Over the past two centuries, millions of dedicated people – revolutionaries, activists, politicians, and theorists – have yet to curb the disastrous and increasingly globalised trajectory of economic polarisation and ecological degradation. Perhaps because we are utterly trapped in flawed ways of thinking about technology and economy – as the current discourse on climate change shows.
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are not just generating climate change. They are giving more and more of us climate anxiety – public concern over climate change in the UK, for example, is at a record high. Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in 10 years must be half of what they were 10 years ago, or we face apocalypse. School children like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?
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Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technological progress. Regardless of ideology, there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for “geoengineering” the Earth’s climate. The common denominator in these visions is the faith that we can save modern civilisation if we shift to new technologies. But “technology” is not a magic wand. It requires a lot of money, which means claims on labour and resources from other areas. We tend to forget this crucial fact.
The cost of going green
As much as 90% of world energy use comes from fossil sources. Meanwhile in 2017, only 0.7% of global energy use derived from solar power and 1.9% from wind. So why is the long-anticipated transition to renewable energy not materialising?