A study published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds hope for the future with the revelation that it is feasible to reduce global energy consumption levels to those of the 1960s by 2050 while improving standards of living for our anticipated population. The study was carried out by the University of Leeds, which states the is should be possible to ensure decent living standards for our tripled 2050 population for less than 40% of today's global energy.
The university defines decent standards of living as those that met all basic human needs like shelter, mobility, food and hygiene, in addition to access to modern, high-quality healthcare, education, and information technology.
Study lead author Dr. Joel Millward-Hopkins from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds said: "Currently, only 17% of global final energy consumption is from non-fossil fuel sources. But that is nearly 50% of what we estimate is needed to provide a decent standard of living for all in 2050. Overall, our study is consistent with the long-standing arguments that the technological solutions already exist to support reducing energy consumption to a sustainable level. What we add is that the material sacrifices needed for these reductions are far smaller than many popular narratives imply."
In addition to this new angle, the researchers are insistent that social justice will play a significant role in that change, citing the need for the eradication of mass global inequalities and shift of consumption behaviors. Study co-author Yannick Oswald from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds said: "To avoid ecological collapse, it is clear that drastic and challenging societal transformations must occur at all levels, from the individual to institutional, and from supply through to demand."
Study co-author Professor Narasimha Rao from Yale University adds: "This study also confirms our earlier findings at a global scale that eradicating poverty is not an impediment to climate stabilization, rather it's the pursuit of unmitigated affluence across the world.”
In conducting their analysis, the researchers compared 119 countries’ current final energy consumption to the estimates of final energy needed for a decent living; they determined that most countries actually have a significant surplus of energy and that in the highest per-capita consumer countries, it would be possible to reduce almost 95% of consumption while still providing decent living standards to all.
Study co-author Professor Julia Steinberger leader of the Living Well Within Limits project at the University Leeds and professor at the Université de Lausanne in Switzerland comments that the finding that all of our needs could be met entirely by clean sources tackles the claim that “greening” the economy will de-modernize our societies: "While government officials are leveling charges that environmental activists 'threaten our way of life' it is worth re-examining what that way of life should entail. There has been a tendency to simplify the idea of a good life into the notion that more is better. It is clearly within our grasp to provide a decent life for everyone while still protecting our climate and ecosystems."