Realizing The Finite Availability Of Fossil Fuels Is Fundamental To Climate Change Talk.

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The debate surrounding the extent to which the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change misses a more fundamental point. That is, fossil fuels are an inherently finite resource. This resource is dwindling at an accelerating rate as economies such as those of China and India expand rapidly. Fossil fuels will run out. Maybe not in the next 10, 20 or 30 years but they will run out. As the scarcity of fossil fuels grows there will be increasing conflict between nations to secure their supplies in an effort to maintain their carbon-dependent economies. At the same time, there is an inexorably growing human population, destruction of rainforests, depletion of natural resources and plummeting biodiversity. Clearly, this situation cannot be sustained in the longer-term.

Yet our capitalist system is based on the principle of economic growth – growth that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and unsustainable practices. Just look at recent events; governments are terrified by anything that threatens economic growth – pouring billions of public money into failing financial systems. In addition, many economists see growth not only as desirable but as essential. They claim it lifts the poor out of poverty, feeding the world’s growing population, supporting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating investment and technological development.

The dilemma is how can we square Earth’s finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too. I am clear in my conviction that economic growth in its current form is unsustainable. We need a new paradigm that limits (or reduces) the global population, a meaningful shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency and the adoption of more sustainable lifestyles. This will require courageous, coordinated and global government policies that ensure we don’t use up resources faster than the world can replace them.

Many will dismiss this as a Utopian ideology. But isn’t it a Utopian ideology to carry on blithely down a path that will ultimately lead to catastrophe? Yes, it will require a new world-view and radical changes but I think we have several grounds for optimism. Firstly, sustainable economies are more stable – whilst growth may be lower than in traditional economies it will be more durable in the longer-term and less volatile. Secondly, the shift towards a sustainable economy would create new opportunities, jobs and greater stability. Thirdly, the potential for conflict between nations is reduced as our dependency on fossil fuels reduces over time. Finally, there is a growing recognition (albeit begrudgingly) amongst governments that the current situation is unsustainable and the mood seems to be shifting from one of cynicism and self-interest to one of genuine commitment to tackling the problem.

The prospect of a truly sustainable global economy, fueled by renewable energy sources coupled with a stabilized human population and harmonized with biodiversity is an ambitious yet achievable goal. But it’s a goal that requires a re-appraisal of the current meaning of economic growth.

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  1. One world government, huh?
    Control the population via this one world government?

    Isn’t that Fascism, or Communism?

    Since when did science include pushing the ‘truth’ toward a one-word-governing body to dictate rather than a proper endless debate of truth really is?

  2. John – nowhere in that post by Dr. Robertshaw say that – you are reading into it. There is nothing wrong with nations working together to solve planetary crises…if we don’t, we will all be in trouble. After all, we all live here together, whether we get along or not.

  3. ahhh so its climate change, not global warming any more… yes something needs to be done but anyone that mentions such a thing will never get into office.

  4. People have been calling it climate change for a longtime – in fact, Obama calls it that – and he got elected. So not sure what you mean Andrew, about not being able to mention it.

  5. I’m all for protecting the enviornment. However, I’m all against the (very) many who use climage change or global warming, or whatever to push a radical political view.

    Please let me quote:
    “We need a new paradigm that limits (or reduces) the global population”

    “This will require courageous, coordinated and _global government policies_ that ensure…”

    The inability to recognize that the environmental change, global warming, or pollution debate is, has been, or will continue to be hijacked by political driven anti-capitalists is … dangerous. IMO of course.

    It will shift from Global Warming to Climate change by those who use the environment debate for political gain. I even read an article about how the freezing temperatures this year are a clear example of man-made global warming… article blamed us causing El Nino.

  6. (… needs to use a spell checker…)
    David, your comment on “Obama used it and he got elected” is priceless.
    That’s right, he did change/use the new term”¦because he’s smart enough to know to change it form global warming to climate change.

    Political gain from ravaging fear into the masses”¦been happening for… uh… the whole of human existence.

  7. So do you think that there is zero climate change happening at all? Even though most real scientists say that it is? (Not those 650 supposed “scientists” that were never in one room together yet released that report – that was an assembly of random quotes and book liftings that was made into a “report”.

  8. “… many economists see growth not only as desirable but as essential.”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. This is the crux of the problem. World leaders follow the advice of economists. Unfortunately, most economists are completely unwilling to think through the consequences of unending population growth.

    If they did, they might arrive at the conclusion that I reached. Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I’m not talking about the environmental and resource issues. I’m talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty.

    I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled “Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America.” To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don”™t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

    This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

    But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, “Five Short Blasts”

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