This is an excerpt of an essay published at the Post-Carbon Institute last year, “Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist.” You can read the complete essay here.
A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago. The needed global emergency plan would certainly have included most of the 11 realistic responses to the climate crisis listed below — which, even if implemented today would at least slow the coming unravelling. And no, the currently proposed Green New Deal won’t do it.
Here, then, is what an effective “Green New Deal” might look like:
1. Formal recognition of the end of material growth and the need to reduce the human ecological footprint;
2. Acknowledgement that, as long as we remain in overshoot — exploiting essential ecosystems faster than they can regenerate — sustainable production/consumption means less production/consumption;
3. Recognition of the theoretical and practical difficulties/impossibility of an all-green quantitatively equivalent energy transition;
4. Assistance to communities, families and individuals to facilitate the adoption of sustainable lifestyles (even North Americans lived happily on half the energy per capita in the 1960s that we use today);
5. Identification and implementation of strategies (e.g., taxes, fines) to encourage/force individuals and corporations to eliminate unnecessary fossil fuel use and reduce energy waste (half or more of energy “consumed” is wasted through inefficiencies and carelessness);
6. Programs to retrain the workforce for constructive employment in the new survival economy;
7. Policies to restructure the global and national economies to remain within the remaining “allowable” carbon budget while developing/improving sustainable energy alternatives;
8. Processes to allocate the remaining carbon budget (through rationing, quotas, etc.) fairly to essential uses only, such as food production, space/water heating, inter-urban transportation;
9. Plans to reduce the need for interregional transportation and increase regional resilience by re-localizing essential economic activity (de-globalization);
10. Recognition that equitable sustainability requires fiscal mechanisms for income/wealth redistribution;
11. A global population strategy to enable a smooth descent to the two to three billion that could live comfortably indefinitely within the biophysical means of nature.