When carbon emissions appeared to level off from 2014 through 2016, some people were hopeful that industrial civilization just might be able to decouple carbon emissions from economic growth. After all, the world economy had been growing and yet carbon emissions had not grown with it.
Fast forward to today. It turns out that humans are still burning lots of carbon to support economic growth as carbon emissions in 2018 reached a new record. The temporary halt from 2014 through 2016 was primarily due to the rapid replacement of coal-fired power plants with natural gas and renewable energy sources, a trend that by itself cannot solve the climate crisis.
So, once again, policymakers are asking how they can possibly achieve the rapid decline in emissions which the world’s scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. The answer is actually simple and extremely painful. They must stop focusing on growth and make an all-out effort to reduce emissions.
One of the reasons that most leaders around the world refuse to contemplate this is that it would result in mass unrest as those at the middle and bottom of the economic scale would be shut out of bettering their material lives. The only way to address such a situation would be to guarantee them the basics of housing, education, health care and affordable food, something that most ruling elites cannot entertain as a possibility.
Reversing climate change would undoubtedly produce a lot of economic activity. It might even allow for some economic growth. But if growth remains the objective of every society on the planet, then we will almost surely fail to address climate change.
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