To transition from our fossil fuel addicted energy system to a clean and sustainable one, the world needs to find hundreds of billions of dollars every year. In 2011 global investment in clean energy was $240 billion. In a time of financial insecurity, say the critics, this is simply too much – we can’t afford it.
They’re wrong. All big numbers look daunting in isolation, but put them in context and the bill for renewable energy isn’t so extraordinary.
There are a couple of things to note here. First, bear in mind that the clean energy figure here is investment and not just spending. That $3.2 trillion spent every year on oil is literally burned, while renewable energy investment is an up-front cost that then starts paying for itself and turning a profit.
Secondly, consider how much we waste on subsidies, which are market distortions and almost entirely perverse. Cancel just half of the subsidies for fossil fuels and agriculture, and you’ve got most of the $360 billion that the UN estimates we need.
In other words, don’t let anyone tell you we can’t afford clean energy. It’s not a matter of affordability, but of priorities.