“You say you love your children above all else”

15 year old Greta Thunberg spoke the words in the title in her statement addressed to the participants at the COP24 meeting in Katowice in December 2018. This article from Resilience uses her title and the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor with No Clothes to illustrate the modern story of the desirability and feasibility of perpetual economic growth that we all choose to ignore. The young Swedish activist, who also appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos this month, was like the child who told the naked Emperor that he had no clothes. She spoke to the powerful participants telling them that if they loved their children above all else, then the greed for unending wealth that drives our modern capitalist consumer society should be put aside. Exponential growth of technology, fossil fuel and capital accumulation are the emperor’s new clothes of modern society that we choose to overlook.

“Technologies have taken over our society. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that capitalism and the market economy have been major drivers for the transition to a fossil fuel economy.  For companies, regardless if they wanted to or not, it has been impossible not to mechanize if they want to stay in business. And mechanization led to specialization and bigger scale, which in turn led to linear production processes, a fundamental break from an economy that earlier was sustainable and largely regenerative. Competition also pushed producers to externalize as many costs as possible, be it social, cultural or environmental.

Governments have also been keen on growth oriented policies, “international competitiveness” to keep corporations happy to invest and operate in their country. This gives the governments more tax revenue to spend (perhaps also money into their own pockets). The power of corporations has also increased with globalization and de-regulation, to some extent the result of intentional politics and to some extent the result of the capitalist take-over of more and more of society.

By and large, citizens, consumers and workers have of course also benefited from this, at least as long as growth continued and the elites (economic, political or technocratic) didn’t abuse their powers by taking too big a share of the pie. Calls are now made, however, that “consumers” shouldn’t waste so much food, eat less meat, stop driving the car and don’t fly. Oddly enough no one makes the same call for people in their role as workers – are we to consume less we also need to produce less, shouldn’t we? No calls are made for companies to produce less or countries to shrink their economies.”

Can young people turn off complacency about climate change? This article argues, citing Greta Thunberg, that they can.

Young people have no tolerance for complacency: they have never known a time when climate change was not a threat. For them, it is about the ‘here and now’ and talking ‘solutions not science.’ Being the most digitally connected generation yet, our youth have the capacity to channel that motivation into globally coordinated efforts. Seeing as they will soon become our future leaders, decision-makers and consumers, it would be absurd to exclude them from our climate communication initiatives.”

Greta Thunberg article and TED Talk

Population and Nitrogen fertiliser

Greenhouse gas emissions and their unintended consequences got a good airing in the media in 2018, especially around the UNFCCC COP24 event in December. The unintended consequences of population and economic growth are less dealt with by the mainstream media despite their being the underlying causes of human-induced atmospheric modification and global heating. This short article published on the Stanford University MAHB website today is a timely reminder that there are other unintended consequences of universally approved human activity to re-examine. When teaching in Australia in 1969 my students joined Paul Ehrlich, whose prediction is featured in this article, on a TV discussion programme. In his 90s he is still trying to convince the world of the combined dangers of the exponential growth of population, affluence and technology. So is the author of the article “Will Paul Ehrlich’s prediction finally come true?” that concludes:

the best we can hope for is a world population peak of 10 billion around 2070, which would make it necessary to increase the consumption of nitrogen fertilizer to at least 160 million tonnes per year. This is not sustainable, but there is no solution in sight.”