I recently wrote a post criticizing ecomodernism as “magical thinking”. I argued that it ignores key scientific studies on the unviability of absolute decoupling in order to advance an ecologically reckless insistence on growth. Not surprisingly, ecomodernists were not particularly happy about this. Linus Blomqvist of the Breakthrough Institute posted a rebuttal. It’s worth reading, because it gives a useful indication of the arguments that ecomodernists fall back on when challenged, and presents an opportunity to stress-test them. This is an important process.
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Less of What We Don't Need
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In 2018, the total number of air passengers increased in the US, with some periods of the year experiencing all-time high air travel volumes. Around the world, airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers in 2018, an increase of 38 million compared to the year before. Aviation accounts for about 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that share is poised to grow.
The International Civil Aviation Organization anticipates that by 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected will be 70 percent greater than in 2005. By the middle of the century, they are slated to increase by upward of 700 percent. Every round-trip trans-Atlantic flight emits enough carbon dioxide to melt 30 square feet of Arctic sea ice.
Right now we are consuming about 85 billion tons of material stuff per year, exceeding the sustainable threshold by 70%. According to the UN, our resource use will rise to at least 132 billion tons per year by 2050, and possibly as high as 180 billion tons.
It is on this basis that scientists have concluded that absolute decoupling of GDP from aggregate resource use is not possible. But the ecomodernists at the Breakthrough Institute aren’t convinced.
With a life expectancy of 79.1 years and levels of wellbeing in the top 7% of the world, Costa Rica matches many Scandinavian nations in these areas and far outperforms the United States. And it manages all of this with a GDP per capita of only $11,000, one fifth that of the US. In this sense, Costa Rica is one of the most efficient economies on Earth: it produces high standards of living with low GDP and minimal pressure on the environment.
The circular economy – the newest magical word in the sustainable development vocabulary – promises economic growth without destruction or waste. However, the concept only focuses on a small part of total resource use and does not take into account the laws of thermodynamics.
Perhaps the main reason people reject the need for a steady state economy is some form of cornucopianism, the belief that technological progress will overcome all ecological and physical limits, allowing endless economic growth into the indefinite future. Cornucopianism has several flavors, and I will describe three: mainstream economics, eco-modernism, and singularity theory.
The importance of a holistic approach to the linkage between energy and water can be judged by an associated law in US: the ‘Nexus of Energy and Water for Sustainability (NEWS) Act of 2014’. It defines the term energy-water nexus as the link between energy efficiency and the quantity of water needed to produce fuels and energy, and the quantity of energy needed to transport, reclaim, and treat water. High GDP growth rate paradigm in India has only aggravated the associated issues for a resource constrained country. This article analyses the associated issues and recommends few steps to address the problem in the medium to long term.
Several recent reports collectively endorsed by thousands of expert scientists have warned the world that time is running out to save Humanity and the Biosphere from further catastrophic climate change and further massive biodiversity loss. Massive harm has already occurred due to continuing carbon pollution, population growth and economic growth and it is clear that zero growth in these areas is insufficient – there must be negative carbon pollution (atmospheric CO2 draw-down), negative population growth (population decline) and negative economic growth (degrowth) to halt and reverse this worsening disaster. However the key question is how much reversal is needed for a safe and sustainable planet?
In order to meet the colossal challenges of the time, fundamental change to the socio-economic order is needed. The environmental catastrophe is the major issue, together with armed conflict, potentially nuclear. Both threaten the survival of humanity and the planet, and both are widely ignored by the men and women of power, whose short-term approach, obsession with ‘the economy’, and a nationalistic introspective view of the world is leading us to the precipice of disaster.