How is the effort to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions proceeding?

First, the good news: For anyone watching the news, it seems obvious that almost everybody, and I mean everybody but a certain well-known leader and some his followers, believes the challenge is real and must be dealt with. This palpable energy of citizens demanding action was seen at the recent rally at the Vermont State House. There is no need for another letter to the editor to illustrate this truth.

It is the following bad news that requires a letter. Nobody (and I mean literally almost nobody in any leadership position) is discussing practical ways to implement the most logical and workable solution for combating climate change.

The current, unquestioned acceptance worldwide of the Industrial Age goal of exponential GDP growth must be changed. Such growth has been, and will be, unsustainable on this finite planet. The world and especially, its richest nation, must change to a sustainable goal of slowing growth sufficiently keep the earth’s economies from fueling an ever-closer catastrophic economic crash arising from overshooting the earth’s limits.

In this op-ed, I will only outline the logic of the above position, not details about its implementation. There are three essential ways to slow emissions causing climate change, one being the above-mentioned slowing GDP. All goods especially, and even services, produce carbon emissions; that is, they deplete the earth’s resources and produce pollution such as carbon emissions. Exponentially growing (unless all resources come from recycling and all pollution is recycled into resources) will accelerate emissions. Lowering the population rate is a second logical way to reduce emissions, a great goal, but one that takes a long time to effect. The third way, the only one most people are talking about, calls for reducing the carbon emission intensity of goods and services through new technology such as advances in developing renewables. This is a good way promoted by people advocating for a green new deal, but all green new deal proposals have limits, in that effecting a green new deal process itself produces emissions. From 1990 to 2017, carbon intensity did decrease 0.6% but because the other two factors each increased by 1.3%, carbon emissions increased by 68% over those 27 years. Not good enough. That is why the respected IPCC says that a green new deal cannot solve the crisis, alone.

I’ll end this abbreviated case for a sustainable, relatively stationary GDP with an optimistic note. In a recent New York Times Poll when people were asked, “what would you most prefer, protecting the environment or growing the economy,” 68% — including 52% Republicans — answered they preferred protecting the environment. All leaders, including those from the media, please listen to citizens, don’t bury your heads in the sand, and as a first step, acknowledge limiting growth is worth much more discussion and debate.

Harris Webster lives in Montpelier.

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