While our collective efforts have brought the earth to the verge of not being able to support us, what can we do to undo what we have done?
Given that the earth has trouble when dealing with the resource demand of a minority of people on the earth, the only way forward for us to address climate change and lift the majority out of enforced repression and starvation is for the resource-hungry minority to demand less.
That means that the currently accelerating consumerism of the minority must be reduced to a level that enables all people on the planet to have enough for a few luxuries and a happy life. However, reduced consumerism means economies need to be able to run with negative growth until we can reach sustainable resource demands on the earth.
Unfortunately, negative growth is an anathema to what the current economic thinking considers desirable. That must change. Given the huge pressures to maintain the current systems, it appears to be an impossible task. However, there are many changes going on that may make it easier to start the needed societal changes, but we need to make sure they are not directed to propping up the status quo.
We are all aware of how renewable energy can reduce the greenhouse gases which drive the warming climate, but shifting towards them has to be accompanied by reduced energy demands.
Renewable energy essentially means using energy resources that are already utilisable, meaning that they are not currently stored energy, such as coal and gas, which need to be burnt to get the energy in them, releasing toxic emissions that promote planet warming. Conversely, wind, solar and flowing water just need to be intercepted, not released from a latent form. Of course, making the means of interception will require emissions, but if done properly, will have low whole-of-life energy consumption and emissions.
The real problem with renewables in that their energy needs to be stored to minimise having to fulfill peak demands. For many uses, that means batteries, and currently that is mainly lithium-based. That means a awful lot would be required to meet our current demands. To reduce the amount of batteries required, and of renewable resources in general, we need to reduce our consumption of energy.
This is where our personal choices, and thus reduced collective demand come into it. The main areas of collective energy consumption are:
The most effective way to reduce all of these is to reduce demand. The most obvious ways are travel less, wear more appropriate clothing for the local temperatures, and consume less manufactured goods. Just doing these enough would enable all people on the earth to have enough to live comfortably.
Much is made of Tesla being successful at making electric cars popular, but such personal transport is not very efficient, just because most spend most of their day parked. It is public transport where dramatic differences can be made, and that means electric buses. Their high daily utilisation means a far better net energy saving per vehicle than cars, along with lower overall pollution in manufacturing and use than cars.
However, better than shifting to public transport is to need to travel less. That means shifting work to home, or at least to less distance from home. Reducing distance in general means making more affordable housing closer to where the work is. That would also tend to push other housing prices in those areas down, so lessening the debt burden on people, meaning that with other consumption-lowering choices, they may need to work less. Judicious government policies could change all that for the better, so we must push politicians to do that.
Fitting housing with better insulation can substantively reduce energy consumption, while adapting our clothing can reduce our need to use energy to compensate for the weather. Governments could mandate better insulation, and more efficient cooling and heating. They could also mandate that buildings are built with solar panels or compact wind turbines already installed, so further offsetting peoples' expenses, especially renters, and the flow on of having less to have to work to pay for.
Lastly, we can consume less manufactured goods. That really means less frivolous purchases, but also using what we buy for substantially longer. This is where we can make a substantial difference to our personal finances demand, such as using our mobile phones for years and not buying the most expensive out of habit or prestige. Again, less pressure to have to work more.
Changing our eating habits to cut out relying upon animals can allow 75% of current agricultural land to be freed up to be rewilded, which would draw substantial amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The significant technology that will enable those who are not ready to go vegan – the most resource efficient and harmless diet – is lab-grown meat. It does not require land for growing feed and grazing livestock, is substantially less energy consumptive, does not produce methane, and does not create the many health problems meat does. Growing feed crops for animals has been a major driver for land clearing and habitat destruction, leading to substantial reductions in the amazon rain forest and other wild areas, all of which have been substantial consumers of atmospheric CO2.
The substantial benefit of vegan and lab-meat diets is the elimination of the suffering of billions of animals purposely bred solely for our consumption. While some haven't cared about that, for many of us, just knowing about the suffering going on has been cause for stress, and so we have tried to shield ourselves from it. For us, the change of diet can relieve us of that guilt.
Of course, the raising of livestock for food has produced many industries devoted to utilisation of the many otherwise unused non-edible parts of the animals, such as their skins for leather for footwear, clothes and furniture. Fortunately, these can be made out of the waste from other food industries, such as excess and overripe fruit. Much has been going on behind the scenes, as more people have been going vegan, which is not just about food, but eliminating animal products – and thus their suffering – from all of our needs, leading to the search for viable alternatives.