This short film provides an excellent summary of where we are, today. What’s at stake? We can chose to continue as we are, and drive ourselves and most of life on earth to extinction. Or, we can choose to de-industrialize, relocalize, and re-ruralize, and hope for a miracle.
“Degrowth” has to be done very carefully, for a number of reasons.
First, capitalist economics are based on debt and, therefore, on continual economic growth. No one knows how to degrow an economy without risking a sudden, catastrophic collapse.
Secondly, coal is the most egregious source of CO2, however, shutting down coal plants will likely cause a spike in temperature as sediments fall out of the atmosphere and stop blocking the sun.
Thirdly, we are unlikely to be able to safely maintain the world’s 400 plus nuclear reactors on intermittent wind and solar power. We’ll need to decommission them first, and find a way to safely store the spent fuels. if we do not decommission, we’ll be facing increased likelihood of meltdowns due to grid failure as we deindustrialize.
Without power-packed fossil fuels and nuclear reactors, we’ll be reliant on hydro, solar and wind power.
Unfortunately, all renewables are currently entirely dependent on fossil fuels for their production and distribution. They are built and maintained using CO2 emitting cement or rare earth minerals, which are scarce. One estimate is at current power-usage levels, the minerals used in solar panels would only last long enough to provide one large city, say New York, with power. Obviously, when the panels wore out (after 25-30 years) they could not be replaced.
In addition, large scale renewable projects require computer-run “smart grids” and large-scale battery storage. Computers themselves are among the world’s most fossil-fuel dependant products. It is highly unlikely that we could continue to produce them as we scale down our energy usage.
We have a dilemma on our hands. There is only one way forward. We must halt all emissions, as rapidly as possible, to attempt to stave off a runaway greenhouse event that would likely lead to our extinction. Green growth is NOT an option.
We must develop new social structures to support human life that are far less energy dependent. Since human population is growing, we will have to do much more, with much less.
The only way forward is a radical and rapid scaling down to simpler lifestyles, for those in the industrialized world.
Luckily, permaculture has provided a rough blueprint for how this can be done. Sadly, it is currently practiced only as a fringe alternative in every country except Cuba.
These may very well be our last hours, how will we spend them? Will we at least try to stabilize the biosphere and save ourselves? Will we work tirelessly to save as many other species of plants and animals as possible? These are interdependent goals, we cannot accomplish the former, without the latter. Will we help and support one another through this challenging transition, or will we fight and destroy one another as we scramble for the last fruits?
What will you do?