The first research model to track energy use per person predicts that world temperatures could rise 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2020 and the 2 degree threshold for widespread ecological damage by 2030.
University of Queensland and Griffith University researchers Hankamer and Wagner examined the consequences of short-term economic growth on adverse temperature changes, expecting energy use to increase by a factor of six before the year 2050, based on population and global economy projections.
Access and increased energy consumption are undeniably linked to pulling those living on under $2.50 a day out of poverty’s shackles.
But a major problem is that the global economy is dependent on 80 percent fossil fuels, meaning that countries that seek high economic growth are taking the path of least resistance in overcoming crippling social problems. Currently, large portions of the global population are low-income and can’t afford the upfront investment of solar panels or wind generators to make a quick transition from dirty energy sources that don’t involve clear-cutting rainforests.
But the message here isn’t that we need to choose between the poor and making sure island nations aren’t submerged within our lifetime. The message here is that while some politicians have tried to frame cheap fossil fuel energy sources as being an efficient way of lifting nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population out of poverty. The only reason fossil fuels are cheap is because they are keeping it that way. In fact, Oxfam found that the impacts of adverse health affects from mining, natural disasters and threatened food supplies vastly outweigh the short-term benefits those living in poverty experience at the pump.
Ben Hankamer, a professor of molecular bioscience, and Liam Wagner, a professor of finance and economics, found that poor nations are being pigeon-holed into choosing short-term political gains over long-term economic and environmental strategies. The IMF estimated that the global cost of subsidizing fossil fuels in 2008 was over US$500 billion, while the IEA found, in 2012, that consumer subsidy for fossil fuels was over US$523 billion. Through industry and consumer subsidies, governments are stifling sustainable innovation by keeping gasoline, diesel and kerosene artificially cheap.
The authors of the study state the surge of economic growth stimulated in poverty-stricken areas by fossil fuels is not only degrading the environment but is actually threatening the economies it is supposedly helping long-term. Energy security is married to political and economic stability. Eco-systems forced to go through periods of swift change to which they cannot possibly adapt cannot support economic sectors (such as agriculture) that depend on them.
Hankamer and Wagner’s research indicates that global poverty alleviation through means of fossil fuels needs to be avoided to avert “catastrophic” effects on the poor long-term. Global energy policy needs to transition subsidies to the sustainable energy sector quickly should we wish to not run directly for the environmental bear-trap that awaits us in just decades. This requires global energy policy that sees more than 12-months in front of its nose.