Two recent events should make us rethink not only our energy path but also our economic path.
First, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of the most recent climate science findings last month. File it under "horror."
The report asserts that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." According to the document, the world will continue to get hotter under all scenarios.
Ominously, it adds: "Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped."
But sadly, carbon emissions are not stopping; we keep spewing the stuff into the atmosphere from our cars, trucks and coal plants.
Second, the ongoing disaster at Fukushima proves that nuclear power is not the solution. The TEPCO utility and the Japanese government have barely an idea of what to do with 13,000 spent nuclear fuel rods that are in peril at the reactor site. They contain more than 400 tons of extremely radioactive material.
So, all roads lead to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, right?
Well, it's not that simple. As professor Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales in Australia has demonstrated, renewables cannot work in a consumer society based on endless growth and ever-increasing and wasteful consumption.
Therefore, reducing humanity's collective ecological footprint is no less important than switching to energy alternatives.
The best way to lighten that footprint is to repudiate the need for constant economic growth.
De-growth is already under discussion in Europe and in some circles in Latin America. The proposal is not new. Economists like Serge Latouche of France, Joan Martinez-Alier of Spain and Herman Daly of the United States have written extensively about it. And there are new thinkers joining the fray, like economists Tim Jackson and Peter Victor, who are inviting us to consider prosperity without growth.
We should get used to the idea that we cannot have both an environmentally sound economy running on renewable energy and an endlessly growing economy.
We need to re-examine what we mean by growth and what we mean by prosperity, while we still have time.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero.
Photo: Flickr user Mark Rain, creative commons licensed.