In order to avoid a climate catastrophe, a rapid and radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need to reduce global emissions by 50% by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050. There are two ways to reduce emissions – use less energy and switch to non-polluting sources of energy.
Use Less Energy:
There are two ways to use less energy – reduce population and consume less energy per capita.
Reduce Population: Most developed countries already have a low or negative population growth, but they represent only 20% of the global population. The other 80% lives in the world’s developing countries where, despite the best efforts of NGOs to bring family planning to bear, population continues to grow. In fact, developing countries account for 99% of global population growth.
Use Less Energy per Capita: Some developed countries, most notably the US, have large per capita carbon footprints which they could reduce by consuming with less abandon. But the US represents only 4% of the world’s population and 17% of its energy consumption. More responsible consumption here and in a few other, much smaller countries with similarly large per capita carbon footprints, will do little to solve the global emissions problem. It is a necessary but far from sufficient step.
Per capita carbon footprints in developing countries are growing as their governments seek better standards of living for their people. They, not unreasonably, aspire to the lifestyle of developed countries. With growing populations and increasing per capita carbon footprints, global energy consumption will continue to grow.
Shift to Non-Polluting Sources of Energy:
The other way to reduce emissions is by shifting to non-polluting sources of energy. The major hurdles here are:
- Eighty percent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels.
- Without impossibly large numbers of installations, wind and solar cannot supply enough energy to replace fossil fuels.
- Nuclear remains a political pariah.
The only thing that can be done is to reverse the stance on nuclear power and build it out as rapidly as possible, but this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and even if it does, it will take time to make a significant difference, and this will be long after the consequences of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions have taken their toll.
Since curbing energy consumption is not something the world can do without a significant reduction in population, and since it is not technologically feasible to shift to non-polluting energy sources to produce the immense amounts of energy humanity consumes each year, the human race simply lacks the capacity to resolve this crisis. At best we can limit its impact, but even that will require action that the world has so far refused to take.