Prosperity without growth may be the way forward - but are we ready for it?


At this rate of progress Net Zero will never be reached, certainly not by 2050.

Dr Alan Jones, PhD. CEng. FIET.

I’d like to make clear to readers that I’m not a climate change cynic. On the contrary, I firmly embrace the argument that anthropogenic (human induced) greenhouse gas emissions is the cause of the present rise in average global temperature.  What I am cynical of, and I speak as someone constantly looking to reduce my carbon footprint, is the combined ability of the nations of this one planet Earth to make a significant difference.  

To my mind, national wealth, or GDP/capita, and the search for the continual growth of it, seems to trump universal survival at every turn.  I was starkly reminded of this in reading Volume 18, Issue 7 (August 2023) edition of the E&T Magazine in which a small graph under the heading - Did you know? … Fossil fuels still dominate, was displayed.  A copy of this graph is shown below and the copyright acknowledged.

It’s the sort of simple graph that should pull everyone up in their tracks, causing them to stop and think.  It certainly reinforced my cynicism - over the past 20 years, a period during which climate change has received a great deal of attention from political leaders around the globe, the graph shows world energy consumption increasing by 50%, or thereabouts, while fossil fuels combined share fell by a trivial 3%, from around 85% to 82%.  Moreover, the energy consumption from gas and coal both increased around 60% over this period along with 20% for oil.

This sort of global performance – the demand for more and more energy, and especially hydrocarbon-based energy, cannot be the way to achieve Net Zero by 2050 - a mere quarter of a century or more away and one which, at this level of performance could take forever.  But even if by some trick of magic, or serendipity perhaps, renewables (wind and solar) could significantly displace fossil fuels over the next 25 years or so what would we all do when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow?  Energy storage, in significant quantities, something akin to that for oil and gas storage, seems to be a missing component at present.

Surely, the other missing ingredient in the search for the long-term solution to limit global warming, given that the demand for energy is correlated with wealth, and hence population, is for us - every nation, to embrace the concept of prosperity without growth.  But, is the human race, with its inherent desire for more, bigger, better, ready for this?


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