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Economy

Consumerism & Climate Crisis

Energy transition would still result in rampant consumerism and do not solve any climate problem.

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We live in a very interesting time where there are vociferous chants about the need for immediate action to address the looming climate emergency crisis. As the shrills of protest get louder and louder, we can see that corporations and governments across the world are being forced to act.

We can see protests everywhere, as a young Greta Thunberg continues galvanizing millions around the world to stand up to the status quo and address the impending climate emergency. Although no concrete pathforward was provided in any of her rallies than to persuade governments across the world to accelerate the change by transitioning from non-renewable forms of energy to renewable forms on an urgent basis, I feel that her naive suggestions simply slows down the feverish march of human progress.

The Paris Agreement 2015, is an ambitious and balanced agreement to fight climate change. This new Agreement will strengthen the effort to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

Government of Canada

One of the biggest beneficiaries of President Obama’s Clean Energy policy is the electric car maker company Tesla. Tesla has in many ways shaped public opinion for the use of electric vehicles instead of internal combustion engines (ICE). Internal combustion engines have been around for more than a century was in dire need for a disruption. I had expressed my own reservations about this technology in another previous blog of mine (titled Stop consuming, start creating). In addition to being a technically superior vehicle, Tesla is a true game-changer considering their success recently in China.

However the argument I would like to make here is that removing all the cars and trucks from the road that are currently internal combustion engines and replacing them completely with electric batteries are not going to resolve the issue of climate change. It is merely transferring the climate hazard from one form of technology to the other, in some case can potentially accentuate the problem. How is that possible? Conventional wisdom is shown as per the following video:

This video has two faulty assumptions – It assumes that the impact of lithium batteries (from lithium mining to its finished product cycle) at 1 metric ton of emission along with its disposal at negligible metric tons (the video assumes that they can be recycled). However I do think that these emission limits are understated.

What then is the truth? We are entering into a hugely disputed argument that potentially favours electric cars as a true herald in addressing the looming climate crisis. But both cars use the same materials of construction with the only difference being that the tailpipe CO2 from ICE tilts the argument in favor of electric cars.

However the source of electricity is always assumed as cleaner such as solar power or wind power. These cleaner forms of energy may not be accessible to all the populations of the world by means of their geographical locations and the weather patterns unique to the area (sunny and windy). The argument can be made for using coal based power vs. natural gas based power. But without having cleaner forms of energy propelling the electricity being used in electric cars, I doubt going electric can actually be friendly to the climate.

In my earlier blog post (titled Materialism and Climate Change) written years ago on the same topic, I had lamented about how no one has debated the real elephant in the room- rampant consumerism. People have a tendency to blame consumerism on capitalism and our never ending obsession with GDP numbers. They may be right. However I would like to argue that transitioning from one form of energy to another would still result in the rampant consumerism and do not solve any climate problem for us as a human race. It actually accentuates it.

To conclude, going electric is effective as long as the electric energy used is clean. But blatantly buying more electric cars is not going to help the issue of climate change. Due to inherent issues with lithium mining and its environmental impact, electric cars would create a bigger problem than solve anything.

Transitioning from one form of energy to another would still result in the rampant consumerism and do not solve any climate problem for us as a human race. It actually accentuates it.

unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

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