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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

Consumption is the Root Problem

Updated: May 31, 2020

There is an inescapable logic regarding the relation between consumption, energy and climate warming that it seems we humans would rather just ignore.

Energy is needed to create everything we consume, and the total energy costs of consumption are not declining. In fact the consumption of goods--our global economic growth is actually increasing. Even if we were to transition to renewables tomorrow, our extraction of natural resources at present levels of consumption would continue to grow.

When politicians say we must 'grow the economy' what they really mean is that we must keep the present capitalist 'grow or die' system going.

The result? As economic growth increases and accessible energy resources are depleted the environmental cost of accessing further reserves and new forms of energy increases, the total amount of waste increases and we are in climate warming spiral that can only end up in catastrophe.

There just ARE no energy innovations or quick technological fixes that we can fall back on here. Moreover, there is no amount of green energy resources that will be able to meet current energy demands at our present levels of consumption.

What we need to focus on right now is not just reducing emissions but reducing the root cause of emissions: that is, consumption. In other words, there is only one alternative: stop treating the Earth as if it were an infinite repository of natural resources and dramatically reduce our material consumption of goods.

Impossible? No--but it is, indeed, a tall order. What it requires is that we are prepared to rethink our whole notion of economic prosperity, and along with it, what it is that we really require in order to live a 'good life'. It means policies explicitly designed to reduce demand. It means a radically different system of taxation, regulation and public investment. It means a paradigm shift in the structure of government--something on the order of a Department of the Environment that incorporates ecological principles and is explicitly charged with realigning the entrenched economic priorities of all other departments. It means learning how to live happily with less.

It will be the greatest challenge we have ever faced as individuals and a species. But face it we must. Failure to live within the environmental, ecological and resource limits of what the planet can realistically provide will inevitably consign us all to oblivion.

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