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Consume, consume, consume April 26, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, renewable energy, Sustainable Living.
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Some time ago, in describing how renewable energy sources and energy efficiency are capable of reducing the effects of global warming without the “help” of nuclear power, one of the several reports I referred to was the American Solar Energy Society’s “Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.”.

I still think that the report is valuable in proving that we need atomic energy as much as a butterfly needs a parachute, but I just read this really good critique of the approach taken in the report by Don Fitz, in which the author insists that the underlying problem is society’s mad and ever-growing rate of consumption and growth.

I agree with him (see my previous posts on this here and here).

Here are a couple of excerpts from Fitz’s article:

Solar power, wind power and energy efficiency (EE) play vital roles in reducing CO2. The rub is the role of conservation, or reduction of total production. For “deep greens,” the most basic goal is social change that would foster the reduction of energy. For “shallow greens,” conservation is, at best, something to give lip service to while tunnel visioning on eco-gadgets.

[…]

The most important difficulty for EE is the market economy, which corporate environmentalists love so much and understand so little. Corporations do not compete to make less money. They compete to increase their profits. Market forces compel each corporation to expand production as rapidly as possible. When more efficient heating is available, corporations selling it will encourage customers to turn up their thermostats and run around in their underwear in the middle of winter.

[…]

This is not to say that EE plays no role in preventing the planet from frying. It is to say that EE must be accompanied with an intense program of conservation, economic redesign and governmental regulation. Without these, EE in a market economy is not merely worthless, but will likely result in expanded production and increased global warming.

[…]

Perpetual motion machines, biomass and biofuels will not halt species extinction caused by climate change. Again, efficiency and solar and wind power are critical components of a sustainable society. But focusing on them diverts attention from the real issues that need to be addressed — how to dramatically reduce energy production while improving the quality of life. This is the basis for the hard questions that corporate environmentalists avoid.

[…]

The global economy is increasing production of high-energy goods such as roads, cars, airplanes, fast food, meat and endless mountains of consumer crap. How do we change this to production of low-energy goods that people actually need, such as locally grown organic food, preventive health care and clothes and homes that endure?

[…]

The most basic task for stopping global warming is having a moral, ethical and spiritual revolution based on the belief that excessive crap is bad. Reduction of unnecessary production is the antithesis of what corporations are all about. However destructive it is for the planet, corporations must seek to convince people to consume more and more.

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Comments»

1. Glenn Maltais - April 26, 2007

Thinking “green” or being more energy efficient is not about sacrificing or going without, It’s about being informed regarding how our actions, or lack thereof, impact our nation’s security, economic stability and the planet along with all its inhabitants.

However, if we are to make real progress, it’s important we take a realistic approach. If all of us make small adjustments, rather than expecting dramatic changes in our energy habits, we can make real progress in reducing the 3.2 billion metric tons of CO2 being added each year to the 2,700,000,000 thousand tons of human-made carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now.

Considering the U.S. at 4.6% of the world’s population produces 25% of it…we can make a bigger difference than most!

2. Andreas - April 26, 2007

The point is, though, that a society based on “free-market” capitalism is, by its very definition, required to continuously increase production and consumption. And that is, of course, fundamentally unsustainable. Sure, individual behaviour can make a difference, but ultimately, it’s the system itself that needs to be changed.

3. Hard Rain - April 26, 2007

Wow Andreas, your comment pretty much sums up what the present “save the world, save the climate” groupthink seems to be all about- nothing regarding the environment, just changing political systems.

4. Andreas - April 26, 2007

Hard Rain, I’m not quite sure I understand what your saying. As far as I’m concerned, yes, saving the planet will require a change in the way society is operating/organised right now, but the two are intimately linked – it’s not just one without the other. I’m not at all suggesting that individuals shouldn’t bother living environmentally-conscious and -friendly lives, but without changing our behaviour as a civilisation (including our politics), those individual steps will not be enough.


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