This is an extract from Chapter 12 of my forthcoming book The Economics of Kindness: How to End the Economics of Selfishness and Build an Economy that Works for All, for which I am seeking a publisher.
So much has been written about the urgency of the looming climate disaster that I’ll skip straight to the solutions. I am a climate alarmist, just as Churchill was a Nazi alarmist in the 1930s. But I am not a climate doomer. I am of one mind with Paul Hawken, author of Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, who believes that we can do this if we put our minds to it. The alternative is too dire to contemplate.
Every nation needs to achieve its transition to 100% renewable energy by 2040, acting with the same urgency that governments displayed during World War II. A team led by the Stanford University futurist Tony Seba has calculated that most of the world could transition to 100% wind, solar and storage by 2030 (1). Mark Jacobson’s Solutions Project team has calculated that the entire world could be powered by 100% renewable energy, using 44% solar, 50% wind, and 5% hydropower (2). Wind and solar, which are by far the cheapest sources of electricity, could alone meet global energy demand a hundred times over by 2050 (3). As one small example of what is possible, Denmark is planning an offshore wind-power island that will produce more electricity than is consumed by the entire country.
The volume of minerals needed, such as copper, will be huge, but the mining needed, compared to mining for fossil fuels, will decline dramatically (4). Instead of assuming that every family needs to own an electric car, we must plan systems of transportation that remove the need for car ownership, depending instead on safe separated bike trails, public transit, railways, and carsharing, as well as electric vehicles.
Governments must cease permitting all new fossil fuel projects
Governments must cease permitting all new fossil fuel projects. Quebec has banned all fossil fuel development activities, and Denmark and Costa Rica have started an alliance to phase out oil and gas production (5). Approving a fossil fuel project in the 2020s is like approving a tank factory for the Nazis in the 1940s. In America, the proposed Fossil Free Finance Act would direct the Federal Reserve to require all major banks to cease financing projects linked to increased greenhouse gas emissions, requiring a 50% reduction in such financing by 2030, 100% reduction by 2050; an immediate prohibition on new or expanded fossil fuel projects; the prohibition of thermal coal financing by 2025 and of all fossil fuel financing by 2030; and a requirement to prioritize lending to companies that provide benefits to workers impacted by the transition to a clean energy economy (6). Governments also need to end the destruction of forests, and guarantee that every fossil fuel worker has a well-supported path to a new job through a Green New Deal.
It’s not just governments that need to act: it’s all of us. If your community doesn’t have a climate action group, it’s time to form one. Every fossil fuel expansion project must be protested and resisted. Every city, town, business and university needs a plan to exit the need for fossil fuels. Since the livestock industry is responsible for as much climate pollution as all the world’s transportation, we all need to switch to a healthier plant-based diet.
I have worked in the climate trenches for twenty-five years. The crisis is every bit as serious as the scientists say it is, but the solutions already exist: a carbon fee-and-dividend, as Canada and other countries are doing; 100% renewable energy; 100% sustainable transportation by foot, bike, bus and train and electric vehicle; frequent flyer taxes (7); electric heat-pumps; passive house construction; building retrofits that end the need for oil or gas heat; green hydrogen for industrial heat; ecological farming and forestry; a tax on meat, using the revenues to increase food security for low-income families (8); reduced consumption; a circular economy; climate restoration projects that employ tens of thousands of people; and climate education in every school, college, business and neighbourhood.
The solutions must be driven by regulation, not by voluntary measures or market incentives
The solutions must be driven by regulation, not by voluntary measures or market incentives. In World War II governments did not wait for the market to deliver guns, tanks and planes. As Seth Klein writes in A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, governments must tell the truth about the severity of the crisis; ban all new investments in fossil fuel projects; spend whatever it takes to overcome the crisis; and create new institutions to get the job done (9). We must prohibit the use of coal, gas and oil to heat new buildings now, not in ten years time. We must require that every new car is electric by 2030. We must steadily increase carbon taxes to $300 a tonne, returning the revenue to households and businesses, weighted towards people on lower incomes. If fossil fuel corporations refuse to cooperate, governments should buy their shares and wind them down. If you think this extreme, you have not understood the seriousness of the crisis. It’s a global five-alarm fire.
How can we pay for this? How can we not, when the human suffering from floods, storms and droughts will be so enormous, when 1.2 billion people could be climate refugees by 2050 (10). when the global Re-Insurance giant Swiss Re estimates that staying on our current trajectory cost for major countries could cost them 10% of their GDP within 30 years? (11) Investments in building retrofits and renewable energy can be financed through low interest loans issued by public banks. Governments can issue climate bonds, which can be bought by their central banks. Central banks can underwrite public bank loans and green bonds. Further money can be found by ending global fossil fuel subsidies (estimated at $6 trillion a year, $11 million a minute) (12); by charging upstream mining levies for oil, gas and coal; and by taxing the windfall profits of oil and gas companies. The barriers are political, not financial.
