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beyond carbon

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Climate change is yet another symptom of our unsustainable lifestyles. Yet governments and the organisations who have now assumed the role of combating climate change subscribe to the notion that climate change is our central problem and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is the cause of this problem.

Undeniably, climate change is a serious problem but it is only one of a growing list of problems that arise from a fundamental global issue. For many decades, the symptoms of unsustainable human exploitation of the natural environment have been mounting: species extinction, the loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, soil erosion, acid rain, destruction of rainforests, ozone depletion - the list goes on.

These problems all clearly have a common origin, yet the search for solutions has invariably focused on targeted treatments rather than addressing the root cause. In general, none of these problems have completely disappeared and many have continued to worsen.

Global warming - the latest in this list of environmental woes - is a particularly worrying development, not only because it is potentially catastrophic, but because it is going to be incredibly difficult to control.

The solutions currently being put forward, such as those being championed by the European Union, focus almost exclusively on reducing carbon emissions. However, focusing on the need to reduce CO2 emissions has reduced the problem to one of carbon dioxide rather than the unsustainable way we live our lives.

This oversight has led to the assumption that if we reduce emissions then our problems are solved; hence the focus on carbon sequestration, renewable energies and environmental technologies. This approach to curing our problems is a bit like relying on methadone to cure an addiction to heroin.

The large-scale transition to renewable resources might provide a safer alternative to oil and gas and other finite resources, but it will not remove our energy and resource dependency, which will continue to expand in line with economic growth.

Before long, we will discover that even renewables have their limits. We are already being warned about the dangers of excessive demand for biofuels, which is reportedly leading to the clearing of rainforests and increasing competition for land between food and energy production. Ultimately, our problem is consumption, and the environment is not the only casualty.


The authors are cautious over the causes of climate change, but said "at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human-induced climate change."

"The world faces a stark choice -- reduce emissions or face the fury of nature," Collier said.

The modern Western lifestyle also has an inbuilt dependency on the cheap resources and the low carbon footprint of developing countries, which has compounded global injustice. Seventy-five percent of the world's population - more than 4.5bn people - live on just 15% of the world's resources, while we in the West gorge on the remaining 85%.

We urgently need to think about the more fundamental concept of sustainability and how our lifestyles are threatening the planet and its people. The modern cycle of earning and consumption can be exhausting and does not necessarily bring happiness and fulfillment. We need to do things differently, and better.

From BBC