Monday, December 27, 2010

A Reasonably Good Facsimile of a Future with Less Carbon

Bill McKibben suggested in Deep Economy that America could cut its carbon emissions in half, not by going back to primitive village life and donning hair shirts, but by becoming more like Europe, which has half the carbon emissions of the US (and per capita, Canada, for that matter).

An article by George Marshall in New Internationalist Magazine makes the case that Britains could cut their carbon emissions by 80% by living the way they did back in 1972. He seasons personal anecdotes of his life as a boy with statistics that offer proof that we had a pretty decent life back in 1972. We lacked nothing but excess consumption and we had more time together as families and communities, which Robert D. Putnam says in Bowling Alone is the one thing that will really make us happy.

"What will life be like if wealthy countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent or more? George Marshall finds a trip down memory lane can teach us plenty about a low-carbon future.

Imagine reducing emissions by 80 per cent. It seems huge and daunting without a technological revolution. But imagine achieving that target just by turning the clock back to the time when emissions were still at that level. For example, how far back would you have to go to reduce by 80 per cent the amount that British people fly?

1972. Yes, 1972. It really isn’t so long ago – and if it does seem a long time, consider that to halve flights you only have to go back to 1993.

When we try to envision a low-carbon society we often forget that one is still alive in our collective memories. Nearly half the current population of Britain was alive in 1972 and it was hardly the dark ages. People lived, laughed, and loved just as much as now.

The early 1970s marked the first time in Britain when people’s basic needs were largely met. Yes, there were still pockets of absolute poverty, but by and large, people were housed, fed, clothed, and in work. They had weekends off, annual holidays and spare cash for entertainment and leisure. It was not a time of great plenty – but of ample sufficiency.

For every sector, the figures tell the same story – had we chosen to keep that standard of living and applied our ingenuity to making it better, fairer and more efficient, we would not now be facing catastrophic climate change. I feel a deep sadness that we did not make that choice, but some hope in the knowledge that a potentially sustainable society has occurred within my lifetime.

With this in mind I have been re-examining my own memories of 1972, supplemented by the statistical evidence.1 I want to know how it felt to live with lower consumption and lower expectations. What lessons can we learn, and can we move forward in a way that is intelligently informed by our own recent past?"

1 comment:

  1. Why not try the 1972 lifestyle for 2 weeks and report back. Make a video diary and post it in this blog.

    No cheating: the video is only for the diary and the only internet access is strictly once per day and only to post the day's diary.

    Do some research and try to be authentic. Eat 1970s style food. Do 1970s style jobs with 1970s technology.