The Midas touch

Midas touch: the ability to make money out of anything one undertakes
(Oxford Dictionaries, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com)

According to legend, king Midas asked the god Dionysus for the power to turn everything he touched into gold. His wish was granted but he soon realized that the gift was actually a curse, as every living thing he touched, including his daughter, was immediately turned into gold. The king was thus cured from his desire for gold and splendor and begged Dionysus to take back the gift. The moral of the story, of course, is that greed is bad and that gold cannot buy happiness. Remarkably, our society has chosen to forget the second part of the legend and considers the Midas touch as something positive and desirable. We apparently do not even have time to read and understand children’s stories anymore.

Humanity is slowly waking up to the fact that cheap fossil fuel has given us the Midas touch. Yes, access to coal did allow for a remarkable economic growth but, on the downside, the polar ice caps are actually melting. King Midas was wise enough to give back his gift and found happiness. Mankind is still struggling with this decision.

We have to accept that we currently have a real conflict between the laws of nature and the laws of economics. Since we will not be able to change the former, the latter will have to be rewritten. Take the simple example of a coal-fired power plant. Does it make sense to burn coal in order to produce electricity? Currently, there are two answers to this questions: it makes sense from a short-term business perspective but it does not make sense for society as a whole in the long run, due to the negative environmental impact. If the external costs of burning coal were factored into the price, there would only be one answer and nobody in his right mind would consider burning coal.

The connection between global warming and our use of carbon-based fossil fuel is well understood. A recent review of the scientific literature concludes that 97.1% of papers by climate researchers expressing a view on global warming take the position that it is manmade. Thus, there is no scientific debate on this issue. Increasingly, it is also clear that fossil fuel poses a significant risk to investors in the form of a carbon bubble. We also know which companies are to be blamed for the CO2 emissions, thanks to the work by various groups such as the Carbon Majors. Finally, a recent report by the International Energy Agency,  Energy Technology Perspectives 2014, concludes that it is both technologically and economically feasible to replace fossil fuel.
What are we waiting for?

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