The way to save the planet: shrink the economy


The oil and gas industry claims that the 11 percent drop in reported U.S. carbon emissions between 2007 and 2013 was due primarily to the growth in fracking ("When Human Consumption Slows, Planet Earth Can Heal"). However a recent study in Nature Communications determined that 83 percent of the 2007-2013 reduction was the result of decreased consumption and production during the great recession, while only the remaining 17 percent was due to changes in fuel type. That makes sense; less economic activity lowers carbon emissions.

This simple truth has far-reaching implications. Our current economic system, based on growth, can't adjust to this fact. But that doesn't change the fact: the way to save the biosphere is to shrink our economy.

Progressive environmental activists know we must reduce our carbon footprint, but for strategic reasons, we advocate a mélange of solutions. We fight to ban fracking, stop the XL pipeline and divest from fossil fuel companies. This makes sense: if applied globally these actions, in combination with conservation, would significantly decrease economic activity, and thus lower carbon emissions. We also promote increased efficiency in heating and cooling appliances, air and automobile travel, better public transportation, recycling, and alternative solar generation. These actions, while reducing the carbon footprint of the products we buy and trips we take, may not lower total emissions if they result in our buying and traveling more, or using more cheaply generated solar power.

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