Book Club

The Chair read for you Supercharge Me: Net Zero Faster by Eric Lonergan and Corinne Sawers

Published on 25 October 2023

Supercharge Me : Net Zero Faster [1] by Eric Lonergan and Corinne Sawers, falls within a genre of literature which tries to make economic concepts accessible, comprehensible, and communicable to everyone. The book, stemming from the critical situation the world is living through because of climate change, tries to answer different questions such as “Can the alarming trend of greenhouse gases emissions be reversed? If yes, how can we do it? Do we still have time?”. The book is set up as a series of fast-paced dialogues between the two authors, Eric Lonergan, policy economist and co-author of the best seller “Angrynomics”, and Corinne Sawers, climate consultant for businesses and governments. In order to face the challenges that a low-carbon transition poses to society, the authors discuss practical ideas to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement and prevent the earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5°.

The authors start by defining what the main challenges to fighting climate change are, and what problems are associated with them. The main challenge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is easily identifiable: we must make electricity generation close to 100% emission-free. However, the problems associated with this challenge are anything but trivial. Indeed, there are problems which can be solved with established technologies but that present economic obstacles, there are problems where new technologies are required, and there are problems which require consumers to change their behaviours (especially to reduce greenhouse gas emissions arising from agriculture, air travel and plastic pollution).  

In order to solve the above-mentioned problems and “supercharge” the transition towards an environmentally friendly world, the authors argue that it is necessary to focus on a limited number of game-changer policies instead of promoting policies which offer only small incremental changes. These “game-changer policies” are identified with the term EPIC, which stands for Extreme Positive Incentives for Change. The authors draw from a combination of microeconomics, behavioural psychology, and political science to define these. In this context, the term “incentive” refers to a financial benefit able to encourage a change in behaviour; the term “positive” refers to the fact that incentives need to make the consumer better off relative to the status quo, and not worse off (like in the case of carbon taxes); and the term “extreme” refers to the fact that moderate incentives usually have no effect and therefore incentives need to make a material difference in order to affect consumers’ behaviours. An example of this would be making electric vehicles and plant-based burgers significantly cheaper than traditional vehicles or regular burgers. These EPICs, if correctly implemented and if accompanied by investments in new technologies and some changes in consumers’ behaviours, could help to achieve a net-zero transition even in the next 10 years. However, throughout the whole book, the authors are keen to clarify two elements: first, that their approach is not intended to be an assault on traditional economic theory which is a complement and not a substitute for the development of EPICs, and second, that although the owners of fossil fuel assets might suffer financial losses due to a fast transition, in most of the world these assets are largely owned by thugocracies, theocracies and a fraction of the “1 per cent”, and therefore the majority of the world need not worry about the value of these assets falling towards zero.

According to me, Supercharge Me is a great read both for economists and non-experts. The whole book is grounded in relentless realism about how consumers, businesses and governments actually behave, and, through an impressive number of transformational real-life examples, it draws lessons from what has worked so far, namely positive incentives and smart regulations, to provide useful insights and suggestions for the future. To conclude, I would like to underline how, besides being a must read for policymakers, this book needs to be a read for every citizen who wishes to institute a change at the individual level in mankind’s fight against climate change.

Guido Amato, Intern research fellow, The decarbonization of air transport, a preliminary analysis.

[1] Lonergan, E. et  Sawers, C., Supercharge Me : Net Zero Faster, Ed. Agenda Publishing, February 2022, pp.232.