Today the news proclaimed that agreements were made at the G-8 summit in Italy to hold global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Centrigrade. It was a very positive step to see that the United States has finally joined most of the rest the world in making a commitment to fighting climate change. Will people really be able to do this, though? And aren’t population and energy use just as important if not moreso?
In North America, perhaps as much or more than anywhere else, it is hard to see evidence of any commitment by the general populace to take serious action to reduce carbon emissions. Corporations, of course, are extremely unlikely to do anything to help until there is an increase in profit attached, and I personally don’t see where that will come from. Individuals are buying hybrid vehicles in greater numbers than ever, and the clean diesels are becoming more popular as well, but manufacturers don’t seem to have made a lot more of these vehicles available, possibly in a marketing move to drive up prices. Fortunately or unfortunately, gasoline prices are staying a good deal lower than at this time a year ago in 2008. While there isn’t a mass movement in evidence, at least the more educated people are showing signs of increased consciousness.
In the past I wrote that scarcity- and cost-driven decreases in energy use would curb both carbon emissions and population growth in tandem. My expectation was that since much of our food would be impossible to produce without a large investment of fossil fuels, rising prices of petroleum would inhibit food production and the poorest countries could see population-limiting famine. I also thought that it would take a bit increase in fossil fuel prices to cut down on usage rates and, correspondingly, carbon emissions. I have also questioned whether, as a species, we are intelligent or can become intelligent enough to limit our own numbers as well as our energy use and production of pollution before we do too much harm to ourselves. We only have a couple of decades to make serious steps in turning around some very powerful current trends, but are we seeing glimmers of hope that this could possibly happen?
Separately, the most recent UN World Population Report suggests that birth rates will fall next in developing countries, leaving the bulk of the increases required to reach 9.5 billion people by 2050 to occur in the poorest countries, where birthrates will fall, but more slowly. Though I have only read the highlights of the report (it is in multiple volumes) I am puzzled that I found no mention of the impact of declining fossil fuel supplies. Without due consideration of the impact of increasing cost of these critical resources I am not sure a good picture of future population changes can be defined.
So, while there are some signs of hope in the UN projections, and some signs of increasing consciousness of the issues of population, energy over-consumption, and pollution (including carbon emissions and projected resulting global climate change), there are still few signs that corporate interests, who are the source of most of the pollution and the consumers of the bulk of energy resources, are even considering changing their behaviors. In fact, since corporations really have no goal except to make money, and have powerful short term incentives to promote unregulated growth, it is hard to see the potential for any positive changes in their behavior in the foreseeable future. Hopefully these mixed signs will continue to move in hopeful directions, and we will see the human species “wise up” sooner than later.
The fact that you are reading this suggests you are more a part of the solution than the problem, and we need a lot more people to reach this position. You can certainly help in the move towards a sustainable world by not only taking personal steps in the direction of reduced energy use and birthrate reduction, but by contacting your government representatives and corporate contacts on a frequent basis and letting them know what you think their priorities should be if they want your support. This is more and more easy to do as we improve our use of our electronic communication networks and the internet, and I encourage you to do whatever you can to ensure a sustainable future for us and our descendants.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim