not only cleaner, but also: quieter, healthier, safer.
We see another video on the big screen. This time we see the city of Talinn, capital of Estonia. Buses, trams. All free of charge! Since January of this year, Talinn became the largest city in the world to introduce free public transport. “Enjoy a free ride!”, is the new motto of the city.
So, OK, I could say, paraphrasing Milton Friedman, there is no such thing as a free ride. The taxpayers will pay.
But what if they are better off this way?
Sudden transition. European Parliament fades. We see great cities. Tokyo. Beijing. Mexico City. Cairo. Mumbai. Masses of people. Hi-rises. Highways. Cars. This of course is to remind us that one of the great social trends of the 21st Century is: urbanization.
In 1950, so we are told, only 30% of people in the world lived in cities. In 2050 that will be 70%. Over 6 billion people. The message is clear: the city of the future cannot follow the model of the Rue Belliard. It will have to be organized differently – and therefore powered differently.
This is where the energy industry comes in!
Peak oil sceptic
Back in Brussels. We see the logo of EU Sustainable Energy Week. This event followed on the heels of the Covenant of Mayors. We see people sitting, talking, in conference rooms. You know Brussels. The EU Sustainable Energy Week = a hundred conferences in four days.
Boring? Frankly, this bit is rather boring. Our hero thinks so too. He walks into a workshop organized by Renault and Nissan. About electric vehicles. He thinks: if I have to sit through a conference, it might as well be about cars. Beats “smart grids” any time.
Speaking is Dr Gregory Offer. Englishman. Engineer and Research Fellow at Imperial College in London. Offer hits hero over the head with succinct statement: “Future transport demand cannot be met with current technology”.
Or rather, it hit me over the head. I confess, I am a peak oil sceptic. But Offer makes a telling point: there is enough oil, he says, sure. But not in the long term.
Think about that one.
So in the end the answer may well have to be: electric cars. Message: this part of the transition is also about much more than climate change.
Someone in the audience at the Renault-Nissan workshop asks a question: “It’s very simple to make electric cars. Anyone can do it. This is a threat to car manufacturers. How will they respond?”
Good question. There is little doubt about how some of them will respond. We can’t have this! It will cost jobs! Will it? Well, maybe not. The European Climate Foundation has actually just produced a report about the “decarbonisation” of cars and concludes that this will lead to a net gain of up to 1.1 million jobs in Europe.
But whether that’s true or not, again the message comes through: this too is what “the energy transition” is about. Jobs.
The transition will go where the jobs are.
And the established powers, the bad guys, will fight back of course. Some people say that car manufacturers should become “mobility providers”. Energy companies should become “energy service providers”. Maybe. But it’s not likely to happen. It usually takes “creative destruction” to come to anything that’s really new.
Rules and regulations
Or will it? At the Renault-Nissan workshop, Johannes Meier, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, says: “the transition to electric vehicles will be driven by government. We need an industrial policy for Europe.”
I confess that I mistrust anything that’s supposed to be “policy-driven”. Innovation does not come from government. Still, it is true that many crucial tasks in the energy sector are heavily controlled by government. So there is a chance nothing will happen without “policies”.
But if we’re going to have policies, let’s at least have local policies. Think global, act local. That’s why I say. Arnie agrees. We shift back to Arnie in the European Parliament. He says: “When I was governor of California, I did not wait for the Federal Government to come up with a climate policy. I went along and did it. Don’t wait for an international climate deal! Take matters into your own hands.”
Applause from the Mayors and the Governors.
Of course there are still the big issues. Like the Single Energy Market. Surely a good idea. European energy companies are practically begging politicians to restore the single market, to stop the fragmentation of energy and climate policies. Please, policymakers, all we need is the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and we will fix the climate problem for you!
They have a point. And we surely don’t need more rules and regulations. But to believe that the ETS can fix everything and that people at the local level will not want to be “empowered” is extremely naïve.
Go and watch the movie. It’s not called total transition for nothing.