Richard Heinberg: Trying to save the world

Today’s guest blogger is Richard Heinberg, senior fellow in residence at the Post Carbon Institute, an expert on peak oil and the author of nine books, the latest of which is Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis. My friend Ed Maibach sent me this essay, and I liked it so much that I obtained permission from Richard to run in on the blog. While I edited it for space, it’s still longer than the usual blogpost—but worth reading, I think, for what it says about the need to rethink economic growth and to have a more honest debate about climate.

Heinberg Hi. My job is trying to save the world, and I’d like to tell you a little about my line of work.

First, it’s a job I enjoy. I get to feel good about what I do, and I meet a lot of smart, interesting people. I get to travel to exciting places to attend conferences, and at least some people respect my efforts (though many others think I’m crazy or misguided).

It’s not all a bed of roses. The biggest problems with trying to save the world are: first, that it doesn’t always seem to want to be saved; and second, that those of us trying to save it can’t agree on why it needs saving or how to go about doing so. Let me explain.

When I say “save the world,” I mean preventing human civilization from collapsing in a chaotic, violent way that would entail enormous amounts of suffering and death. I also mean preserving the natural world, so as to minimize species extinctions and the loss of wild habitat.

I regard both of these priorities as about equally important, since they are closely interrelated: if civilization collapses chaotically, billions of people will do an enormous amount of damage to remaining ecosystems in their desperate attempts at survival; and if nature goes first, that means civilization will go too, because we rely on ecosystem services for everything we do.

But not everyone who works full-time at saving the world has the same balance of priorities. [click to continue…]