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Climate policy: How can we live without growth?


It is not anti-social if in the future everyone will be unable to fly and eat meat every day. The real challenge is the end of economic growth.

How fair is climate protection? How social can he be? How much freedom does he leave us? Felix Ekardt, head of the Sustainability and Climate Policy Research Center in Leipzig and Berlin and a professor at the University of Rostock, has been dealing with this topic for more than 20 years.

For his on ZEIT ONLINE published guest contributions, such as about the flies and the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products, he has harvested partly violent contradiction. He seeks the discussion with the readers - most recently with a contribution in which he explained why frequently used arguments against a climate-friendly lifestyle are wrong. This time, he's exploring how our society could work with less economic growth and responding again to reader comments. Discuss with us!

If we are to confidently limit global warming to the internationally agreed 1.5 to 1.8 degrees, we need to reduce all global emissions to zero within the next twenty years - in all sectors. This means zero fossil fuels and greatly reduced animal husbandry. Of these, virtually all countries are currently far away.

To wean us, fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal and livestock farming would be the most effective, making Europe the best at EU level. But the debate is heatedly heated: Is not drastic climate protection unreasonable for the less wealthy?

Less costs, more jobs

The answer is no, for a number of reasons: making fossil fuels more expensive pushes them out of the marketplace and replaces them with renewable energies and energy efficiency. This is not a major social problem in the case of electricity and heat, because at least in the medium term, renewable energies are just as cheap or even cheaper than the fossil ones. In addition, it is possible to significantly reduce energy consumption through efficiency - which is more of a financial gain for consumers.

In addition, renewables and efficiency create more jobs than coal, gas and oil are lost - just consider how much labor would be needed to fully renovate the building stock. The exit from fossil fuels and a reduced livestock farming also avoid high social costs, for example in the health system for various secondary diseases, for example due to air pollutants. Climate change, on the other hand, will hit the poor, especially in Europe and even more globally. For that reason alone, climate protection is social.

For a common EU climate policy

It is also sensible to promote climate protection at EU level rather than national taxes. A purely national approach would either be ecologically unambitious or it would be ambitious, but would entail the risk of selling companies and therefore also jobs to countries with lower standards. The climate would not be helped. Germany should, instead of losing itself in the hotly debated debate about a CO2 tax, put strong pressure on EU-level for radically improved emissions trading. If national solutions are good, then it's only an introduction to give the EU debate a boost.

What can be achieved if, in addition to areas such as electricity, cement and plastics industry, heat, transport and agriculture are fully integrated into this EU limit system for greenhouse gases and the threshold is gradually reduced so that in two decades no fossil fuels are consumed and significantly fewer livestock are kept? First of all, the harmfulness of scarcity becomes more expensive - and in 20 years it is no longer in the market, and no longer for anyone, not even for the rich. Technically, however, zero fossil fuels are not feasible in agriculture, transport and plastics. We would also all have to be frugal to do that in two decades. And it's true: the remaining animal food or even renewable energy would be more expensive than it is today, and the wealthy could afford it more than others.

The limits of growth

But is this the social problem of climate protection? Even without an effective climate policy, not everyone can afford to fly to Malaysia today. No one asks for total social equality - why is socialism so emphasized in environmental policy? For distribution questions, very different positions can be justified. If so, the real social injustice is our lavish standard of living itself. Flights and a lot of flesh are available to very few people worldwide. And can we seriously justify it to our children, or to the people in the global south that has been particularly affected by climate change, who have contributed much less to global warming per capita than we are destroying their livelihoods?

The major social problem of the climate change is different: it is the limits of growth. If, in addition to technical change, ie smart production and smart consumption, less consumption must occur, we involuntarily leave the growth society - and when asked how this should work, nobody has yet had a comfortable answer. Almost all, even most environmental organizations, evade debate about it.

Source: zeit

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