A spate of new scientific research starkly lays out the choice humankind faces in coming decades:
By 2050, we could retain high levels of GDP, at the price of a world wracked by minerals and materials shortages, catastrophic climate change, and a stuttering clean energy transition —paving the way for a slowly crumbling civilization.
Or, we could ditch the GDP fetish and enter a world of abundance, with energy consumption safely contained within planetary boundaries, and high-tech economies that support jobs, health and education for everyone without costing the earth.
On the first option, scientists backed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program have concluded that capitalism-as-we-know-it cannot support a successful clean energy transition.
Not only that, but capitalism is on track to lead the world into mineral shortages and supply bottlenecks that could cut short efforts to decarbonize transport systems, guaranteeing dangerous climate change.
The new study published in the journal Energy Strategy Reviews finds that electrifying our cars, trucks and trains so that they run on renewable energy is only viable if we reduce the endlessly growing levels of consumption in industrial societies. That, effectively, means fundamentally transforming the very sinews of capitalism.
The good news is that separate research published in September proves that such an economic transformation is perfectly feasible while still maintaining a good quality of life for people all over the world.
Modeling the world
The transportation study is based on a highly sophisticated ‘integrated assessment model’ (IAM) that brings together a vast amount of empirical data. Known as the MEDEAS-World model, it incorporates feedback relations between global and regional economies; renewable, fossil fuel energy flows and energy infrastructure; technology developments and costs; minerals and land requirements; climate change and water; and many other sectors.
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