3E Intelligence

There are so many myths and false assumptions in the climate/energy debate that I always like to highlight authors and articles who/which cut through all the ideology by looking at the raw scientific figures. One author who consistently uses this “reality check” is George Monbiot.

In an article published last week, Monbiot has made the calculations of how much the UK and US will have to reduce emissions if they want to prevent global temperatures to rise above the dangerous 2 degrees Celsius threshold.

Starting from the IPCC’s observation that this would mean an 85% cut of world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Monbiot comes to the following startling conclusion:

I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000(7) and divided it by the current population(8). This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537t by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6t(9,10). Reducing these figures to 0.537t means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9bn in 2050(11), the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.”

This is an enormous (some would say impossible) challenge and it gets worse. Our current economic growth model is unsustainable. Using figures from a recent lecture by Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College, Monbiot highlights the resource “limits to growth”:

if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again”.

Time to dispair? Not according to Monbiot:

We must confront a challenge which is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production(25). The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means.”

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