Now, in the wake of COP 15 at Copenhagen, as the waves of commentary die down to a gentle swell, I continue my uneasy reflections. I was there, not for COP15 but on other business for the Water and Food Award. Copenhagen was a changed city – police and road blocks everywhere – but also temporary booths, exhibitions, spontaneous colourful demonstrations and not least the massive Klimaforum, buzzing with alternative activities.
Already, back in 1990, I imagine –
could a cold chill have passed unnoticed as a sudden acceleration of a car produced the carbon dioxide that was to exceed 350 parts per million and take the Earth into the climate warming danger zone?
I wonder, if somewhere in the world, returning from Copenhagen on an airplane or driving a car, if someone did not feel a cold chill pass by them.
The chill that might be felt as the deciliter of oil being used is the first deciliter of the remaining half of the world’s endowment of oil?
Or how about, back home, someone turns on their TV to watch the news,
as the coal-fired power station starts to burn the first kilo of the remaining half of the world’s coal endowment?
Because that time is about now. The first half has been used up. And now, developing countries want their share, regardless of the risks to the planet. I felt, looking at the web TV of the proceedings as if the developing countries (not all of them, mind you) had caught some kind of meme, that they had adopted a paradigm, a thought, that they could not let go: to bring people out of poverty and into prosperity we need fossil fuels.
You can’t blame them, as the evidence of history says this. Just look at the material wealth and absence of poverty in Europe.
But the game has changed. Europe pulled itself out of poverty in a time when the supply of fossil fuels was expanding. The proportion of fossil fuels demanded by developing countries was minimal. Europe’s development was in a time when carbon dioxide limits were not being broken. And the world population was hardly above three billion.
Today with 6.7 billion on the planet, into a period when we overshot the safe carbon dioxide levels twenty years ago. The demand for fossil fuels is now higher in the developing world, surpassing OECD around 2008. And availability is not growing, not for coal and not for oil. So the chances of the miracle of fossil fuels bringing developing countries out of poverty are minimal. But how do we in OECD countries view the situation? What memes, paradigms, and dysfunctional thoughts have WE caught?
I can’t help thinking of the sheep farmer close to the site where we are building our Eco-village. She pushes young lambs against the electric fence, so they learn at an early age not to touch it. This has saved her flock many times from escaping, as even if the fence stops working they still remain inside it.
Is one of these memes not: to stay out of poverty we need fossil fuels?
How about this for another? To lead a comfortable life you need money.
And another: The best way to develop towards prosperity is to allow the rich to get richer. The rich will pull everyone upwards with them.
How do you feel reading these memes? Do you feel discomfort at the thought of them being challenged? Do you feel comfort in their acceptance?
Returning to cold, hard facts on OECD countries, one kilo of average product bought in your average store has caused about 30 kilos of waste to be produced. This legacy of waste has been increasing and accumulating since post second world war. Prosperity at a price. And behind these gigantic, global supply chains is a financial system that requires economic growth in order to function. To grow, it requires increasing amounts of energy, to be used increasingly effectively.
Again, the game has changed. We are at the peak of oil and coal production per capita if not in absolute terms. Developing countries are demanding to use a higher share of fossil fuels and we are in carbon dioxide overshoot. It would have been good if the UN members had agreed to figures, hard figures of reductions in fossil fuel intensity in their economies. This would have heralded the need for new paradigms: that prosperity does not need fossil fuels, and that the world does not need its present monetary system.
Because this meme – this idea – was not launched, politicians have pushed us, the inhabitants of this Earth, into one more year of the dark end game. In this dark end game we continue – most of us through our work and consumption – to build ourselves into fossil dependent infrastructure, to compete with each other, egged on by a monetary system we live in fear of getting on the wrong side of, to use the remaining half of the endowment of fossil fuel to eke out some kind of prosperity that will condemn future generations to a hardship on a scale never seen before in the history of man. Billions will find themselves living in areas that will not support them, will no fossil fuels to alleviate their situation.
There is of course a way out.
A way proposed by Rob Hopkins and others in the Transition movement. Just because the politicians failed it does not mean that we have failed. We after all, voted them in. They just haven’t got it yet. We, citizens of the world simply need to state that we are not having any of it. We need to stand firm in our resolve that the equitable, low-carbon society must be mainstreamed now. That we, citizens of the Earth start today to envision an Earth with fossil fuels still remaining in the ground, and with people living in peace and prosperity above it. That we citizens demand of governments they instruct the best minds available to design ways to promote prosperity without carbon.
No low carbon, no vote.
And we citizens need to be firm in our buying actions. The message to all firms around the world must be:
if you don’t go low carbon we won’t go buy your stuff.
And to the institutions who create money: we need to say,
if you do not reform the monetary system so it drives low carbon society, we are not going to use it.
If you would like some inspiration to envision the low carbon society, do visit the city of Porena, or read the tales of Max Wahlter the journalist who reported on it in the book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”.