Fossil fuels have played an essential role in the development of modern civilization, but their time is up
Fossil fuels have played an essential role in the development of modern civilization, but their time is up. We must show gratitude to those who have done the dirty work, and offer a smooth transition to new careers. The post-carbon world will be cleaner, healthier, less costly, ecologically more resilient, more peaceful, financially more stable, and in every way better than today’s world. We will see a decrease in energy-use and an increase in wellbeing. What’s not to like about a city filled with trees where you can get around by foot, bike, scooter, bus or carshare without needing a car, and live in an affordable home warmed or cooled by a heat-pump? It’s positive. It creates happiness.
This is only part of the story, for the climate crisis is not caused by our current emissions but by the 400 gigatonnes of heat-trapping carbon that have accumulated in the atmosphere since the 19th century. Our current emissions simply add fuel to the fire. The goal of ‘net zero’ is a terrible delusional mistake, since it assumes that drawing down a million tonnes of carbon justifies the continued emission of a million tonnes. We need to reduce our emissions and draw down the surplus carbon.
To restore a stable climate we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon to 285 ppm, as it was before the industrial revolution. We must use every trick in nature’s book, including a global transition to ecological forestry and farming, storing carbon in trees and soil; the use of synthetic limestone, storing carbon by combining CO2 with calcium, replacing quarried rock and aggregate; the installation of ocean permaculture kelp beds, which absorb carbon and carry it to the bottom of the ocean when they die; ocean iron fertilization, stimulating phytoplankton and zooplankton which absorb carbon and carry it to the ocean-bottom; and direct air capture and storage, but only if it stores more carbon than it generates (13).
The barriers are political, not technological or financial
These solutions, taken together, would stop the looming climate disaster. The barriers are political, not technological or financial. They are the stubborn, head-in-the-sand, what-about-our-profits resistance of the fossil fuel, forestry and farming corporations, the banks, and the conservative media.
Our lack of a widely shared vision of a positive future is another obstacle. Lacking such vision, many people do nothing, awaiting leadership that never seems to come. Some give in to despair, accepting the inevitability of collapse. The choice whether to be optimistic or pessimistic is for observers, however. The choice for players is simple. As long as we have breath in our lungs, we must be determined.
Guy Dauncey is an ecotopian futurist who works to develop a positive vision of a sustainable future, and to translate that vision into action. He is the author of Journey to the Future: A Better World is Possible, and co-chair of the West Coast Climate Action Network. He lives on Vancouver Island, in Canada. He is currently completing his 11th book, titled The Economics of Kindness: How to End the Economics of Selfishness and Build an Economy that Works for All. His website is www.thepracticalutopian.ca.
(1) Tony Seba: https://reneweconomy.com.au/super-power-heres-how-to-get-to-100pct-wind-solar-and-storage-by-2030-2030/
(2) Solutions Project: https://thesolutionsproject.org/why-clean-energy/#/map/countries/location/ALL and No Miracles Needed: How Today’s Technology Can Save our Climate and Clean Our Air, Mark Jacobson, 2023.
(3) Carbon Tracker: https://carbontracker.org/reports/the-skys-the-limit-solar-wind/
(4) Minerals, Simon Michaux: https://smi.uq.edu.au/event/session/11743
(5) Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance: https://beyondoilandgasalliance.com
(7) Frequent flyer tax: https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/05/05/what-would-a-frequent-flyer-tax-mean-for-climate-change
(8) Is it time for a tax on meat? https://www.corporateknights.com/food-beverage/is-it-time-for-a-meat-tax/
(9) A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency by Seth Klein
(10) Climate refugees: https://www.zurich.com/en/media/magazine/2022/there-could-be-1-2-billion-climate-refugees-by-2050-here-s-what-you-need-to-know
(11) 10% of GDP: https://www.swissre.com/media/press-release/nr-20210422-economics-of-climate-change-risks.html
(12) Subsidies: https://www.theenergymix.com/2021/10/07/11-million-per-minute-in-fossil-subsidies-add-fuel-to-the-fire-imf-study-shows/
(13) Foundation for Climate Restoration: https://foundationforclimaterestoration.org
1 thought on “How Can We Stop The Looming Climate Disaster?”
The mindset or worldview we hold determines what we do. Change people’s minds and you change what they do. You can’t even find conversation about this. It’s what I deal with here: https://suzannetaylor.substack.com