Since confronting the challenge of reducing our carbon footprint 30 years ago, the scenario has played out like an narcotics anonymous group trying to move forward with an opium processing plant next door. Every pledge has predictably failed in the presence of so much pleasure and convenience, not only readily available but actively promoted. As the futility of this schizoid approach of going two directions at once became apparent, our next plan was achieving stability through mitigation of our climate footprint by sequestering an equal or greater amount of carbon in other ways. The elusive goal of controlling carbon need not be achieved only by reducing fossil fuel use but more by purposefully sequestering an equal or greater amount of carbon, either naturally by growing trees and regenerating soil or technologically with large carbon capture machines. Thus, the invention of the concept of “carbon neutrality” or “net zero.” The important thing to remember about this new plan is that it doesn’t explicitly say that we have to change our current carbon consuming economy and lifestyle at all. Of course, nobody backing these strategies would ever say that. Addicts hide behind unreal but serviceable excuses to not change.
This addiction is mostly driven at the corporate level but depends utterly on buy-in by consumers. Many people have worked hard for years to get to the point of fulfilling their dreams of luxury, convenience, and the ability to get out and see the world. We know how resistant people are right now to the demands of the pandemic. If we find it difficult to accept changes to preserve lives right away, how much more difficult to limit our desires for the sake of uncertain events decades in the future? Our reason subordinates itself to our desires.
The important thing to know about net zero is that it is an end state we intend to achieve even though every path to its realization thus far has been found deficient or unrealizable. As James Dyke, senior lecturer in Global Systems, U. of Exeter, says, “It’s astonishing how the continual absence of any credible carbon removal technology never seems to affect net zero policies…For some time, I assumed I was merely ill-informed or over-cautious. I now realize that we have all been subject to a form of gas lighting. [Regardless of strategy], the assumption is net zero will work because it has to work. But beyond fine words and glossy brochures, there is nothing there. The Emperor has no clothes.” The whole paper is here: https://theconversation.com/climate-scientists-concept-of-net-zero-is-a-dangerous-trap-157368
Meanwhile, the original solution of reducing carbon consumption remains the only proven realistic solution. But it requires that we change our economy and lifestyle relatively drastically. It requires that we subordinate our wishes to those of nature, to accept constraints on our behavior when that behavior upsets the health of the biosphere. On the plus side, our family grows immensely with our every decision based on not just our well-being but more on the well-being of the ecosphere (our sphere also). By accepting and embracing the right and necessity of all of nature to thrive, we connect ourselves intimately with the abundance, variety, resilience, and wisdom of a biome that has developed over billions of years. By allowing it to predominate, we secure our future as well if we prove to be useful in maintaining its stability. Many have said that nature needs man like a fish needs a bicycle, but I don’t believe that. I think that there is purpose and maybe even intent in evolution so that our mere existence is meant to serve some purpose, and the serving of that purpose will be our most deeply satisfying and meaningful experience.
So, on the one hand, we have the opportunity to end our separation from nature and live in a state of quiet abundance and equality. On the other, we can continue to try to remake the world exclusively in our image. That implies that we continue the loss of biodiversity even though we understand that many vital links will have to be reinvented and maintained by us at great cost to make the world viable. We can expect that our replacement for natural functions will be tawdry in comparison to the real thing and that access to those services will favor the wealthy. Strict control will be required to make things work and that eliminates political systems that allow freedom or equality. We know that this strategy will sorely task the world’s ability to heal itself, will probably end up being dystopian, and could become completely unviable, ending in extinction.
Which world do you want to live in? One with constraints, communion, and protection or one that exalts human control and dominion? That’s the decision we have to make.