Is climate change separate from or a direct result of development?

As many of you know, I have enrolled in an e-course, “Global Warming in a Still Unequal World,” taught by the Centre for Science and Environment in India. The course includes a number of assignments, which I will post as I complete them. Since I am leaving for India on June 27th, you can expect a number of posts in the next few weeks!

Our second assignment is to present an argument either in support of or against the following statement: “Climate change is not a ‘separate problem. It’s an effect of dominant trajectory of growth the world has embarked, & is still embarking, upon.” My response is below.

Since the European Industrial Revolution, what we call development has required enormous inputs of energy – energy to run factories, drive engines, to manufacture fertilizers, and to heat and light homes and businesses. Increasingly, this model of energy-intensive development is being employed in the developing world as well.

For the past century and a half, the energy needed for development has come form the burning of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. This burning has released enormous amounts of CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere, GHGs that would otherwise remain underground. Therefore, it is clear that climate change has occurred as a direct result of the dominant mode of development. A mode that must always grow, always expand, is never satisfied with enough. That is by definition, unsustainable, as it depends upon non-renewal resources.

Therefore, I would say that climate change is not at all separate from the dominant trajectory of growth – it is a direct result of it and will not be ‘solved’ without addressing the completely contradictory and self-destructive development that has occurred to date. The development that is seen as “the good life” in the Western world – and the one to which the developing world aspires as well. It will not take tweaking or minor adjustments – changing a light bulb or driving less – but a major reorganization of Western cities and societies to reduce its carbon footprint and address the issue of climate change. The developing world can help by adopting low-energy technology and leapfrogging over the heavily polluting technologies and development trajectories of the West. But overall, it is the Western model of development that must be fundamentally changed for climate change to be fully addressed.

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