The material in this post is taken from the ebook Net Zero: An Opportunity.
Fine words butter no parsnips.
Talk doesn’t cook the rice.
When it comes to climate change, there is no shortage of reports, books, web sites, social media and blogs that describe the dilemmas we face. These publications typically explain what climate change is, its causes and the range of possible consequences. The writers of these documents then urge us to take action to achieve a ‘Net Zero World’ — a world in which we do not emit greenhouse gases by a specified date, often the year 2050. (Any emissions that continue to be generated will be compensated for through the use of carbon capture programs.) But, having raised the alarm, these same publications often tend to be somewhat vague as to what we can actually do in response.
Of course, no one has all the answers to these challenges. The predicaments we face are extraordinarily complex, and they contain many feedback loops that we do not understand, or that may not even have been identified. The best that we can do is to analyze the situation, decide on a pragmatic course of action, and then take that action.
Of one thing we can be sure: simple slogans are not going to provide realistic answers. As Albert Einstein once said,
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
The sketch at the top of this post summarizes the dilemma. It shows where we are now; it also shows where we want to be. But how we get from the one to the other is a far from clear.
There are many ways of responding — all of which are important. In this book we focus on two aspects of the potential actions that can be taken. The first is to do with the realistic use of technology. The second discusses how leadership can be provided by businesses and industry.
The key word in these discussions is ‘realistic’. It is vital to distinguish between hope and ‘hopium’ — a fictitious word that is a blend of “hope” and “opium” and that means irrational or unwarranted optimism. We can hope to find effective and useful measures that address the climate change dilemma and that are effective within the constraints of the laws of physics, thermodynamics and biology. There is no guarantee of success — the Earth’s climate is changing so rapidly that success seems to be increasingly out of reach. Nevertheless, we continue to work on responses, hoping that those responses will at least slow down or partially allay the impact of a changed climate. Reactions to climate change must also be realistic in terms of project management, i.e., the constraints of time, resources, people and money.
The title of the ebook contains the words ‘Climate Change’. Yet climate change is just one part of a much bigger puzzle. Other pieces include resource depletion, ocean acidification, destruction of the biosphere and over-population. Taken together they are all part of the concept of Overshoot (Catton, 1982), the idea that all species, including humans, tend to overshoot their environmental and resource limits. At that point their population undergoes a severe decline.