The Big Picture
By Stephen Fitzgerald
2nd October 2023
Saving Our Future
And such a lovely future it could be... In today's world, the news and media often present a narrative shaped by vested interests focused only on money and power. However, the scientific story that unfolds is quite different, encompassing not just energy but also anthropology, human behavior, economics, the environment and crucially our collective future. This article explores the intricate web of connections between energy, money, technology, the environment and exponential economic growth. Also, how our individual and collective behaviors impact our society and the environment. As we face unprecedented challenges in the coming decades, understanding the big picture is essential for taking meaningful action.
In our diverse and resource-rich world, we operate within groups, corporations, and nations, all driven by a common goal to maximize financial surplus or profit. Central to this system is our heavy reliance on fossil fuel energy, a finite resource that has historically also been a source of conflict and war. Our economic system is intricately tied to annual GDP growth, typically around 2% or 3% and is an indicator of the goods and services produced in an economy. This healthy growth model also demands ongoing population expansion.
Desired GDP growth translates to a 50% increase in our energy requirements by 2050 and it is anticipated that only 20% of that will to be sourced from renewables primarily for electricity production. We are also headed for a global population increase of 20% to 10 billion over that same time frame. The possibility of reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is about as ethereal as the gas itself. Since we can't rely on our corporates, our politicians or the all powerful fossil fuel industry to reduce emissions, what we need is a plan B involving the wider population.
On our current trajectory we face an unabated rise in levels of atmospheric CO2 and global temperatures. This contributes to sea-level rise and the increasing frequency of catastrophic extreme weather events worldwide. The driving force behind these issues is the relentless pursuit of perpetual economic growth, presenting humanity with a trifecta of interconnected problems that are unsustainable and something we humans appear to be collectively blinkered to.
As of 2022 globally there were 1,730 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. We currently use about 37 billion barrels of oil per year and that is expected to double by 2050. On this basis the world will run out of oil in roughly 35 years. Oil is far too precious and far too climate destructive to mindlessly keep fighting over it and burning it. We need to work on an alternative.
We find ourselves at a critical juncture. We can continue to accelerate towards more economic and population growth but, this has an end date, we can only get so big and we have finite resources. Alternatively we can choose a different trajectory – one that prioritizes a controlled, softer landing. This approach calls for a rethinking not only of our addiction to growth but also our stance on population expansion and the CO2 driven climate crisis we find ourselves struggling with.
To address these challenges, we must raise awareness of the direction humanity is heading. The more people who engage with these issues, the more minds we have working on innovative solutions. The solution, as many experts suggest, lies in a great simplification. This means embracing the idea that we need to let go of the relentless pursuit of growth and over consumption. By doing so, we can benefit not only other species but also the natural world and future generations. The progressive downsizing of current human economies becomes an inevitable step on this path.
Ultimately, it's time to embrace the philosophy of wanting less, buying less, and using less, all within the framework of the wonderful lives we lead. By focusing on this great simplification, we can work towards a future that ensures the well-being of our planet and future generations.
The big picture is clear: "It's time for a fundamental shift in our collective consciousness and a paradigm shift in wanton human behavior". The question then becomes: "Do we still have one foot in the clan of the cave bear driven by the basic animal instinct of greed. Or, is this a test of our humanity and our ability to live within our means as responsible global citizens on planet Earth".
What can we do: "As individuals and collectively we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and just as importantly we need to reduce our overall consumption of everything. Think about what went into making your next purchase - Can the planet afford it?". Can our children afford to pay the price of our excesses, greed and stupidity?
Go to the next article: Unraveling the Global Conflict Web