The Net Zero Stragedy

9 min readFeb 26, 2024
Photo by Florian Weichelt on Unsplash

Human CO2 emissions will reach net zero. However, not because the EU Commission calls for a 90% cut in emissions by 2040, but because it will slowly become physically impossible to maintain modernity — with or without fossil fuels. Something, which under current policies will end up in an unmitigated disaster; rather sooner than later. Why is this ever desperate push for hydrogen, wind and solar then? What useful could be done instead?

One of the unexpected “advantages” of working for a multi-national company is that sometimes you hear some pretty awesome gaffes, which on the surface appear to be minor mispronunciations, but deep inside carry a lot of meaning. My favorite so far is a German way of coping with the pronunciation of the word strategy, which often ends up heard as ‘stragedy’. Perhaps unbeknownst to the unfortunate speaker, stragedy is an actual word. According to the Urban Dictionary it is “an ill-advised and single-mindedly pursued strategy, which inevitably or predictably brings about failure of the strategist’s project.”

Apart from the rather ill-advised and predictably miscarried foreign policy pursued by the EU, one could not find a better example to this phenomenon than the Net Zero initiative, laid out by the very same organization. As we will see later on, both failures stem from the same root, with the only difference being the timescale for the inevitable tragedy to unfold.

Policy stragedies notwithstanding, a 90% cut in greenhouse gas emissions is very much needed, and must happen. As it has been confirmed by satellite measurements time after time, the atmosphere holds back more and more of the heat emanating from the Sun, while the outer atmosphere keeps cooling and cooling. Something in between clearly acts like a warm blanket.

That ominous blanket which actually, measurably and verifiably is holding back heat in Earth’s atmosphere; turning the planet into a thousand Terawatt oven.

There is absolutely nothing new in this. In fact, one Svante Arrhenius has already discovered this effect in 1896, when steam locomotives were all the hype, and no one even dreamed about using supercomputers to calculate future emission scenarios. Simply by measuring how much infrared light the prime suspect (CO2) absorbs, he calculated how hotter it will get should the amount of this gas double in the atmosphere. (Actually, he came pretty close to what we will actually see, once we manage to achieve that doubling in CO2 concentration: +5 °C.)

Let me remind you: this was all known and proven a century earlier than the first climate conference was convened. Viewed from a physics standpoint this is all perfectly logical. In fact, it would have been extremely strange if we didn’t messed up the planet’s energy balance with all the entropy we had unleashed in the past couple of centuries, and during the many millennia before. Is it any wonder then that we have already blew past the 1.5°C limit…?

So, why don’t we “just stop oil” and reduce our emissions right away? Well, that’s the beauty of the story, and the prime reason why people from the poorest farmer to the richest oligarch is reluctant to do so: because that would end this civilization. Sure, it is possible to run a civilization on the power of the sun and the wind alone, just not this one... Sorry to be so blunt, but its neither technically, nor physically possible to get rid of fossil fuels and continue with modernity. This is why the core tenet of the Net Zero belief system, namely that we can “decarbonize” the economy and survive it, is what it is: a myth.

Climate change is the Catch 22 of our time: damned if we try to stop it, damned if we don't.

However, as it is the case with all curses in the history of sorcery, there is an escape clause. But before we go there, however, we must understand that all — and I really mean all — of the proposed solutions rely on releasing even more CO2 into the atmosphere while depleting a set of non-renewable resources. All of our high tech stuff requires mining, long distance transportation and high heat; and that includes solar panels and wind turbines too. But let’s not go that far: the four pillars of our civilization — cement, steel, fertilizers and plastic — themselves are all made with, or directly derived from fossil fuels, due to their energy, and yes: carbon density. None of these essential materials can be manufactured at scale using “alternative energy”. Certainly not by relying on solar panels and wind turbines, or by burning Hydrogen.

Those who keep advocating this technology tend to assume that hydrogen just magically pops up on demand, and that generally it is an energy efficient way of doing things. Sure, the easiest solution would be to just drill for H2, just like for natural gas, and burn it in factories, cars and stoves alike. As New Scientist noted however: “Most claims about vast hydrogen deposits beneath the surface rely on extrapolation, rather than direct measurements.” Sorry to dispel this myth, but naturally occurring hydrogen is a pipe dream.

That leaves us with converting water into hydrogen, which on the other hand, is an immensely wasteful process. According to this study 77% of the energy going into generating H2 is lost during the fuel cycle (generation, compression, transportation, storage, distribution, end use). In layman’s terms this leaves you with only 23 kWs of power moving your vehicle, out of the 100 kWs of electricity needed to create all that Hydrogen. Compare this to the 76 kWs of power hitting the road out of a 100 kW input used to charge a battery electric vehicle — exactly the opposite ratio.

Operating hydrogen powered vehicles require three times more electricity than battery electric ones.

And its not only that. According to an interview on Hydrogeninsight, Hydrogen as a fuel has only less than a quarter of the energy density of diesel (when liquefied and cooled to -253°C), and less than a tenth when stored as compressed gas. (For the record: ammonia (NH3) is an equally bad, if not worse, idea.)

