Greenhouse gas emissions - causes and solutions

Climate change is one of the most serious environmental problems of today. The conclusion of the scientific community is that we humans are contributing to climate change, therefore it is important that we understand the underlying causes.

The climate system only cares about humanity's total greenhouse gas emissions. This can be described with the formula:

I = P x A x T

The total environmental impact (I) is the product of population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T).

Population
Population control makes us think of China's one-child policy. However the solution doesn't need to be totalitarian. Iran used soft reforms to reduce the number of children per woman from 6.5 in the first half of the 80's to 1.71 children per woman in 2007. Examples of reforms introduced:
* Free contraception.
* Welfare subsidies and paid parental leave was removed after the third child.
* Birth control classes were required before a couple could get married
* Distribution of information.

The reason why Iran did this was not climate change, but growing social and economic problems due to population growth.

A study from London School of Economics has shown that money invested in contraception is almost five times more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than money invested in conventional climate technologies. A study from Oregon State University shows that the negative climate impact of an extra child is almost 20 times higher than what individual lifestyle changes such as driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs saves during a lifetime.

Another important measure is women's rights. In many countries, women still doesn't have equal rights to education, which often means that they have their first child at a young age.

Economy
Our economic system is designed to continually grow. It is problematic because it means that we consume more and more natural resources. Even if the products and services we consume are constantly becoming more efficient, the increased wealth means that we actually use more natural resources. This is called Jevon's paradox or the rebound effect.

The reason that the economy needs to grow depends on several things:
* In a country where there is population growth the economy have to grow to avoid a lower average income per capita.
* In order for a social class to increase their income the economy needs to grow to avoid a redistribution from other social classes.
* It's easier to pay debt.

This is probably the most difficult factor to address because it requires lifestyle changes when people need to settle for a world without increased standard of living or in most cases lower their standard of living in order to make room for more people. The consumption of natural resources even needs to radically reduce in the richer nations if we are to achieve sustainable consumption levels and an global equitable distribution of natural resources. This also means radically lowered levels of consumption here in the developed nations.

An improvement in the price mechanisms and the price of natural resources is likely also important steps. We need longer-term pricing where the long-term environmental impacts are added to the current prices.

Technology
Today, there is a belief that technology will solve the climate crisis. But we talk very little about how technology is limited by the laws of nature. Energy production is limited by the laws of thermodynamics, which in practice means that energy in reality can't be produced, it can only be transformed and a this at a loss of energy. This puts severe limitations on what we can achieve with the help of technology. There are also no guarantees that small scale solutions also works on a large scale or that it can not scale up fast enough. Time and volume are two factors that need to be added into the technological possibilities.

Conclusion
Today society mainly focuses only on the last factor (T). Through alternative energy sources, efficient cars, organically produced food and more we are trying to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Some people choose a less consuming lifestyle but they are relatively few. Unfortunately investing in better technology most likely won't be enough if the population and economy continues to grow. At best the problem will grow, at worst it will become impossible to handle. Regardless it is not an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases. The most rational and effective way is to focus on all three factors.