From Two Hemispheres to One Basin

Date - 29 / 08 / 2017

From Two Hemispheres to One Basin

From Two Hemispheres to One Basin: The Co-Transformation of Energy and Transport in the Wider Atlantic

The Atlantic Basin should be seen as a reality distinct from the ‘world ocean.’ This is because of a number of distinguishing ‘Atlantic’ features. First, the Atlantic Basin is hydrologically ‘semi-enclosed.’ It is not as wide, or as open to the world seas, as are the other ocean basins (the Pacific, the Indian and the Southern Ocean), and it is characterized by a distinctive, letter-S-like shape and has a number of features in water quality, sediment etc. that set it apart from other seas. Furthermore, the main hydrological movements are ‘intra-basin.’ The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) moves within the North Atlantic. There is also a strong, deep north-to-south cold water flow (with oxygenated water and deep Calcium compensation). Finally, there is the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) which circulates between the Azores and Iceland.

In addition, the Atlantic is a cultural and societal ‘connector’ of peoples and countries around its ‘basin,’ and has been at least for the last millennium but probably much earlier. For Kraemer, the pan-Atlantic is now bound together, as a distinctly identifiable socio-political space, by its common lifestyles and by the Atlantic Basin’s unique climate change dynamics. This is because climate change is primarily caused by an ‘Atlantic Lifestyle’ –characterized by similar production and consumption patterns — which has diffused across the basin, and even beyond. The world’s “dominant and unbroken fossil energy systems” have their origins within the Atlantic Basin, along with their home bases.  The Atlantic is also highly interconnected through significant ‘intra-basin trade’ in energy, technology and carriers.

On the other hand, the “Atlantic Nations” are also leaders in climate policy and renewable energy (although this leadership is now being contested in Asia). Nevertheless, the Atlantic is home to both the “worst (climate) offenders” (in the North) and the “most vulnerable victims” of climate change (on Africa). Climate change could negatively impact the unique hydrological circulations and oscillations of the Atlantic Basin. For example, the Atlantic ‘gulfstream’ warms Northern Europe, but a large ice mass on Greenland is now melting, potentially threatening the uniquely Atlantic, climate-moderating effect of this gulf stream upon northern Europe. Sea level rise also threatens the Atlantic’s highly productive coastal and delta ecosystems (Chesapeake Bay being perhaps the world’s most productive). In addition, the wider Atlantic is characterized by significant ‘intra-basin migrations’ of a number of species of whales, fish, sea mammals, turtles, etc., which would be compromised by such warming-induced ecological impacts. The Atlantic Ocean may also become more open to Arctic as the sea levels rise and terrestrial features are effaced by water under the impacts of coastal flooding and rivers backing up.

The energy transformation in the Atlantic Basin

The costs for renewable energy are now at or below ‘parity’ with fossil and nuclear energies. Indeed, across a widening space within the Atlantic Basin, REs are now competing – and increasingly without subsidies – with heavily subsidized and privileged fossil and nuclear energy.  The costs of REs, together with those of storage and smart energy systems, continue to decline. The energy transformation now underway is “self-sustaining, self-accelerating and self-replicating.” As a result, it is unstoppable – coal, oil and methane gas are on their way out, in that order.

A residual energy share for nuclear power might survive (with economic ‘ring-fencing’), thereby helping to sustain a military technological base that is devoid of energy-economic justification and will need to be sheltered from markets forces, liability and other economic realities. Overall, however, the temporary fossil and nuclear energies that characterized the age of industrialization will yield to the new, green energy systems using traditional energy sources like water and wind.  These new energy systems will also be ‘Atlantic’ in character. As a consequence, by 2050, international fossil energy commodity trade will likely have ceased, thus lifting the ‘resource curse’ out of its one-time structural central dynamic role in global political economy. On the other hand, the new energy systems will increasingly harvest ubiquitous and free environmental flows, and will do so with increasingly low-cost technologies that lend themselves to small-scale investment in micro-grid and off the grid.  Rural electrification in grid-less Africa, and ‘grid defection’ in the industrialized countries of the North are different phenomena of the same underlying technological and economic trends.

While those underlying trends apply throughout the Atlantic Basin, the energy status, regional development trends and outlook is somewhat different on the four continents around the basin, as is shown in this table:

(Please continue reading the above text on the attached preliminary summary of the paper, for use of the Network only.)

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The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.