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Post Carbon Pathways: how to dodge a climate change bullet

The launch at Melbourne University (photo: Amy Huva 2013) 

Last Monday, the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute launched their latest report in conjunction with the Centre for Policy Development called Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future

What the report aimed to do was to start the conversation about how we get to be a post carbon global economy. The report looked at large scale economic de-carbonization strategies across the globe from governments, think tanks, books published by climate experts, climate NGOs and also interviewed 20 policy makers, climate researchers and climate activists to get their thoughts on the issue. 

From there, they drew three main messages about our post carbon future:

  1. The probability of reaching 4oC of global average warming is rapidly increasing as noted by several institutions, most recently the World Bank and Christine Lagarde from the IMF.
  2. We know what needs to be done to decarbonise and how to do it.
  3. The biggest barriers to a post carbon future are political, not technological.

This is exciting news! Other than the political stalemate around climate change being old news to anyone who has paid attention to politics in the last five years, creating a map towards a post carbon future sounds pretty exciting to me.

In order to get on the road, the report had six priorities.

  • First, overcoming the denial of science.
  • Secondly, overcoming the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies.
  • Third, overcoming political paralysis around the issue (it’s too big/ complex/politically risky/economically risky etc).
  • Fourth, developing an economic paradigm based around well-being and resilience rather than unsustainable consumption.
  • The fifth priority is fostering innovation and creativity.
  • Sixth, we need to strengthen financial and government institutions and capabilities to drive swift implementation of a post carbon economy.

Sounds simple, right?

What the researchers asked the interviewees to do was to imagine it’s 2030 and we live in a world where the transition to a post carbon society has been achieved – how did it happen?

The discussion panel (L-R) Lucy Mann, Roy Neel, Rob Moodie, John Wiseman (photo: Amy Huva 2013)

The responses were varied and interesting (as is the whole report – you should go read it). Jenny Clad, the former Executive Director at the Climate Reality Project, imagined we got there through inch by inch evidence and education (which I tend to place less confidence in than she does). Amory Lovins, the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, imagined it would be through the power of innovation and market forces, while Anna Skarbek, the Executive Director of ClimateWorks Australia imagined it was from decarbonisation becoming the new norm, in the same way it’s now normal to have smart phones, where it wasn’t five years ago.

Other interviewees were more my style of ‘end of the world’ saying it will probably take a natural disaster (or two or three) to wake people up and create the social momentum for economy-wide action on climate change, and as Lester Brown, the President of the Earth Policy Institute said in his interview ‘who foresaw the Berlin wall coming down?’

More importantly, I really liked the comment from Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption ‘one of the reasons it’s so important to do this work now is because when the general public panic, they’ll ask for the plan. Therefore the more we have that conversation in more places now, the more acceptance there’ll be of these plans as examples’.

Given that humanity seems hell bent on ignoring the work that needs to be done to transition to a post carbon economy, procrastinating to the very last second before taking action, these kinds of reports that lay out how and what we need to do are going to be increasingly important. This report from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute is an excellent contribution to laying the groundwork of what we as a society need to do to transition to a post carbon economy.

As Lucy Manne, the Co-director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition said in the discussion panel;

‘I think that no matter how the story is told in 2070, whether it’s been a good outcome or a bad outcome, what we do know is that Australia is going to be one of the main characters. So whether you’re pessimistic or optimistic, really there’s a huge responsibility on all of us to take action.’

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