TIME TO SAVE THE PLANET?
First the good news:
In 2009, researchers at the Universities of Stanford and California, calculated that the complete replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewables was achievable by 2030. Obviously, after six years of little progress, we have to adjust the deadline, but it’s still an encouraging finding.
In 2011 scientists at the University of Melbourne calculated that Australia’s energy needs could be met entirely from renewables in just ten years.
Renewable is doable! (if the will to change is strong)
Now, the bad news:
The dominant economic culture (so called ‘free’ market capitalism) has a fossil fuel addiction problem. Like any other addiction, this involves taking more and more of the stuff, regardless of the scientific proof of the damage being caused.
Although there is a broad, global agreement that any increase in global temperature should be kept to under 2°C, the will to change, including that of successive UK governments, is weak.
And the really bad news?
In order to keep within the 2°C target, it has been estimated that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8-10% per year. During recessions, when production and consumption drop dramatically, emissions fall by perhaps 1-2% per year.
In other words, we may have to do the unthinkable and plan for economic shrinkage. This will be difficult to come to terms with because we have spent decades kneeling at the altar of economic growth.
Remember the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment?
Possibly not. It’s worth knowing about as an illustration of what we’re doing to the planet.
Researchers at Stanford University wanted to find out how young children coped with deferred gratification. They placed a marshmallow in front of each child and said that they could get the treat at any time just by ringing a bell, on which signal a researcher would give it to the child. However, any child who waited until the researcher returned without ringing the bell would receive two marshmallows. Needless to say, some children managed to hold on (defer gratification) and some didn’t.
As teenagers, the children who had been able to defer gratification were more mature, more socially-competent, self-assured, able to cope with stress, able to plan ahead and able to use reason than their grabbing peers. The children who could not put off gratification went on to experience higher levels of conduct disorder, poorer impulse control and were more aggressive.
There you have it: positive outcomes (a sustainable planet) requires us to forgo short-term reward (economic growth dependent on fossil fuel extraction)
On further reflection, given what’s at stake, perhaps reversing the blind commitment to economic growth is the really good news!