Peter Christoff reviews 'Burn Out: The endgame for fossil fuels' by Dieter Helm

While Australian governments line up to help Adani dig the world’s biggest coal mine, energy experts are burying fossil fuels forever. Dieter Helm is an economist and professor of energy policy at Oxford. Burn Out: The endgame for fossil fuels is his ambitious, provocative, and sometimes perverse take on global energy prospects. Helm sees no future for fossil fuels. However, he sees the coming end of the Age of Coal, Oil, and Gas as complex, drawn-out, and painful.

The challenges for those seeking to decarbonise energy production will be shaped by what Helm calls predictable surprises, their geopolitical consequences, and the changing corporate landscape for energy. The predictable surprises include an end to the three-decade long commodity super-cycle produced by China’s industrialisation and the globalised acceleration of consumption and trade. Yet his prediction of the permanent demise of such growth is questionable. It fails to account for the continued extension of consumption within China or the potential rise of India and Africa (though they are mentioned later in the book) as additional markets and producers. Any one of these could lead to another Long Boom including in energy demand although at huge ecological cost. But this matters little to the rest of his argument.

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Published in October 2017, no. 395

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