Sunday, July 02, 2017

Everyday Malthusianism

About a year ago, I discovered SvD Junior which is an ad-free weekly newspaper for kids. It was an instant love for Eddie and every Tuesday we have eagerly been waiting for the next issue. Our reading often becomes the starting point of long discussions, as with Titanic and the 105-years-old blogger Dagny.

In the latest issue, Nora, who is 10 years old, asks what can be done to stop climate change. The answer given by newspaper gave me a stark reminder of why I do what I do. While I definitely agree with all the things that the newspaper suggests Nora should do, like bike more, eat less meat, buy less “stuff” etc., nowhere is there any suggestion that what young people really should do is to educate themselves and innovate the kind of technologies that can ultimately stop and reverse climate change. Instead of a forward-looking vision of a world in which people everywhere can live modern lives without destabilizing the climate, the reader is left with a long laundry list of Malthusians don’ts.

One may think that this does not matter, that this is just an article for kids in some newspaper. But as I have argued in my research time and again, I think this goes much deeper and reflects how insular and limited our social imagination really has become.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in has decided to put a halt to the country’s ambitious nuclear programme. It is not impossible that the consequences of this decision may ultimately do more harm to global mitigation efforts than Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Korea was a leader, perhaps not so much in developing the future of advanced nuclear technologies, as in proving that existing nuclear reactor designs could be built on time without cost escalations (as shown most recently in the UAE). Backtracking on this legacy will not only lead to higher emissions domestically but send a very problematic message to the world at large. Instead of remaining on a pathway towards deep decarbonization, Korea is already eagerly shopping for fossil gas, all at a time when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide has reached a record of 409 ppm...

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