The new economics foundation (nef) has released a report title Growth Isn’t Possible, which is available for free download (pdf here) or purchase in a bound copy. The low-down is simple: in order to maintain the international goal of avoiding an increase of 2°C in global temperatures from carbon emissions we must stop economic growth. Basically, economic growth will kill us if we don’t “change our economy to live within its environmental budget.”
nef figures that with a growth rate of only 3%, the global economics “carbon intensity” would need to decrease by 95% by 2050 from 2002 levels. This requires an average annual reduction of 6.5%, which is even optimistically impossible in the best of circumstances. All of the “magic bullets” in the public discourse: carbon capture, nuclear, geo-engineering, et cetera are “dangerous distractions from more human-scale solutions.”
Sure, our carbon intensity has nearly flatlined in the last few years, but we need to reverse this trend not flatten out or encourage growth. Technological efficiencies can help, but physical laws limit the amount of efficiency you can pump out of any system. Worse yet, we’ll never match growth in efficiency with even mild economic growth that our system has been designed to need. It’s simple mathematics, which neoclassical economists have never been good at in the first place.
A broader support for community-scale projects like decentralized energy systems are needed over the pipe dreams currently getting all the political attention and funding. nef’s research shows that in order to prevent runaway climate change we need to change. An economy that took into account environmental thresholds will be more likely able to not only avoid runaway climate change but provide improved human well-being in the future.