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Reasons for optimism – technological environmentalism

Summary:
There are many differences between behavioural change environmentalism and technological environmentalism. The latter does not involve us all living more simply, becoming poorer, turning our back on progress, being prevented from doing the things we want to do, and living narrower lives, denied the opportunities to live more comfortable ones filled with new opportunities. Children might have fun camping out on the streets and claiming that extinction of the race is imminent because we have “destroyed their future,” but the reverse is true. The human race is not threatened with extinction, and their future has been saved, not destroyed. Pointing to the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5,

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There are many differences between behavioural change environmentalism and technological environmentalism. The latter does not involve us all living more simply, becoming poorer, turning our back on progress, being prevented from doing the things we want to do, and living narrower lives, denied the opportunities to live more comfortable ones filled with new opportunities.

Children might have fun camping out on the streets and claiming that extinction of the race is imminent because we have “destroyed their future,” but the reverse is true. The human race is not threatened with extinction, and their future has been saved, not destroyed. Pointing to the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5, environmental activists have predicted massive rises in ocean levels and in global temperatures. The reality is that RCP 8.5 will not happen. We have already done enough and are doing enough to prevent that outcome.

RCP 8.5 assumed a continued increase in coal-burning, whereas coal-fired power stations are being phased out, their place taken by the much less polluting gas-fired stations, and by non-emitting renewables such as solar, wind and nuclear. This process is increasing, with oil use declining from a peak, and set to be phased out, first as a transport fuel, then as a power generator. Vehicles in future will not use fossil fuels or emit the carbon and pollution they generate.

A number of technological innovations are assisting the process. Cultured meats will cut down on the number of cattle and the greenhouse gas methane they produce. Genetically modified crops produce more food on less land, without needing the concentrations of fertilizers and insecticides that would otherwise be needed, or the depletion of rainforest land. Tree cover has increased in many countries, and will increase as less land is needed for food, and new tree strains are developed, including faster-growing versions of big carbon absorbers such as white oak and horse chestnut.

New and efficient forms of carbon sequestration are being developed, with the aim of achieving a net carbon reduction over the century, rather than simply curbing its increase. Some involve it being stored in the oceans, some in deep caves. Innovative techniques for converting it into fuel or feedstock show promise, but are not yet at a commercially viable stage.

The upshot is that we are not facing extinction, or even RCP 8.5. The most likely outcome might well be RCP 2.6, the least damaging of the IPCC four scenarios. Under that circumstance the temperature rise would not reach 2C before it began to decline. These are circumstances well within our power to deal with, and ingenuity might make that ever easier than it seems now. 

There is a profoundly conservative assumption by some that the present status quo must be preserved at all costs, and that we must all take drastic and immediate happening to stop it changing. Not everyone shares that view. Some take the view that things change, and that coping with the change is a more reliable and achievable goal that trying to stop it.

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