I don’t generally agree with religious leaders, but Pope Francis has been making some good arguments lately. Besides pointing out that weapon manufacturers aren’t very Christian, he’s released a letter arguing that climate change is a looming world issue.
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.
Of course he ignores addressing the growing population, but he does argue that rich countries have consumed too much at the expense of the less powerful. Wealthy countries need to reduce consumption and support clean energy development of poorer countries.
The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.
While I do think putting a price on carbon emissions will be a HUGE step towards addressing ecological-societal catastrophes, we also really need to consume less. Without addressing consumption, we are delaying our problems in the hope that technology will fix them some time in the future.
100% clean energy transition?
A couple of academic groups in California were back in the news last week. They argue that every state can economically transition to 100% clean energy. I first heard about their project around two years ago and was understandably enthusiastic.
Unfortunately, they argue that energy efficiency can take care of a large fraction of the transition. They expect demand to decrease 40% in Oregon by 2050. Other states are similar even though US population is expected to grow from 320 million to 438 million in the same period. While some of the demand decrease is associated with changing power sources, much of it relies on more energy efficient buildings and cars.
However, the study I discussed three weeks ago suggests that energy efficiency savings may be highly exaggerated. This article expands on that argument saying that we should compare solutions based on economic cost, and therefore energy efficiency is not cost effective (at least within the study’s scope).
Recycling will fix everything?
Another article suggests that though our technology has light-weighted products and decreased waste generation on the front end of the consumer cycle, we’re having a hard time making gains with recycling. These articles may tiptoe around it, but the fact is that we CANNOT continue to consume so much.
The pope is arguing that we can improve technology and modify our economic systems, but that won’t be enough. We ultimately must change our over-consumption behaviors. We must make hard decisions to live with nature- not exploit it, and to value human life- not human riches. These decisions are hard because they change entrenched behaviors and societal norms. However, if we can muster the courage to change, our environment with humans enmeshed within will ultimately come out as the winners.