You have been told that limiting fossil fuels will reduce our standard of living. That is the basic economic argument put forward by Republicans in the USA, many climate change deniers, Vic Fedeli, who wants to be Conservative leader in Ontario, and economists who see themselves as realists. It isn’t a lie, just an error.
Or rather it is a collection of errors. It is involves errors about energy intensity, energy supply, and a deep confusion about what “standard of living means”. Lets take these in order.
The pessimists assume that we can’t reduce energy intensity very much. Producing a hammer in 2020 will take as much energy as it did in 2014. This is absolutly absurd. Virtualy every product we buy is being re-engineered to reduce the energy required to produce it. Just think about lighting. Do you remember incandescents? Fluorescents? Compact fluorescents? LEDs? In an amazingly short time we have moved through a series of technologies that reduce energy intensity. And have you noticed that computers, phones and cars are getting smaller lighter and better? Declining energy intensity happening before your eyes. Cell phones don’t require coppper wires to connect them: less energy required. Fibre optics? more signal, less energy to produce or operate. The rule is that energy intensity will fall. And in every case the quality of your life improved!
And do remember that the federal government has based its whole policy for restraining Canadian emissions of CO2 on reducing energy intensity in the tar sands. Those conservatives believe it is easy to cut energy intensity! It really is too bad that they didin’t introduce a carbon tax. that would have speeded up the process quite a lot.
Reducing energy intensity alone is not enough to sharpy reduce fossil fuel use, especially with rising world population, but it helps.
The pessimists also assume that we can’t find alternate sources of energy. This has proven wrong – Solar is getting cheaper, wind is getting cheapers, storage technology is blossoming. Denmark, for example, with one of the highest standards of living in the world, honestly plans to be completely off domestic use of fossil fuels. Despite rapidly rising standards of living for a huge population, China has promised to start reducing emissions by 2050. That is the equivalant of turning the Titanic aroud in half an hour. Pessimists think the Chinese are lying. They are ignoring the fact that the Chinese need to cut fossil fuels for health and political reasons, and they are ignoring the fact that the Chinese seem to be are on track to succeed.
The pessimists also assume that energy-dense stuff is the secret ingredient in a happy life. Philosophers have beens saying for centuries this is not true, but now science is showing that a smile from a friend does more for most people than a new hat or a bag of chips. If you look at what people are spending money on, you discover that they are spending more and more on phoning friends, playing video games, listening to music, watching movies and TV. All of these activities are information goods. Information goods are not like hammers. Once the first copy has been produced, it can be copied virually for free. In other words, consumption is expanding, quality of life improving and the energy needed to imporve the quality of life is minimal.
Put it together and what have you got? (that is a line from a song, by the way) You have NO convincing reason to think that cutting fossil fuels will reduce the qualtiy of your life. NO reason at all to be afraid of acting on climate chamge!
In fact, you should be expecting a kind of hurricane of energy-reducing innovations that make your life better. It is those pessimists who are holding us back!