Climate solutions and decarbonization face many obstacles.
For starters, people don’t like change, and our global economy is powered by burning fossil fuels. Global fossil fuel revenues are four trillion dollars per year (of which one trillion is profit), and that buys a lot of power.
But there are other obstacles too, and they have to be tackled one by one. Here’s a list:
Aversion to complexity Climate science is complex, and people are skeptical of large systems and solutions. They also don’t like acknowledging complex problems, or big problems.
Aversion to change It’s easier (for both individuals and organizations) to just stick with the status quo… do what you’ve always done rather than try something new (e.g. alternatives to burning fossil fuels).
Extreme weather Extreme heat, fires, floods and other climate impacts distract people and limit their capacity for working on climate solutions, often even causing them to lean harder into fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel subsidies Governments have heavily subsidized the fossil fuel ecosystem for decades, and continue to do so, often in the (increasingly inaccurate) name of energy security or national security.
Generational habits Billions of people have become addicted to cheap fossil fueled goods and services, whether plastic products, frequent air travel, eating lots of meat, or driving huge cars and trucks.
Geopolitical instability Is slowing renewables deployment, causing countries to backtrack toward familiar fossil fuels. And the decarbonization supply chain (solar, EVs, batteries etc) is still very dependent on China.
Greenwashing Because climate is complex, it’s easy for companies, investors and governments to claim to be taking action on climate solutions, even when they’re not.
Interest rates Higher global interest rates are making it harder to finance the up-front capital costs of climate solutions and infrastructure.
Jobs protection Industries dependent on fossil fuels employ hundreds of millions of people globally. That’s a powerful political lobby for fossil fuels.
Land and infrastructure limitations Decarbonization requires building things – solar farms, transmission lines, etc. And lots of things stand in the way of that, from land availability to political opposition to permitting processes.
Metals/minerals sourcing problems Some climate technologies depend on commodities (e.g. cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, rare earths) produced by countries with endemic human rights violations.
Petrochemical demand Demand keeps surging for petrochemical products (plastics, clothing, etc.) even as transportation, buildings and industry start to decarbonize.
Regulatory capture Government regulators are often very cosy with the utilities and fossil-fueled industries they presumably regulate.
Short-term mindset People don’t like to sacrifice money, jobs, or quality of life today for future benefit.
Switching costs Though often cheaper over time, switching from fossil-fueled infrastructure to decarbonized alternatives involves up-front costs which put people off.
Utility opposition Utilities’ business models often depend on keeping fossil fuel plants in service for decades, leading them to oppose technologies (e.g. rooftop solar) which undermine that model.
Workforce availability A shortage of skilled tradespeople (e.g. electricians or heat pump installers) can be a limiting factor and cost multiplier for many climate solutions, like electrification.