This means that for a liquid hydrogen filling station to fuel the same number of vehicles as today’s diesel truck stops would require four to five times more deliveries per day in a standard-size tanker (and up to 18 times more for compressed H2). Along with the extra energy and storage infrastructure required to keep liquid hydrogen at cryogenic temperature of minus 253C, the costs are likely to mount up.

So how does Hydrogen solve any of the issues affecting long distance transportation powered by batteries like range, weight or energy efficiency…? Oh, and by the way, the same goes to industrial use, too. All the same losses and inefficiencies during generation, compression and storage apply, and they do all add up into a massive additional electricity demand:

A huge amount of extra renewable power generation will be required to build a green hydrogen future. The IEA says the world will need 50 gigawatts of renewable capacity dedicated to green hydrogen production by 2027 — a 100-fold increase.

How is that supposed to happen…? How much more ever scarcer non-renewable raw materials will have to be mined, manufactured into products, and delivered on site to achieve that..? Let’s face it: one cannot run an economy on intermittent electricity, heavy batteries, wasteful hydrogen production, and mining non-renewable resources to exhaustion. If that would be possible, the transition would be already in full swing, all powered by renewable electricity and hydrogen. The fact that we are still hopelessly reliant on fossil fuels and generous subsidies decades into the “green transition” tells it all.

For a case study, look no further than Europe in general, and Germany in particular. The sudden fossil fuel deprivation — due to a set of totally misconceived foreign policy objectives — has just proven how essential industries all depend on these polluting sources of energy. Energy is the economy, and German energy use is in a free-fall; predictably resulting in a precipitous drop in industrial output. Energy, and thus carbon, intensive businesses (like the ones involved in metallurgy, making fertilizers and other chemicals) are fleeing the continent, and are increasingly being replaced with expensive imports, further exacerbating inflation. Is it any wonder then that while the planet just keeps heating up, the Bundesbank says that Germany is “likely” in recession? Or, according to Bloomberg, Germany’s Days as an Industrial Superpower Are Coming to an End?

German energy consumption. Source

Oh, and just to put the “renewables and LNG took up the slack” myth to rest:

Percent change in primary energy use, Germany 2023 (source). Dictionary: Prozent — Percent, Mineralöl — Petroleum, Erdgas — Natural Gas, Steinkohle — Black (Bituminous) Coal, Braunkohle — Brown Coal or Lignite, Kernenenergie — Nuclear, Erneuerbare — “Renewables”, Gesamt — Total

Finally, here is a chart showing the big picture: how “green policies” failed to make a dent on German fossil fuel use. Historically, the only visible change happening was the replacement of rapidly depleting coal reserves with imported natural gas, and most recently replacing nuclear with LNG (now all sold and shipped by the US, of course).

Source: Our World in Data

Given this context the EU Commission mandating a 90% cut in emissions by 2040 — while pretending that this will not mean an end to modernity — is somewhat disturbing. Fossil fuels are the economy. Wishing 90% of emissions to be gone, equals wishing 90% of the economy to disappear; all in a matter of fifteen years. Just take a look where were we fifteen years ago… What has changed since then? Once again, glance at the charts above.

Make no mistake, we will have to reduce emissions, together with our reliance on coal, oil and gas. Our wee little problem is that petroleum production is about to tip over into a net energy drain on the economy in the years ahead... And as the oil industry buckles and takes a permanent downturn, it will be increasingly difficult to mine, manufacture and deliver all the materials needed for the mythical “green transition” (which, as we have seen, never was). As if on cue, and as a result of a global energy system already showing signs of failing, Net-Zero Targets Face Reality Check:

Meanwhile, despite massive government support for wind and solar, both sectors are struggling in both Europe and North America. This was not supposed to happen, according to those upbeat transition scenarios that the IEA and other advocates fed the investor world. Indeed, wind and solar capacity were supposed to grow without restraint. Yet it has emerged recently that government support is not enough to ensure this unrestrained growth on its own.

The long descent requires a well informed, honest management of the issue, starting with an admission that our current way of consumerist lifestyle cannot continue for much too long. There is a world of difference though between making people believe that everything will be fine, and actively preparing them for a crash landing. In an era of a looming fossil fuel crisis, inevitably resulting in a fall in mining and industrial output later down the line, we would need more global cooperation, honest and open communication, not diatribes against anyone who dares to question current policies.

Sure, there is absolutely no guarantee that we would survive the eventual loss of mechanized agriculture, fertilizers, mining, industry, civil infrastructure etc. towards the second half of this century in any greater numbers than a fraction of what we see today. However, if we were actively preparing for a downscale, we could at least lengthen the transition period long enough to soften the blow somewhat. Natural depopulation (a trend already underway) combined with increasing people’s ability to grow their own food, and looking for partnerships internationally (instead of antagonizing those who could help) could spare us from an unfolding stragedy stemming from blindly pursuing ideological goals without consulting reality first.

Until next time,


Note: since I’m a non-native English speaker you might discover some funny use of words, but hey, that’s the beauty of communicating in an international environment.

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