By pure chance we’ve been born into an era of relatively steady economic expansion. It’s been an expansion powered by the accelerating use of greenhouse gas emitting fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Until now.
Recently, the U.S. along with the rest of the world has made a promising transition that may prove to be monumentally significant in the coming decades. 2014 was the first non-recession year with worldwide economic expansion (by 3%) while CO2 emissions actually remained flat. 2015 continued that trend. We’ve broken free from the former reality that increasing economic growth must be tied to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S. between the years 2000 and 2014 thirty-three states, including Wisconsin, have increased their GDP while reducing carbon emissions. Worldwide as economies expand emissions are dropping 1.3% annually. It’s an encouraging trend pointing us toward a sustainable future.
How has this come about? A look at one of our white sand beach Caribbean neighbors provides some insight. Costa Rica is somewhat of a wunderkind concerning quality of life and the environment. The average Costa Rican earns about one-eighth of the average Wisconsinite yet their country can boast of almost universal literacy, healthcare, access to clean water, and cell phone service. All this with per capita greenhouse gas emissions just one-tenth that of the U.S. Some might assume that poverty restricts the use of fossil fuels – not so. In Costa Rica the same amount of goods and services can be produced at half the emissions rate as in the U.S. Aiming to be carbon free by 2021, this Caribbean neighbor is an example of economic stability and high quality of life without high emissions. It’s a model we can learn from.
We’ve broken free from an outdated model linking economic prosperity with high carbon emissions. Now let’s pick up the pace. One analysis shows that the 1.3% reduction rate needs to increase to 6% annually to stabilize the atmosphere. Let’s make it happen because this is our only home. We’re here forever…Earthbound.