How can the world use less energy? In The State of the World 2012: Moving Towards Sustainable Prosperity, the author states that the world is using 1-½ times the sustainable limit of planetary resources in order to meet the material needs of ⅓ of world population; the other ⅔ are clamoring for their share. The present economic system, in the name of unlimited growth, would accommodate their demands if only the system would actually work as it is supposed to work. But for the environment, perhaps there is a hidden blessing in the failure of capitalism to transform the worlds poor into consumers.
But despite their wretched poverty, the results of increasing population in the developing world continues to deplete resources and threaten the ecosystem. Lester O Brown, head of Worldwatch and author of numerous books on climate change, has proposed that one of the most effective strategies to slow climate change is to support the education of women in the developing world; with education, these women tend to have less children, consequently resulting in less resource and energy depletion. Most are desperately poor, too often pregnant, and working overtime if the are fortunate enough to work for any money at all; women’s liberation could make a huge difference, both for them and for us. According to current neo-liberal mythology, in theory the desperately poor can raise themselves through their labor, thereby becoming able to buy the goods that capital is so eager to sell; humanity would then be using 4 to 5 times the sustainable limit of resource consumption, fast tracking our environmental demise.
So here is a genuine environmental dilemma: with education, the poor in the developing world can consume more goods and energy; the uneducated will have more children, who consequently consume at a lower rate per capita but an overall total increase.
If we revisit the original question of "how can the world use less energy?", clearly it is not only the 3rd world, but also ourselves in the industrialized nations who are in need of more education. We all need to become educated in understanding the realities of population growth and climate change, and the follies of our consumerist culture. This brings to mind Adbuster’s articles about Ivy League students who have been demanding that alternative economics be taught in their elite universities. The basic premise of green economics is that economic activity be organized not for profit, but for sustainable living worldwide. In this scenario, in the face of catastrophic climate change, humanity could learn to work together to restrain both population growth and economic activity, thereby safeguarding the environment.
One wonders whether humanity can learn to work together for the first time in recorded history, and to redesign the world in a sane, livable way. Here is the critical question: can we actually stop greed? A grossly preponderant share of power is held by the wealthy; even those who give away some of their money don’t give up their power, or even offer to share it. For practical purposes, the greedy few determine the basic circumstances of our material lives throughout the world. We vote, they get richer.
Well, by golly, what to do? Can we pressure the powerful into giving up their wealth and sharing power, so that we can redirect the economy? Can we educate the rich and powerful about the realities of climate change, or even persuade them to stop the business of mining oil and coal, and to maintain their fortunes by selling solar and wind? Or will they continue to hold on to business a usual, while denying the reality of imminent climate change.
There is no way to answer these questions because the future cannot be known--all we can do is try to make a difference here and now. To reduce energy consumption and consumerism worldwide, there needs to be a massive raising of awareness, and education may be our best bet. If enough educated people would demand a sustainable system for living, nothing could stop them.