The Economist on fossil fuel abolition


in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

I have written before about The Economist‘s inconsistent positions on climate change and fossil fuels. When writing about science or climate change specifically — and in most of their leading editorials — they stress the potential severity of the crisis and the need to take action. In their broader coverage, however, they tend to prioritize economic growth and to celebrate fossil fuel discoveries as potential boons.

In a recent issue, they included some strong and convincing language on how fossil fuel abolition is ultimately a means to protect human prosperity:

The UNFCCC and its COPs, for all their flaws, play a crucial part in a process that is historic and vital: the removal of the fundamental limit on human flourishing imposed by dependence on fossil fuels.

The main reason the UNFCCC and COP process matters is that the science, diplomacy, activism and public opinion that support it make up the best mechanism the world currently has to help it come to terms with a fundamental truth. The dream of a planet of almost 8bn people all living in material comfort will be unachievable if it is based on an economy powered by coal, oil and natural gas. The harms from the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide would eventually pile up so rapidly that fossil-fuel-fired development would stall.

In the long run, therefore, the only way to keep growing is by leaving fossil fuels behind. That requires Asian countries, in most of which emissions are still surging, to forgo much more by way of future emissions than the countries of the developed world, where emissions are already declining.

Anyone who dreams of a reprieve for fossil fuels must be disabused. It suits Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia, and Joe Manchin, a senator from West Virginia, never to speak of an end to the fossil-fuels age. But for them to duck the responsibility of planning a transition is rank cowardice. True, oil and gas cannot vanish overnight, but their day is closing. And coal’s day must be done.

This strikes at at least three crucial points: it is acting on climate change and not ignoring it which provides the best guarantee of long-term prosperity; states will need to find a contraction and convergence solution where pollution falls rapidly in rich states which poor states find a development path where their per capita pollution never gets nearly so high; and that for the sake of equity we will need much more energy at the global level, highlighting the need to actually build climate-safe options at an unprecedented rate.

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