Can a net zero carbon economy be sustained?

climate signClyde Burnett, Boulder.  The universal recognition of the dangers of climate change at the Paris meetings last December inspired a slight increase in environmental correspondence on the Internet. Al Gore said, “The power of informed public opinion is now gaining the upper hand where the climate crisis is concerned.” Alex Cook has published a new climate novel. Kaiser Permanente recently announced a 2025 management goal of environmental carbon positive performance. Their plan is to lead by example, including collaboration with others, to reduce risks to food production, watersheds, and air basins. There are active organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org, Real Climate, and the Environmental Defense Fund that work to encourage greenhouse gas regulation, albeit with legal harassment from some members of Congress.

However, this is not apparent to me in my exposure to public discussions. Even the PBS commentators completely ignored the subject in their Democratic presidential candidate debate questions. Republicans uniformly deny it exists. Climate change continues to be completely absent on network television programs. Even on the weather channel where they documented 70 tornadoes in the recent Louisiana-New England storms, there was no speculation about extreme weather due to global warming. I find this incongruous behavior in spite of the increased adaptation costs and the scientific warnings of global disasters.

Floods in Texas and Louisiana have again caused thousands of homeowners to be evacuated from damaged homes and soaked personal belongings. Residents and their local governments respond to these natural processes of rain, snow, and wind with “s*** happens,” They fail to appreciate, however, that the insidious cause of the increased water from the warmed Gulf of Mexico leading to these more intense and costly disasters is the human-caused increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases which are trapping more of Earth’s infrared heat.

Bhutan, population 750,000, the small country in the eastern Himalayan foothills, claims to operate a net zero carbon economy. Bhutan has moved recently from an enlightened monarchy, which demonstrated a respect and reverence for nature, to a democratic national assembly. The policy presently balances economic growth with social, environmental, and cultural values.  For example, the country has free education and health service, electric cars, waste plastic in roads material, and a subsidy for organic farming. The country is presently 72% forested; its constitution requires preservation of 60% forest.  They emphasize gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross domestic product (GDP). Their new democracy is presently committed to the ideals of their former royal environmental plan and dedication to GNH.  This is clearly a possible economic policy. Will Bhutan’s democracy maintain this policy?

Is this an example for us to follow? We begin with a history of exploitation of our natural resources that leaves little to be conserved. Our electorate operates with little knowledge or respect for climate science, yielding little hope for a government that will move to control our greenhouse gas emissions.

We are continually warned that it will be expensive to move from business as usual to renewable energies. We have grown and prospered with cheap fossil fuel, but we failed to pay for the atmospheric CO2 pollution. We are now beginning to pay the increasing adaptation costs, for wind and flood damage, insurance, and personal losses resulting from our planet’s response to global warming. There is a psychological paradox in facing these financial difficulties and disaster inconveniences that makes us want to disbelieve these facts of climate science.