Visiting Researcher Professor Christof Mauch Discusses Energy Transitions

Professor Christof Mauch on energy transitions and why there is no miracle energy source.

Expect surprises! The history of energy is full of unexpected transitions,” Professor Christof Mauch said ahead of his Sydney Environment Institute/Sydney Ideas talk on Tuesday 9 February. The co-director of the Rachel Carson Center will discuss the distinctive developments in energy use particularly in Europe and the United States, how those societies have dealt with energy needs and transitions as well as whether past actions can provide answers for a post-carbon future.

“There is no miracle energy source! Oil won’t be followed by another similarly versatile source,” Professor Mauch said. “Think local! Think regional! All energy is local. The most effective politics are local or regional. The rhythm of energy transitions in history has always been a regional one.”

Professor Mauch argues that the obvious cannot be forgotten – 40% of humankind still relies on wood for fuel particularly in the tropics. He reveals energy transitions in history were slower than we think but that the world should strive for a so-called “slow hope”.

There are many variables that could affect a near-term post-carbon future according to Professor Mauch. While he believes the 2015 Paris climate summit provides a framework – better than any previous one, a Republican US president and Congress, for instance, would bring a “big blow” and work against change in the U.S. and beyond.

“[Additionally] A lot depends on India and China. Only a few countries (such as Costa Rica) are ready for a post-carbon future but many individuals, groups, communities (and even unlikely ones) are. And there is a lot of power with consumers,” he said.

Professor Mauch believes Australia is in a unique position like Germany. “We have lots of coal. From an economical perspective, exporting coal would make a lot of sense. From an ethical perspective, the situation is very different.” While he knows little about Australia, he is interested to know where “Australians see an opportunity for change and where they see the biggest obstacles”.

Professor Iain McCalman, Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute, says it is great to have Professor Mauch in Sydney to explain how energy problems arose in earlier periods and how attempts to solve the issues changed and failed.

In addition Professor McCalman says, “The Rachel Carson Centre is the most significant environmental studies research centre in Europe and the world. It has led the way in defining the role of the environmental humanities globally, has attracted visiting leading scholars and students from all over the world.”

Links between scholars from the Rachel Carson Centre and the Sydney Environment Institute are crucial according to Professor McCalman because the problems of environmental change in the current period are both local and global. “It is important for them to understand the challenges and responses of the southern hemisphere and for us to understand the challenges and responses faced by Europe in particular.”

Article by Rebecca Simpson