Thursday, June 1, 2023

Vogon Today

Selected News from the Galaxy

How dirty will we still have to get to a clean world?

(… my introductory speech at the conference Raw materials in the ecological transition , organized by a/simmetrie with the sponsorship of the Chamber of Deputies – sooner or later the video will appear here …)

I speak here as president of the scientific committee of a/simmetrie, a think tank that has been carrying out reflection, research and dissemination activities on the topic of economic asymmetries for ten years.

The ecological transition, which in strictly commodity terms can be seen above all as a transition from one class of raw materials (hydrocarbons) to another (metals and semi-metals), in broader economic terms is one of the many ramifications of the asymmetries theme . The asymmetries of the transition are many and evident: asymmetries in the endowment of natural resources, asymmetries in the technological development of the various countries, dimensional asymmetries between the various countries, their production systems, their emissions (in absolute terms and in per capita terms), regulatory and legislative asymmetries between different national and supranational systems.

All of these themes will be touched upon in the four reports, and here I underline some of their political implications.

The asymmetry in the endowment of resources poses two kinds of problems.

One, now evident, is the geopolitical one: who controls the supply chains of metals and semi-metals? We are now all aware, largely thanks to the meritorious work of Gianclaudio Torlizzi, who is also a shareholder of a/simmetrie, of the fact that these supply chains are controlled by an emerging power that is increasingly becoming an antagonist of the Atlantic bloc: China . We must therefore ask ourselves: how compatible is an ever greater dependence on Chinese raw materials with the Atlantic vocation of our country? An open question that we must answer as best we can, avoiding falling from one politically awkward dependency into another equally awkward one.

But there is also another problem which is probably not yet sufficiently reflected upon, the geological one: regardless of their political geography, the endowments of natural resources necessary for a complete ecological transition (understood, trivially, as electrification) are physically available, quickly, on the earth's crust? From here derive two further orders of problems, which must enter the radar of politics: an environmental problem and a distributive one.

Meanwhile: what environmental impact, what violence to the bowels of Mother Earth does the procure by forced stages of large quantities of these materials determine? In other words, how dirty will we still have to get to a clean world? How much CO 2 will we emit to reduce CO 2 emissions?

Roberta Benedetti's reflections on the photovoltaic supply chain will help us to focus on these aspects with concrete examples.

And then there is the distributional problem: what inflationary impacts, and with what redistributive consequences and what impacts on social conflict, will the induced scarcity of these materials have? The most immediate reflection is on the cost of the electric car and on who will be able to afford it, but the issue is much more pervasive and concerns the cost of energy and of living in general: how much and who do we need to impoverish before having an abundance of Affordable clean energy for everyone?

I said induced scarcity, and I underline it, with good reason, to highlight a problem that is at the same time concrete, political, and abstract, intellectual: perhaps we should reconcile the lexicon with reality and reflect on the fact that what is proposed to us does not it is a transition but an ecological caesura. The rigid deadlines, the forced stages proposed (or imposed) for a process of this pervasiveness, objectively determine a caesura. In this way they decree the scarcity of a large class of raw materials, causing an increase in price that risks spreading through all the economic chains. It is necessary to reflect on how much this modus operandi is functional with respect to the achievement of an objective towards which all political forces obviously tend, unless proven otherwise: but I think it is difficult to find a party that has campaigned by proposing a dirtier world to its electors , higher bills, and, for more refined voters, less strategic autonomy!

The problem is not if, but how to get there, and the optimism of the will, or worse still that of propaganda, may not be the correct method.

Is the immediate abjuration of the fossil and all its temptations, for example, really sustainable? The concentration of energy that fossil sources ensure, that concentration on which the well-being achieved in the last two centuries largely depends, as Massimo Nicolazzi illustrates in great detail in his "In Praise of Petroleum", is still today difficult to replace in critical scenarios such as wartime or emergency ones (electric tank or electric bulldozer are still to come), and in any case renewable sources are mostly characterized by intermittence, an intermittence that will eventually be managed without resorting to fossil fuels , but which will probably still require their use in the short term. This requires a strong investment in technologies, and opens us up to a context in which the real strategic element of the transition is the networks and their intelligence, i.e. their ability to manage intermittence. Simona Benedettini will introduce us to this topic, which is of fundamental importance.

I won't go further and thanking all those present again, I give the floor to Dr. Capozzi to lead the rest of the work with her polite efficiency.

(… everything went very well and we will repeat the event: thanks to all of you who attended …)

This is a machine translation of a post (in Italian) written by Alberto Bagnai and published on Goofynomics at the URL on Wed, 24 May 2023 16:09:00 +0000. Some rights reserved under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.