THE BLOG
03/06/2015 12:18 BST | Updated 02/06/2016 06:59 BST

Is Landing on the Moon the Only Way to Save the Earth?

A team of leading scientists and economists have just launched "The Global Apollo Progamme". It's purpose is to make green energy cheaper than coal within 10 years. They believe this target is critical to avoid dangerous climate change.

A team of leading scientists and economists have just launched "The Global Apollo Progamme". It's purpose is to make green energy cheaper than coal within 10 years. They believe this target is critical to avoid dangerous climate change.

They are right that we need a concerted worldwide effort to change the current course of history - in the same way that a huge focussed program was needed to land an astronaut on the moon. Virtually all scientific opinion points to a collective looming disaster for our planet. The only exception is those who refuse to believe the evidence of climate change.

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But is the defence of our planet simply about renewable energy, storage and electricity transmission?

Change our attitude and behaviour

"The only solution left to us is to change our behaviour, radically and globally, on every level," argues one of the UK's top interdisciplinary research directors in his book, 10 Billion. Stephen Ellmott leads a pioneering lab in Cambridge looking for new approaches to tackle fundamental problems in science. The lab embraces molecular and plant biology, immunology and neuroscience, climatology, biogeochemistry, terrestrial and marine ecology.

The conclusion Emmott has reached, which screams out from the pages of his little penguin book with its flame orange cover, is: "So far as I am concerned, on today's evidence, technologizing our way out of this does not look likely."

A change of global culture

There is another approach. It does not rely solely on technological solutions to the energy crisis. More than 250 people attended a Steady State Economy Conference in Leeds in 2010 to generate fresh ideas that could serve as a blueprint for a new economic model delivering what they termed: "sustainable and equitable human well-being."

That led to a blueprint for global sustainability, presented in Enough is Enoughby Rob Deitz and Dan O'Neill, both economists. We have a choice, they say, between continuing with the current culture that is destroying the world, or shifting to a culture that is devoted to human and planetary well-being.

Part of that vision is that the culture of consumerism must be replaced with a culture of sustainability, that political debate and media coverage needs to be focused on the limits to growth and the "steady-state" alternative, and that nations need to work together to accomplish this.

A change of goals

"At its simplest, a steady-state economy is an economy that aims to maintain a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. It's an economy in which material and energy use are kept within ecological limits, and in which the goal of increasing GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is replaced by the goal of improving quality of life."

"Remember that the economy is a human construct," write Dietz and O'Neill. "Economic 'laws' are not like the law of gravity. They can be changed."

What is the mechanism for change? Culture, they argue.

"Economic institutions and their policies, are sustained by the often invisible underpinnings of the prevalent culture. It is the implicit, often unacknowledged foundation of the assumptions and patterns that play themselves out visibly in the economy . . . It follows that an economic paradigm shift will occur only in response to a cultural shift," argue Dietz and O'Neill. "Citizens everywhere, but especially those living in high-consuming nations, need to work towards this cultural shift - a process that will require effective activism."

Gargantuan quantities of energy

"Global warming is intimately related to the gargantuan quantities of energy that our industries devour to provide the levels of consumption that many of us have learned to expect," declared a statement presented last month to the US administration - the nation responsible, along with China, for 45% percent of the world's carbon emissions.

What's new is that this came not from a scientific body but from the first conference of Buddhist leaders gathering at the White House:

"Our present economic and technological relationships with the rest of the biosphere are unsustainable. To survive the rough transitions ahead, our lifestyles and expectations must change. This involves new habits as well as new values. The Buddhist teaching that the overall health of the individual and society depends upon inner well-being, and not merely upon economic indicators, helps us determine the personal and social changes we must make," the declaration stated.

A gun is not the only answer

The statement is not meant for people of the Buddhist tradition alone, and goodness knows - as my posts on Buddhist violence in South and Southeast Asia have painfully highlighted - it is not for Buddhists to claim the global moral ground.

There is a message here for all humanity. It is simply that our own personal attitudes and behaviours - and our personal economies and ecosystems - also hold the key to the future.

It may be personally challenging, but is a lot more encouraging than the conclusion of 10 Billion. Stephen Emmett asked one of the brightest scientists he knows if there was just one thing he could do about the situation we face, what would it be? "Teach my son how to use a gun," was the reply.

Neither a gun nor Apollo are the only answer.