Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Shifting Towards Global Sustainability

by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

Some days I feel like a bit of a doomer and wonder if I have prepared for future events well enough. Let me give you some examples. Most people these days sense that our world is off balance and that we may be sliding towards some sort of dark abyss. I find it hard sometimes to keep a positive outlook when you consider these three looming events;

The record oil prices of last year may just be the beginning of a roller coaster ride of fluctuating oil prices as demand outstrips supply. Global oil supply has been relatively stagnant for the past few years and some believe that we have already past peak extraction (Heinberg). Oil is not just used for transportation, but for every thing in this modern era. I have written about it at 'We Are Oil Junkies' on my personal blog if you want to learn more about how oil permeates our way of living.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that even under the best case scenarios, indications are that escalating natural disasters amplified by changes in global climate may be enough to cause massive migrations of 100's of millions of climate refugees over the course of the next few decades. Can any country be practically prepared for an influx of these climate refugees on this massive scale?

Nearly 90% of the worlds large fish stocks have disappeared (more like over fished) from the oceans in the last five decades and it is projected that all commercial seafood fishing will collapse by the middle of this century. Many billions of humans rely on fish as a staple in their diet every day. You can imagine the impact, as I really don't need to explain the ramifications of this issue.

So, if business as usual behaviour by the human race is not working, what will it take to make the shift towards global sustainability? I personally think that changing a few light bulbs to compact fluros and changing your driving habits, albeit good personal steps in the right direction, are not enough to save society and the planet from collapse. Many books have been written about Plan B, which could be anything from transitioning back to a pre 18th century society not dependant on fossil fuels, or quickly seeking and developing a techno fix to solve all our problems. Maybe even some of the worlds military spending could be diverted to implement the radical changes required to divert our world's course from collapse to a sustainable future? Only a small fraction of this spending would be needed. Are we too stupid, arrogant, or selfish that we can't make the hard decisions required to save ourselves and the big blue/green marble we live on?

I don't believe that there is one single way to fix our future predicament. There is no single silver bullet in this case. Plan B will consist of many solutions that will all contribute to global sustainability. These Plan B solutions are my own personal thoughts, but may have been published by other commentators, so please excuse me if you have read or heard them before. Obviously there are many other ways towards global sustainability, so I have just picked those that are at the forefront of my thinking of late.


1. Tax carbon pollution. I don't care what scheme we use, as long as it is fair to the majority of people and penalises heavy polluting industries. We might then go some way towards changing the old polluting economy to a cleaner, more sustainable one as consumers vote with their dollars. The world oceans may even get a reprieve due to high fuel prices that would affect the cost efficiency of factory fishing ships.

2. Stop building suburbia. The current suburban model is unsustainable under a peak oil scenario. Suburbs are designed specifically for the motor car, not for people, and some don't even have foot paths (sidewalks). You can mainly get to them via car, however public transport systems are far and few between in some towns and cities. Even shopping centres are placed long distances from where some of us live in suburbia. Having said that, some of the worlds cities considered this long ago and have fantastic transport systems that even include facilities for cycling.

3. Rebuild or retrofit our homes, office spaces and factories. It is well known that energy efficiency is rarely thought of in the western world when it comes to whacking up 100 acre housing developments. The bigger the better, which also leads to bigger energy bills, bigger mortgages, and bigger maintenance bills. Big is not always better. Our building should be net energy producers that generate more power than they consume. This can be achieved via energy efficiency, renewable energy systems and combined heat & power systems (CHP). A global energy efficiency program including insulation and draft proofing will provide badly needed jobs and reduce GHG emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuel generated electricity.

4. Increased development and installation of renewable energy technologies. A global focus on a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy solutions like solar thermal, solar PV, wind, and geothermal (not a big fan of bio fuels). With a tax on carbon that raise the price of fossil fuel power, all of these renewable electricity sources would become cost effective for investors. I particularly like the potential of solar thermal using molten salt and geothermal which have excellent potential to provide our requirement for an electricity base load.

5. Reduce population growth. Probably not my most popular suggestion, but we need to level off our own growth. It has been estimated that the long term carrying capacity of the Earth is between 500 million and 2 billion people. We currently have about 6.7 billion people populating the earth and projected estimates of 9 billion by 2050. If we can't control our growth then I am afraid that nature will inevitably perform this task for us. Now, most of us would agree that it would more humane to achieve this via family planning and birth control than through starvation, plagues and resource wars. The choice is ours alone.

6. Reverse Globalisation with Global relocalisation. With the decline in cheap energy in the form of peak oil supply, all national economies will probably be forced to relocalise as transportation costs increase. This will force manufacturing and food production back onshore, benefiting the local economy and the environment. Local food production will increase, people would once again get in touch with the land like our forefathers, and not cooped up in some meaningless office job. By producing food, goods and service locally, dollars are not shipped offshore to multinational companies. Sure, there will still be some trade between nations, as there was before the age of oil, but certainly not to the scale that it is now.

7. All decisions must be sustainable ones. From national governments all the way down to the household hold budget, all decisions must be given serious consideration as to whether it contributes towards global sustainability or is subject to our current short term and business as usual thinking that only considers profits over people and harms the planet. If it is the latter, the decision should scrapped and rethought to ensure it complies with the sustainable vision and mission what should become the norm.

This post would have to be my most controversial so far, however I do believe that it fits well into the theme of this co-op. With all the simple, green and frugal tips that we write about daily, there must have a good reason to change our lifestyles in this manner. What I have described above are some very good reasons to change our behaviours towards a sustainable lifestyle, but I am afraid that I may already be preaching to an already converted audience!

Let me know your thoughts, am I way off the mark here?