2014 is now officially the hottest year recorded in human history. It was a record set without the presence of El Nino. While the world is looking at the upcoming Paris climate talks (COP21) of December 2015, our irrational development model of increasing consumerism to prop up GDP continues abated.
For over 3 decades scientists have been urging world leaders to contain the rise of planet’s temperature to 2 ˚C above the pre-industrial levels by limiting the greenhouse gas emissions – beyond which earth’s climatic conditions would get catastrophic and irreversible. In fact, low lying and vulnerable island countries would want global temperature rise to be restricted to 1.5 ˚C. But their demand was dropped by the dominant developed world in 2009 itself in the climate discussions in Copenhagen.
The phenomenon of global warming is a man made problem that resulted from chasing the myth of eternal GDP growth. It is the most serious threat facing the humanity today and is the un-refutable “proof” of many things wrong in our environmentally and ecologically blind lifestyle.
No wonder, talking of global warming and reversing or restricting it is the latest fashion with people of all sorts, all over the world. They may not agree on anything under the sun but they all agree on intensifying efforts to check global warming and stop climate change. Of course, when it comes to actually taking steps to cut C-emission disagreements again take over – it always goes along the line ‘you should cut more Carbon than me’. It has been comical when the historic polluters of the planet wanted to continue hiding behind the argument of C-offset – allow me to pollute but I will pay for C-sequestering or emission reduction elsewhere in the underdeveloped world! This speaks volumes for the sense of responsibility (or lack of it) of the so-called ‘developed’ world.
In 2015, world crossed the 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 mark and still climbing – it was 325 ppm in 1970. Over the past decade, much has been talked about peaking it between 2015 and 2020. Yet, even towards the end of 2015 it is still a pipe-dream and is likely to remain so – realistically speaking. It doesn’t help when self-declared pseudo-experts claim: “We underestimated the risks… we underestimated the damage associated with the temperature increases… and we underestimated the probabilities of temperature increases”.
Decarbonizing Economic and Population Growth
International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in order to restrict the global temperature rise to within 2 Degree scenario (2DS), the C intensity of primary energy and energy intensity of GDP both have to be reduced by around 60% by 2050 compared with today. It means accelerating the reduction in global energy needs – from current 1.1% to 2.6% by 2050. The biggest challenge lies in reducing the global carbon intensity of electricity by more than 90%.
Foolishly, the US and its allies are still obsessed to defend their ‘oil interests’ in the Middle East forgetting that it is not 1950s or 1960s when ‘oil’ was the only raw material available for producing energy; today in the 21st century plenty of alternate non-oil technologies are available. Clearly, they are still living with the ossified (rather fossilified) mindset of the previous century.
Here are 2 fundamental issues the so-called ‘developed’ world doesn’t like to talk about.
- Compulsion to Consume – Illusion of GDP Growth As ‘Development’
Compulsion to Consume!
If the WW-II helped economic recovery in the US, the war economy needed continuous growth in the peacetime too. This compulsion gave birth to relentless consumerism we see today. The GDP (coined in the 1930s) served the purpose of gauging national progress and led by economists ‘GDP growth’ turned into the sole national goal and yardstick of progress. Here is the thought process that pushed consumerism as the only modern way of life and propelled the world towards climatic issues:
“Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” – Economist Victor Lebow in 1955 in his paper Price Competition
If you think seriously it is the height of insanity that progress should means “produce more and consume more than the last year – and keep doing it till you drop dead!”
Talks of phasing out fossil fuel dependent current technologies still continue to meet the impregnable iron-wall of economic (GDP growth) arguments (as if expanding GDP is the only ‘holy’ purpose of human existence prescribed by gods in Bhagwat Geeta!). In fact, any sensible person with some understanding of human and social development along with ecological wellbeing will advise phasing out the GDP as a progress yardstick, as the very first step. After all, human life and its progress is far too complex a subject for an economic number (like GDP) to convey.
Why international climate talks don’t talk of phasing out GDP and adopting some more sensible indicator of human progress is a question too important to be ignored. But it doesn’t get raised because Western economists have been calling the shots over the decades and the powerful Western mind over generations has been drilled deeply to think that GDP growth alone means national progress.
When economies are designed to maximize GDP they only promote inequality of wealth distribution – which is the next global serious distortion rarely discussed by mainstream media – apart from hurting the environment. The much talked about Thatcher-Reagan’s trickle down economy has now proven to be just a tool to sustain the interests of richest 1% which is highlighted below.
You may like to explore: Why is India So Obsessed with GDP Growth
- What is the C-Footprint of 1% Richest People?
You may ask what makes the richest 1% people so special?
The answer will be both surprising and revealing to you!
They own and control as much wealth as the rest of the 99% humanity! And the inequality is getting worse with time!! This is revealed by Oxfam International’s research and presented to the world in recent World Economic Forums. The GDP numbers hide it neatly. When finance ministers boast of increasing per capita GDP they cleverly side track the rising inequality and the reality of common people.
A research report titled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More by Oxfam shows that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. If the current trend continues, the combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people by 2016.
Even the remaining 52 percent is dominantly owned by the rest of richest 20 percent. The bottom 80 percent shared just 5.5 percent and had an average wealth of $3,851 per adult – that’s 1/700th of the average wealth of the 1 percent.
The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half. In 2014, 80 richest persons have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent (about 3.5 billion people). In 2013, 85 richest persons held that much, significantly down from 388 in 2010.
The US also presents a similar situation where 400 wealthiest Americans have as much wealth as the poorest 150 million Americans. [see Mind the Gap: The Dangers of Income Inequality]
Global inequality is best illustrated by a shape resembling a Champagne glass (taken from Global Inequality: Beyond the bottom Billion, UNICEF report 2011), as shown below:
We are living in a world where half of the humanity (3.6 billion) manages to survive on something close to $2.5 a day and it is never a serious concern for the world – they are the people who at the biggest risk to destructions from climatic disasters.
The danger of widening global wealth inequality is explicitly conveyed by the World Bank think tank:
“The magnitude of the change in the absolute gaps in per capita incomes between rich and poor is staggering. The likelihood of escaping from the bottom rung is almost negligible.” – Lance Pritchett and Branko Milanovic, World Bank economists
This 1% highly powerful minority consists of the richest individuals and corporations of the world, mostly from the West and rich nations. In reality, they are the real decision makers who steer the direction of global development.
Although I have not seen any report estimating per capita C-footprint of this super elite 1% humanity and the amount of C emission they control and cause, but I am sure it will be an eye opener. If only the emission profile of 1% richest is compiled and advertised through online social media (because the regular electronic and print media will not cooperate since they are all controlled by this elite group) ordinary people of the world will know who has been polluting the planet.
A look at the top 20 richest entities clearly shows the enormous strength of fossil lobby.
The book When Corporations Rule the World by David C Korten graphically points to the dangers of putting power in the hands of the large corporations.
“The result of this unhealthy power in corporate hands is ecological destruction, the loss of civil freedoms, the erosion of democracy and community disintegration.”
Watch an interview with Korten
Before closing, I pose this question before concluding:
Will embracing energy efficiency and renewable energies alone solve the ecological and environmental problems created by unbridled consumerism and wasteful lifestyle promoted by GDP-obsessed economists for decades?