Someone that I enjoy discussing politics and economics argued that his great fear is that in the name of doing the right thing, we will support costly policies that could be economically ruinous.
My great fear is different.
One of the things I find most difficult to address when discussing climate change, sustainability or economic change with some people, is that we seem to have different understandings of what would be catastrophic.
I recall a particularly clear example when talking to a carbon trader about the impact on carbon markets if we shifted to zero-emissions by 2050 and if a carbon market would have a vested interest to prevent us reaching that goal (no emissions, no trade).
He laughed this off as absurdly catastrophic for the economy.
That is my great fear – that out of our fear of protecting the economy and the way of life that we know now, we will make decisions that are only based on the cost to the economy, that are politically practical, but are not in related to physical reality – creating solutions that do not actually solve the problems we face.
My great fear is that in doing so, that before the end of my life, our fear of upsetting the economy will create a world ravaged by a furiously unstable climate, where food and water insecurity results in widespread hunger and drought, where basic medical treatments are unavailable or ineffective, in short (to borrow from another movement) a return to the dark ages.
Despite tales of the great flexibility, inventiveness and resilience of the economy, when it comes to addressing the great challenges of our time it would appear to be very fragile.
But is it really?
What we’re asking of the economy is a significant make over in the way industry and business works – in some cases, completely retrofitting equipment or changing the business model.
Does history have any clues as to just how bad that might be for the economy?
In 1882 the first electricity generation station was opened in the United States. By the early 1900′s electricity was widely deployed across the country, used by industry and multiple electrical utility companies were competing.
That’s around 20 years – half the time we need to convert to zero emissions.
That’s 20 years and 30 years – each of those revolutions occurred in less than the space of time needed for us to decarbonise.
In 1979 internet shopping was first conceived, by 1995 Amazon was launched, and today internet shopping is common place and widely adopted.
That’s 33 years.
In 1941 America entered the war, by 1944, Ford motors was producing a B24 bomber every 63 minutes, and they were doing this 24 hours a day.
That’s 3 years.
So it would seem that the economy is can not only cope, but blossom through rapid change. Even much sooner than 2050, which would probably be a good thing.
My great mistake, in these conversations (and this blog post), however, is the focus on the negative and the fear. Fear has just as much potential to paralyse as it does to motivate action – but we can do much better than that.
When faced with the great challenge of World War II mobilisation, the economy did not collapse – companies rose to it in a way that few would’ve predicted (certainly not the carbon trader I spoke to).
My greatest fear is that we will ruin this beautiful earth for ourselves and for everyone that comes after us, but my greatest dream, is that tackling our great fears will spur humanity to blossom in a way that it never has before.
We call them our greatest fears, because it is by overcoming them that we become great.Google+