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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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The bioenergy delusion

The bioenergy delusion 

Biomass harvest

Replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy only takes us backwards, continuing our addiction to burning and extraction, and causing extensive ecological damage.

The bioenergy industry gives the impression of being at the forefront of tackling climate change. Every wood pellet that’s burned communicates the illusion of innovative progress away from fossil fuels and towards ‘renewable’ energy.

In the context of our urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy to be persuaded by a strategy which can supposedly help steer us away from impending doom. 

Before I took my job working to protect forests I was under the impression that bioenergy was something positive. 

Capitalism growth 

Since humans first discovered how to create fire about 1.5 million years ago, our ability to harness the flames has sustained us, warmed us, and fed us. 

Most of the world is fiercely globalised and intensely capitalist, focusing on – or subjected to – short-term economic gain. 

Societies in the global north have become demanding and consumerist, reaching ever further afield for products to satisfy our desires. We have plunged deep into oil wells, and exploited pristine, ecologically priceless ecosystems in the Arctic and Amazon

Burning materials to produce energy continues to drive our modern society. 

Many people will have heard and agree with the slogan ‘keep it in the ground’ in reference to coal, oil and gas. The need to do so could not be more pressing, as we teeter on the brink of global climate catastrophe. 

Climate denial 

A crisis is already playing out around us – more noticeably in some parts of the world than in others, and exerting greater pressure and injustice on certain communities than on others. 

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Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Man walking with factory in background

Academic FEDERICO DEMARIA will be addressing staff at the European Commission today in a keynote speech about the crucial issues of economic growth and environmental degradation. He asks, is the well-being of the individual, societies and nations possible beyond economic growth? 

‘Growth for the sake of growth’ remains the credo of all governments and international institutions, including the European Commission.

Economic growth is presented as the panacea that can solve any of the world’s problems: poverty, inequality, sustainability, you name it. Left-wing and right-wing policies only differ on how to achieve it.

However, there is an uncomfortable scientific truth that has to be faced: economic growth is environmentally unsustainable. Moreover, beyond a certain threshold already surpassed by EU countries, socially it isn’t necessary. The central question then becomes: how can we manage an economy without growth? 

Enough is enough

Kenneth Boulding, the economist,  famously said that: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”.  

Ecological economists argue that the economy is physical, while mainstream economists seem to believe it is metaphysical.

Social metabolism is the study of material and energy flows within the economy. On the input side of the economy, key material resources are limited, and many are peaking including oil and phosphorus. On the output side, humanity is trespassing planetary boundaries.

Climate change is the evidence of the limited assimilative capacity of ecosystems. It is the planet saying: ‘Enough is enough!’. 

Mainstream economists – finally convinced by the existence of biophysical limits – have started to argue that economic growth can be decoupled from the consumption of energy and materials.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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