A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth—the author of the manifesto Uncivilization—confesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. “You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years,” he says, “and every single thing had gotten worse.” He’s heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.
Survivalism: it’s not just for right-wing wackos any more.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out how to avert disaster. The United Nations recently released another in its series of reports on climate change. This one tries to put a price tag on what we need to do over the next 15-20 years to stop the global mercury from rising.
Another “simple” answer is to not only remove subsidies from dirty energy but to tax it as well. In this way, governments discourage the use of coal and oil and raise the revenue necessary to invest in clean technologies. It seems an elegant solution, except that the energy companies and their political representatives have bitterly fought against carbon taxes. In 2011, the Labor government in Australia pushed through a carbon tax and established a $10-billion “green bank” to support sustainable energy projects. That hasn’t lasted long. The new center-right government has vowed to repeal the tax, but the Australian parliament has so far turned back the government’s repeal effort.
Denmark offers a less fractious alternative. The country is currently planning to unshackle itself completely from fossil fuels by 2050. And it plans to do that without relying on nuclear power. The country has invested heavily in wind power, and last year, for the first time, wind supplied more than 50 percent of the country’s energy consumption for an entire month. How much will this 40-year transition cost? The estimate is roughly 1 percent of the country’s GDP. By the end, Denmark will have cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent.
The Denmark model requires a few caveats. The entire scheme involves significant investment in new technologies and infrastructure upgrades. It also depends on a critical variable—the increasing cost of fossil fuels. If oil and gas and coal remain cheap, capital will not flow into the new technologies. In other words, the possibility of the earth burning up is not sufficient to concentrate our minds and mobilize our efforts. It comes down to a pocketbook issue. Only astronomical prices at the gas pump will force us to change our behavior, individually and collectively.[...]
But perhaps the most important caveat is this: Denmark will only succeed if we are all on board. We don’t have the luxury of sitting back, seeing if the calculations involved in Denmark’s fossil-free scenario work out, and then following suit if we like the results. By that time, it would be too late.