I’ve recently been browsing old magazines and my attention was grabbed by a feature in the October 18 edition of NewScientist. In it they collate a series of articles under the heading ‘Why the economy is killing the planet and what we can do about it’. At first I was disappointed that a publication puporting to be scientific in nature was resorting to scare journalism and economics bashing; however, there are a number of interesting ideas in the articles that bear discussion.
The first is a discussion by Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, about the standard of living that sustainable resource use allows. It has become fashionable among politicians to sell carbon reduction policies by claiming that technology changes will mean our lifestyles can remain pretty much as they are. Jackson draws on the work of the ecologists Ehrlich and Holdren to make some basic calculations on the subject.
He suggests that, at projected population and GDP growth rates, stabilisation of greenhouse gasses in the environment would require an eleven-fold decrease in carbon intensity from the current western European average. That is to say that the average level of carbon emitted per dollar’s worth of production would have to decrease eleven-fold. If there were no increase in global GDP then it would require only a five-fold decrease in carbon intensity of consumption.
Jackson’s point is that, if we want to save the planet, then we can’t have consumption grow faster than technology’s ability to offset the increased pollution. So will we have to consider a significant change in out lifestyles? Well, no emissions reduction scheme works without changing peoples’ behaviour, so clearly our habits will need to change. Does that mean we’ll be worse off, though? Does it mean we have to forsake a vision of economic growth that allows people to better their current position? Stay tuned for more instalments later this week!
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