The EconomistThe Economist

The case for an environmentalism that builds

05 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

The sheer majesty of a five-megawatt wind turbine, its central support the height of a skyscraper, its airliner-wingspan rotors tilling the sky, is hard to deny. The solid-state remorselessness with which a field of solar panels sucks up sunshine offers less obvious inspiration, but can still stir awe in the aficionado. With the addition of some sheep safely grazing such a sight might even pass for pastoral. The sagging wires held aloft by charmless, skeletal pylons along which the electricity from such installations gets to the people who use it, by contrast, are for the most part truly unlovely. But loved they must be.

If the world’s climate is to be stabilised, stopping electricity generation from producing fossil-fuel-derived emissions is crucial. So is greatly increasing the amount of electricity available. With more generating capacity, it will be possible to power motor vehicles and warm homes with electricity, rather than by burning dirty fuels. Expanding access to power for people in the poorest countries will reduce emissions from biomass burning and greatly improve living standards. More copious and reliable electricity will be needed for effective adaptation, too. If heatwaves are not to become ever more lethal, grids in developing countries will have to reliably power wider use of air conditioning in energy-hungry cities.

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