You’ve read things like “Rich Countries Must Help Global South Transition to Post-Fossil-Fuel Future” with claims that “they see how we live, they know we got here by polluting, they have every right to want to live like us, and we have no right to deny them.”
People commonly frame the problem as needing to help them create energy systems that are clean, leapfrogging us like a country that never had many landlines going straight to cell phones. They’ll go straight to solar and wind, which they wrongly call renewable and wrongly believe can sustain a nation’s economy.
Well, if you know the limitations of those power sources and how much they pollute, you know they can’t replace fossil fuels and if we tried, we’d wreck Earth’s ability to sustain life in the process of failing.
The simple, obvious solution
We have 300,000 years of proof that human life or thriving doesn’t require fossil fuels, uranium, rare earth metals, or anything mined from outside the biosphere. Our culture teaches us otherwise, but that teaching is self-serving mostly lies. I know it’s hard to believe human lifetimes were over 70 years long before culture brought it down to 30 years or that indigenous people today prefer their cultures to ours, but that shows more ignorance and a failure of imagination in us than how the world works.
The simple, obvious solution is for rich nations to decrease our ecological impact to below those of poor nations. Then with credibility, integrity, and experience, we can suggest they lower their impact and help them do it. What I did on an individual scale, of creating joy, freedom, and fun by reducing my impact over 90 percent in under three years, hundreds of millions of other Americans can do:
I didn’t do anything you, dear reader, can’t do, and last I checked my impact is less than the average in India. If all Americans improved their lives too by cutting out most things that pollute, the ripple effects in less shipping, flying, strip mining, and so on would lead to yet more reductions, along with improved health, safety, national security, community, and things we like.
The solution is for rich nations to improve our lives by reducing our ecological impacts to below those of poor countries. Then we can lead them to reduce to our level or below.
We all want less pollution. Many people who think pollution, while regrettable, brings good things and therefore we can’t reduce that much. Have they tried? No, they just believe the story our culture tells them. That culture once said the Sun went around the Earth and tried to destroy someone who said moons went around other planets.
We will see our lives and culture improve by our own values when we reduce our impact 90 percent. If you think people won’t do it, I ask you: will you do it. I know you can, as history and anthropology show, even if you think you can’t. If you can’t and won’t try, you’re the problem. Of course you can. You are powerful.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees