Political leaders tell us not to worry; today’s problems can always be fixed up tomorrow. We can have our cake and eat it. But what if our actions today produce irreversible changes in the way the Earth system behaves? Maybe ‘waiting for tomorrow’s solutions’ is not the rational thing to do. Quentin Grafton reflects on the consequences.
The real 5G coming to you! (The Great Acceleration, Great Extinction, Great Injustice, Great Dissatisfaction, & hopefully, the Great Transformation)
Despite the overwhelming benefits to humanity from the post war period of rapid economic growth (the Great Acceleration), there has also been a massive downside: ocean acidification, unsustainable water use, deforestation, degradation of wetlands, catastrophic declines in biodiversity, and global warming. Arising from this downside we’ve also experienced the Great Extinction, the Great Injustice and the Great Dissatisfaction. If humanity is to survive, now we need another ‘G’, the Great Transformation.
The road ahead is unclear and uncertain. ‘Business as usual’ has us thinking it will be much as it has been in the past but it’s likely humanity is approaching major tipping and turning points.
Turning points make sense of history and are like looking behind in the rearview mirror to better know where we have come from so that we can drive better. Tipping points are about carefully looking at the road in front of us to anticipate the risks ahead and to take appropriate action to avoid the hazards.
What do we know, more or less, for sure about the future? First, the world is getting hotter at a faster rate. Second, maintaining or increasing greenhouse emissions will result in substantial temperature increases within coming decades that entails substantial costs and risks. Third, carbon sequestration, over the coming few decades will only make, at best, a very marginal contribution to lowering atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Fourth, despite the rhetoric, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise to at least 2030. These are our future certainties under business-as-usual. Much of the uncertainty about what the future holds is about what we choose to do about it.
“What we are hearing and reading and seeing is a continuation of the grand rhetoric from the Rio Earth Summit over thirty years ago in which ‘Business-As- with modifications’ will give us richer tomorrows with no sacrifices today. It’s based on the fantasy that carbon offsets and credits, the planting of one trillion or more trees, and advanced machines can suck enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to set the world right.This is a sort of a Business-As-Usual with ‘market and technology extras’ that will allow us, with a few tweaks, such as driving an electric vehicle (EV), to carry on as we have always done. If only this were true. Business-As-Usual, even with all the brightest bells and squeakiest whistles, will continue our trajectory towards catastrophic consequences.”
- business as usual
- climate change
- David Salt
- environmental accounts
- Peter Burnett
- Policy lessons