How can politicians, businesses and regular citizens transition to 100 per cent renewable energy?
It’s a question at the forefront of discussions in academic circles, governments, boardrooms and dining room tables around the world. And while most people have come on board with climate science, accepting the need to end dependence on fossil fuels, there is very little consensus on how we should get there.
Many folks, mostly from industry and government, have come together to present a very comforting narrative of incremental change: As long as we make gradual, green reforms to our existing economic and societal structures, we will be able to meaningfully address climate change.
This narrative is all around us. We hear it at UN climate summits, where the world’s nations sign non-binding, non-enforceable agreements setting emissions reduction targets that are half as ambitious as the science tells us they need to be.
We continue to hear it when our provincial and federal governments return from those summits to tell us about the historic investments they’re making in “green infrastructure,” all the while providing billions of dollars of subsidies to the very fossil fuel companies whose decades of pollution and environmental destruction “greenification” seeks to mitigate.
At its face, this narrative promotes a meaningful response to climate change, but the underlying, ever-present caveat is that we must not disrupt “business as usual” in doing so.
The problem is that business as usual ‒ the prioritization of economic growth and profit maximization above all else ‒ is what brought about climate change. As long as it persists, the situation will only worsen.
While suggestions that we ought to abandon the mainstays of our opulent Western lifestyles are understandably met with hesitation, 22 years of UN climate summits have come and gone, and global carbon emissions are still climbing. We have wasted our window in which small, steady change was acceptable. We need huge overhauls of economic policy and societal norms, and we need them now.
To achieve these drastic overhauls such as massive investments in renewable energy technology, the dismantling of car culture and a rethinking of how food is produced and consumed, however, some key changes must occur.
Globally, we must subvert the idea that economic growth is always the number one priority and become comfortable with sacrificing a percentage point or two of GDP growth to preserve our environment. After all, without an environment, any economic activity becomes pretty difficult. Locally, we must delegitimize any politician, administrator, or other public official who continues to serve as a cheerleader for the fossil fuel industry in spite of their commitment to serve the public interest.
These changes may be daunting, but they are necessary, and it is up to every single one of us to come together and do whatever we can to achieve them. After all, if we fail, we will all feel the consequences.
Mitchell van Ineveld studies political science and economics and represents business and economics students on the board of the UWSA.
Published in Volume 71, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 8, 2016)