Society geared for growth is doing us no favours over climate change

Date: Tuesday 7th May 2019

CLIMATE change has been a favourite subject for letter writers to the Herald (see especially 27th April). It is now clear to the majority that global warming caused by mankind is a major threat, that hitherto little has been done to counteract it and that tinkering is unlikely to avert an environmental Armageddon.

Since the first real alarms at the end of the 1980s more carbon has been emitted than in the whole of preceding time in spite of solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines.

The problem lies in the model on which our society works. It is geared for “growth”, although Malthus recognised about 200 years ago that there are limits to growth.

Growth requires more resources (both agricultural and mineral), more people and more waste and environmental degradation.

Lake District businesses are wringing their hands at the prospect of being unable to import ever more workers from eastern Europe. Most of the world’s land area is now affected by man, huge swathes of the ocean likewise and most animals are now domesticated: think of the approximately 10 million dogs in this country, wild animals being now vanishingly few and rapidly declining.

A cure for the planet will need totally new visions. Growth (economic and in populations) on a finite planet will have to cease. Human populations will have to shrink, although at present countries like Nigeria double their population every few years.

Remember also that a shrinking population is also an ageing one, so population limitations will not come easily. For example, at present large numbers of migrants are required to look after the old in this country.

I am not optimistic that it will be possible to instigate the reforms necessary as this will require a sharp reduction in the standard of living (for us: cooler homes, no Chelsea tractors, no holidays in places like Dubai and Thailand, a massive reduction in consumer products, robots replacing nurses in care homes, etc).

We are likely to continue on broadly the same course leaving nature to deal with this crisis in the way she has dealt with previous crises: using complicated geochemical dynamics. Unfortunately this will be bad news for the human race which has done more to damage the planet in the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution than just about anything in the past 4.5 billion years.

Finally, it is wrong for the young protesters to accuse their elders of not doing enough to safeguard their future. The elders are doing what they think is good for their children and grandchildren by pursuing growth. It is the model which is at fault, not the elders.