Climate Change threatens Humanity
Some nations, of course, face difficulty at much lower rises, such as small island states.
None of the models studied, including the most optimistic variations of low-carbon energy and efficiency, could square the circle of endless global economic growth with climate safety.
Over the last decade, carbon intensity has not gone down, it has generally flat-lined and, in some years, even gone up.
Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, UK, concluded in another study that: “Economic growth in [industrialised nations] cannot be reconciled with a 2, 3 or even 4C characterisation of dangerous climate change.”
There is also a growing appreciation that it has not all to do with climate change.
The latest set of accounts for humanity’s ecological footprint reveal that, conservatively, it takes the Earth nearly 18 months to produce the ecological services that humanity uses in one year.
The negative cash flow is getting worse.
In a unique study, published in the science journal Nature in September 2009, a group of 29 leading international scientists identified nine processes in the biosphere for which they considered it necessary to “define planetary boundaries”.
Of the nine, three boundaries had already been transgressed: climate change, interference in the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss.
Assuming that humanity does not deliberately wish to destroy its own foundations, and with so much science and sophisticated monitoring available, why is this happening?
For all the promise of magic bullet technologies, continual growth drowns out energy and natural resource efficiency gains.
Even efficiency gains themselves do not necessarily reduce consumption. Counter-intuitively, greater energy efficiency tends to reduce costs and drive up overall consumption.
There is a growing awareness too that, at least where rich countries are concerned, the downside of growth comes with very little or no upside.
For most of these nations, the link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction broke down decades ago.
Lord Adair Turner, chairman of both the UK Financial Services Authority and the UK Climate Change Committee, recently described the pursuit of endless rich country growth a “false god”.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said GDP growth was “proving to be an extremely harmful way of measuring economic progress”.
The reason is that in economic commentary, growth is always assumed to be good. But you can also have “uneconomic growth”, when it is jobless, socially divisive or environmentally destructive. A parallel in nature might be growth like that in cancer.