In search of the Lucky Country
Australia likes to call itself “The Lucky Country” but, today, in the fight to see which so-called Developed Country can turn itself into a Third World Nation the fastest, Australia is facing some stiff competition from Canada.
Whilst the rest of the developed world may be tempted to shake their heads and say, “you short-sighted fools”, can anyone actually point to a country on the planet that is not treating the Earth like a business in liquidation?
I think the luckiest countries in the world are probably Iceland and New Zealand; although people affected by the financial meltdown in Reykjavik or the earthquake in Christchurch may wish to disagree with me. Seriously though, it is countries like these, with a wealth of geothermal energy, that may well stand the best chance of achieving carbon-free energy generation in the near to medium term. However, the rest of us will have to find a way to achieve this goal within the next 20 years, or the Earth may end up losing its Goldilocks Planet status. Sadly this will not just be unlucky. In fact luck will not be part of it at all because it will be a travesty; a lasting testament to human folly. A bit embarrassing really; except there will probably not be anybody here to laugh at (or cry about) our crass stupidity, arrogance, and stubbornness (in the face of numerous warnings).
The truth of the matter is this: We live on a finite planet with finite resources but, despite this fact, every country on Earth is fully committed to Growthmania. No-one is willing or able to conceive of an alternative paradigm. Meanwhile, however, reality continues to make its presence felt – Things that were once not a problem (like disposing of waste into rivers, taking fish from the sea, and polluting the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels) are becoming ever more pressing problems solely as a consequence of the scale at which they are being done.
Continual growth in the GDP of the global economy is not sustainable in perpetuity. Growth cannot be the answer to our global debt crisis; and austerity does not seem to be working either. Why is it that economists are so willing to deny the reality of The Second Law of Thermodynamics and/or the concept of Entropy?
Is it really that surprising that the most intractable arguments put forward by climate change deniers are economic ones? Apart from those that want to dispute the reality of ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption, it is economists that are most clearly habituated to denying reality. However, as climate scientists have been saying since at least the late 1950s, we are conducting an enormous geophysical experiment on the Earth’s atmosphere (despite the fact that we have known for over 150 years what the result would be) and, every time we have checked our maths, the predicted result has not changed that much: Ignoring all the positive feedback mechanisms that could trigger a runaway greenhouse effect, the best estimate for equilibrium temperature rise for a doubling of CO2 from pre-Industrial levels (i.e. up to 560ppm) is still somewhere in excess of 2 Celsius.
However, all the evidence suggest that, given that they are already becoming self-evident, positive feedback mechanisms cannot be ignored; making a rise in global average temperature of between 4 and 6 Celsius much more likely. And, as if to add insult to injury, the greater the rise in temperature caused, the more likely that the runaway greenhouse effect that has crippled Venus will be triggered here too.
Clever answers on a postcard please to James Hansen, University of Columbia, New York, NY.