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Net-Zero Targets: Sustainable Future or CO2 Obsession Driven Dead-end? - Highlighted Article

Posted On:
Dec 21, 2023 at 6:00 AM
Energy Policy, Climate Change


From: Climate Etc.

By: Balázs M. Fekete

Date: November 14, 2023


Net-Zero Targets: Sustainable Future or CO2 Obsession Driven Dead-end?

For over three decades, the reduction of CO2 emission was the primary motivation for promoting the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. Concerns about the inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuels were considered particularly during energy crises, but these concerns died out quickly as discoveries of new fossil fuel reserves such as the shale revolution in the US that appeared to secure energy supplies.

An under-appreciated paper by Murphy et al. (1) offers very strong arguments that the energy transition is a must that has to happen in a short time. Anyone looking at Figure 1 from this paper should be more concerned about running out of fossil fuels than climate change. It is almost certain that the spike on Figure 1 will only last for a few centuries irrespective of the exact location of the star, and fossil fuel era will be only a fraction of the history of human civilizations. This period will not last long enough to deserve the proposed anthropocene[1] designation. The industrial era might rightfully be called a geological event that triggers post-anthropocene, but by no means will it last long enough to qualify as geological age or epoch.


Schematic view of the human energy production


Murphy et al. (1) demonstrates vividly how short the energy transition has to be via a seemingly absurd calculation based on the modest 2.4% annual growth rate () of energy consumption (originally observed in the US that the global energy consumption follows now). This growth rate conveniently corresponds to a 10-fold increase per century.

On a similar basis, a crude estimate of the declining limp of Figure 1 might be established by considering present day carbon concentration as a “fuel gauge”. If the total amount of fossil fuel buried under ground is proportional to the difference in atmospheric CO2 concentration at the time when fossil fuel formation started 500 millions years ago:  (17) and the pre-industrial era:  then the contemporary  carbon concentration suggests that the fossil fuels burned so far is  of the total reserves. The remaining 92% will be exhausted in  if the energy consumption continues to grow at the present rate. (continue reading)


Net-Zero Targets: Sustainable Future or CO2 Obsession Driven Dead-end?