4 March, 2008
I am not Al Gore 🙂 and therefore cannot provide you with the “inconvenient truth” but there are a few inconvenient questions that have started to vex me recently as I am thinking and reading more about our global sustainability problematique.
Let’s start with a few of my beliefs in order to put my inconvenient questions into a broader context.
First of all, the different calamities we are facing today (climate change, the new energy scarcity, the global water crisis and rising food prices) are the symptoms of a Western way of life which has exploited its own asset base and which is now being copied in all its mistakes by the new economic powers. The industrialised society we started about 200 years ago was built on the rapid over-exploitation of the “free” ecological services (the atmosphere, air, water, metals, minerals, waste sinks etc). This was not as highly problematic when our world population reached 3 billion people (the year I was born) but when the world has to produce and consume for over 6 billion (and in a few decennia for 9 billion) inhabitants, it becomes a whole different ball game for which we are now painfully discovering the rules.
What we need therefore is more than the right carbon price or the most efficient new technologies. We need a quick transformation to a new “one-planet-economy” which recognises that we have to start producing and consuming with respect for our ecological limits. That does not mean we cannot grow anymore, it just means that we will have to redefine our definition of growth to one of quality-increase instead of quantity-growth. I also believe we have a limited time window to undertake this transformation. We should have started this process twenty years ago when the first energy crisis sent us the first warning.
Based on this analysis, here are some of the difficult or inconvenient questions I have discovered on my way to a better understanding of global sustainability:
· Can we really achieve this transformation without giving up some of the comforts and pleasures of our Western lifestyles? Think about our addiction to cars, meat. Do we really need to eat strawberries in mid-winter?
· Looking at our current global governance structures (UN, World Bank, WTO …), does anyone think we can create the necessary global cooperation and mobilisation to deal with these crises?
· On the energy front, energy efficiency and renewable energy are, for sure, the key solutions but can they really be scaled up to the level of totally ending our fossil fuel addiction within a few decades? What will be the sustainability impacts (environment, materials used, land use) of a renewable sector which will grow to the past’s oil sector dimensions? What could be the hidden costs of such a renewable energy revolution? Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past when we all believed nuclear power would solve our all energy security issues.
· Can we really get the civilisation transformation needed when we are afraid of addressing the taboo of population policies?
· Is the monetisation of all the ecological services and environmental and social values really helping? Or does this risk locking us in into the market paradigm we have to overcome?
· Can we actually trust the market to solve these challenges when it is precisely this market which has been blind to the ecological implications of 200 years of industrialisation?
· Will capitalism survive its ecological blindness or will it suffer the fate of communism which was blind to its economic (and ecological) truths?
I would like to hear what my readers think of some of these questions.Author : Willy De Backer