Provocations for Discussion


Climate change as a symptom of the growth disease


Steve Smith, 13th May 2011


I am more occupied by the challenges of growth than of climate change.


I accept that climate change is an urgent and potentially catastrophic problem.


I fear that simplistic solutions such as promoting electric cars and wind farms will achieve little, except a different kind of growth, which will not only require fossil fuel energy, but may even stimulate consumption of fossil fuels.


As long as we are growing, fossil fuel consumption will continue apace (especially coal, since oil production has peaked and prices are escalating).


Coal consumption is increasing. Coal fired power stations continue to increase.


Australia and USA set to grow by 20M and 100M consumers

Economic migration is another form of growth.


Increasing costs of basic commodities raises the cost of living, pushes more people into poverty, increases the cost of finding and refining resources, transport, food etc.


The price of food is tied to the price of oil.


We see increasing civil unrest (which exacerbates some of the above problems, pushing prices up faster).


Efficiency gains are unrealistic – Jevons was correct.

See a truly excellent article by David Owen of ‘The New Yorker’


We cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s thinking


Simply growing a new energy sector is yesterday’s thinking.


Resources crunch


We cannot see or feel the effects of climate change (we rely on what the scientists tell us).


But we can see and feel the effects of increasing food prices, air travel, energy, water.

And the effects on jobs.


People will not act on climate change until it affects them directly. It is almost impossible to persuade people to treat the symptoms that have not yet revealed themselves.


Carbon pricing is currently tokenistic. We see how unacceptable a tax is to the Australian public and businesses. Exemptions, refunds or moving the emissions offshore are the order of the day (ie. achieving almost nothing).


But can people be persuaded to cut consumption and growth?


Most of today’s immediate problems are the consequence of too many people consuming too much stuff, not a problem of climate change.


Instead of trying to grow the economy by building new infrastructure, which will increase demand for more fossil fuels and resources, can a decrease in growth and reduced demand for resources slow the consumption of fossil fuels?


Can the resources crunch come to the rescue of climate change?


Treating the growth disease that we can all see developing, may be more achievable than trying to treat one symptom that has not yet had an impact on anyone. It might even effectively treat the climate change symptom.


Instead, most people advocate developing alternative energy in the hope that it can maintain current lifestyles and growth. But it cannot because of the resources crunch (see my previous STW entry).


Pushing for alternative energy sources is like bailing a boat with a hole in the bottom. We still sink. We still consume fossil fuels.


A new way forward


People and society should be educated about the limits of resources and how this will dictate future lifestyles. Not be told that non-fossil fuel energy will come to the rescue to sustain current life styles.


Continued growth and material wealth is not possible.


A future that does not depend on materialism and possessions is very appealing.


A future where what we do is more important than what we have.


What we do for each other, rather than what others can do for us.


Too Utopian? Unrealistic?


Does today’s lifestyle bring fulfilment and wellbeing?


How might changes in values be driven?


We have seen how cigarette smoking has shifted from the norm, to undesirable, to repulsive.


We may see similar responses to materialism. People who flaunt their wealth with expensive cars and big houses may become subjects of scorn.


Challenging circumstances can bring out the best in people.


Are there things that individuals can do to cut consumption and hence energy demand?


Stop flying overseas for holidays

Buy local produce

Eat less meat

Value services rather than goods

Job sharing

Stay-at-home parents

Stop buying gadgets

Community projects

Grow food


Technological solutions (the ‘ideal home’ concept of electronic management) is not the answer, but changes in values and expectations are.

Ask the neighbour, don’t buy a gadget.


Buy a small car and use it little. Don’t buy a hybrid.

Live in a small (but beautiful) house.

Play sports, don’t buy a wii, listen to a band, don’t buy a music gadget.

Share things.


Before you buy something, ask how it will improve the quality of your life or anyone else’s. Ask what effect it has on the planet (eg what resources and energy were used to make it?)


We still need modern technology:

Internet allows us to work at home, communicate

Health care


Advanced public transport




The resources crunch (increased prices, shortages and world unrest) will hit hard very soon.

This will be the time when society will accept change. Even willingly.

We should be prepared. Have sensible solutions ready.

Not give society false hope of technological or economic fixes to sustain the unsustainable consumption and growth.