Right now, I’m taking a class on “Economic Growth and Sustainable Development”. In it, we discuss a lot of economic notions on how to deal with non-renewable resources that might run out in the future, and how to accommodate economic growth within the confines of a finite planet. While I have found our discussions fascinating, it’s still funny how economists have largely concluded that planetary boundaries pose no real limits to growth and development – most of the models we look at presuppose that human ingenuity – innovations, R&D development, etc. – can replace natural resources, especially as we approach more and more resource scarcity. Thus, we can trust in future technology and don’t have to worry about the current consequences of human behavior, right?
On the other hand, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report for the first time specified a particular ‘carbon budget’ we can still emit to stay within the two-degree warming framework that was agreed to be a ‘safe space’ by governments, and looking into where we are coming from it does not look good. The infographic below (via Information is Beautiful) is a really good visualization of the latest scientific understanding of the future possible consequences of actually burning the fossil fuel that we have at our disposal (which would be totally rational in the economic understanding of ‘exploiting our resources’).
As I am just about to write in a mini-essay for that same class, it seems that simple efficiency improvements and technological progress is inadequate to tackle this problem as long as this progress keeps focusing on our current ideal consumption pattern (bigger, faster, more). What is needed, according to many people from different fields that met up at a conference to discuss these issues, is “a fundamentally different economic system, […] based on nurturing wellbeing rather than stoking corporate profit.“