Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Economic Growth And Climate Change — No Way Out?

Dave Cohen has posted a new entry on his Peak Watch blog on Economic Growth And Climate Change — No Way Out? I recommend you to check out the full article. Here is a short excerpt:

Humankind has reached a fork in the road. The business-as-usual path implies robust economic growth with a rise in the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to anthropogenic climate change. The other path, whatever its actual form turns out to be, shuns business-as-usual in an attempt stabilize greenhouse gas levels (mainly carbon dioxide CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere (e.g. at 450 ppmv, parts-per-million-by-volume) to avoid catastrophic warming (e.g. > 2°C). Considered alternatives invariably lay out a vision of the future in which emissions steadily decline while economies continue to grow. Is such a vision realistic? This essay questions standard assumptions underlying this "have your cake and eat it too" view.


The main conclusions of this essay subvert standard views of how the future looks if humankind chooses to make a serious effort to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

For now, and in the "foreseeable" future, putting the breaks on economic growth appears to be the only practical way out of the climate dilemma. Unfortunately, this solution is politically impossible, a circumstance which is reinforced by economists' incontestable, unshakable belief that economic growth will continue in all future emissions (energy) scenarios. This conclusion rests upon the equally incontestable, unshakable Assumption of Technological Progress.

The inescapable conclusion in 2010 is that continued economic growth at near 20th century rates in the 21st century is incompatible with taking positive, effective steps to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, such assumptions are not compatible with a near-term peak in the conventional oil supply.

Our species faces unprecedented challenges in this new century. Our response to those challenges will define Homo sapiens in ways we never had to come to grips with during the Holocene (roughly the last 10,000 years) or before that in the Pleistocene. The problems we face in this century are unique, even on geological time-scales extending far into the past beyond the 200,000-year-old Human experience on Earth.

Both our limitations and our abilities, such as they are, will be displayed in the bright, harsh light of the energy & climate outcomes in the 21st century. Regardless of who we pretend to be, our response to these challenges will tell us who we really are.

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