You Can't Fight Climate Change Without Rethinking The Economy

carbon emissions against climate talks photoihmbristol/Video screen capture

With climate talks progressing (or not) in Doha as we speak, we should all be paying attention to what our future holds.

Take a look at this graph. It charts global CO2 emissions against the backdrop of the ongoing parade of climate talks. It does not make for pretty viewing.

Now take a look at this graph. It illustrates the lifespan of energy infrastructure that is being put in place right now. With 1.4 megawatts of coal being developed globally, it makes a mockery of the claims that we can afford a gradual, cautious transition to clean energy. Those calling for an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure are not radicals, they are realists.

energy infrastructure lifespan photoihmbristol/Video screen capture

These charts come from an important talk by Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Center, University of Manchester. But it is Anderson's thoughts on the economic implications of emissions that are most striking—we cannot afford to pursue the growth-at-all-costs model of economic development any longer. In fact, he says, any truly realistic approach to keeping our climate stable must involve contemplating a planned economic contraction for the rich nations.

This isn't a return to the dark ages though. And it is not a rejection of the power of business. From James Murray's call for a New Environmentalism to Alex Steffen's vision of zero carbon cities, many claim there is plenty of money to be made in our descent to a fossil fuel free future. But most sensible voices in this debate recognize that alongside reimagining our cities, our building codes, our energy systems and our transportation networks —we must also learn to think about the economy and economics a little differently.

From No Growth Economics to the concept of plenitude, it's high time we retooled our economic thinking to serve the end goals of human well-being, fairness and happiness—rather than seeing GDP as an end goal to be revered above all else.

The world's largest investors already say climate change is a major threat to our economy. The question is, when will they realize that our economy is a major threat to our economy too.

And here's the rest of Kevin Anderson's talk.

You Can't Fight Climate Change Without Rethinking The Economy
For all the talk of solar panels and electric vehicles, we can't escape the fact that growth-at-all-costs is no longer viable.

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