The planetary emergency we must avoid (spoiler alert: it’s not climate change)

Jack Santa Barbara

Purchasing an EV is something more people are doing to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. EVs are attractive and increasingly convenient.

But is this reaction to the climate crisis an example of the wrong solution to the wrong problem? Is climate change, as serious as it is, even the most important problem to address?

Climate change is certainly an existential threat and more needs to be done to mitigate its worst impacts. Yet even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, we would still face a range of environmental existential threats..

..Building vast amounts of alternative energy infrastructure will require more fossil fuel and raw material use. Building a global EV fleet reflects a growth mind-set that accepts using more energy and raw materials. The degrowth mind-set explores how we can manage our lives with less transport of goods and people.

The degrowth narrative is portrayed as unnecessary, unrealistic, and uninspiring. But it seems to be the only one that acknowledges both the magnitude of the threats we face, and the biophysical limits that will ultimately determine what is possible. It arguably requires more innovation and creativity than the growth paradigm, but in the social arena rather than the technical one.

For example, rather than expanding our electricity production and developing an EV fleet, a degrowth approach would be to initiate a massive energy conservation program, and invest in a 15 minute city design – where most of our live, work and play activities can be accessed in 15 minutes by walking or biking.

Major social transformations of the sort degrowth advocates propose only come about with large social movements. Democratic governments are constrained by divisions within society about these competing narratives.

We cannot rely on governments to implement the radical changes needed without large numbers of us calling for the declaration of a planetary emergency.

It’s up to us to determine the narrative for a genuinely sustainable and just future.

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