On the day we learned that scientists are predicting that marine fish could be up to 25 per cent smaller by 2050 because of the impact of global warming, I listened to Malcolm Keay from the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies presenting at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. 

He presented statements from eminent people and institutions on the importance of energy efficiency in fighting global warming – the EU Commission, the IEA, and Chris Huhne were examples, then presented scientific evidence demonstrating how wrong they are.  To hear that outcomes of efficiencies can be counter-intuitive and can work against sustainability is alarming – the efficiencies of international shipping, for examples, have doubled since 1990 but, with that, emissions have doubled too.

According to research (Sorrell), energy demand and efficiencies increase with GDP growth, and may even cause it.  Keay examined the circumstances in which efficiency may lower demand and these seem few.  He posed the question ‘when might energy efficiency reduce emissions?’ and concluded that ‘when it reduces demand for energy AND the energy saved is carbon intensive AND is not offset by more carbon intensive demand elsewhere AND efficiency policies do not conflict with other policies.

His conclusion to the dilemma: energy efficiency is about energy – the problem is carbon.  To enable energy efficiency to result in sustainability, there is a need to reduce demand, emissions and costs.  He believes this will require an integrated approach, carbon taxes for example, as the process is not automatic.

Keay’s presentation was the opener to a long morning of technical presentations much of which is above a non-physicist’s head.  I left the University wondering what the impact will be on plant life, mammals and, of course, humans if warmer oceans, carrying less oxygen will shrink our fish by a quarter of their current size.

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