Energy, Resources and the Environment

Questions of Resource Sustainability in a World of Consumers

Image Credit: <a href=“”>Paul Saab</a>

Image Credit: Paul Saab

By Lindsey Higgins, PhD student at Stockholm University and the Bolin Centre for Climate Research


In the Wednesday morning debate “Is global economic growth compatible with a habitable climate?” issues of sustainability in a consumptive world were tackled. The four panellists agreed that the goal set by the COP21 meeting in Paris of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C is unrealistic. Historically, fossil fuels have been necessary for economic growth and now even more difficulties arise from the need for resources to find resources.
During the debate, concerns were raised over the conspicuous consumption of the developed world and how people are generally more interested in what happens now rather than in the future. Jorgen Randers, author and professor of climate strategy at the Norwegian Business School, believes there is a need for short-term rewards to entice people into more sustainable solutions. He gives the example of electric cars in Norway and how the government removed taxes on their purchase to make them a more economically rewarding option.
When it comes to the minerals we now rely on, the easiest sources have been found and are either already tapped out, or are well on the way. The current challenge is how to locate and extract these resources from deeper under the Earth’s surface, since even perfect recycling of what we already have would not be able to keep up with current demands. The current question is whether it is possible to do this in a way that is socially, economically, and environmentally responsible. In his talk Monday afternoon, P. Patrick Leahy of the American Geosciences Institute introduced the idea of “resource colonialism” that is often associated with mining of resources in developing countries. Dr. Leahy is involved with the International Union of Geological Science (IUGS) “Resourcing Future Generations” initiative. This planning group aims to improve understanding of the demand, discovery, extraction, and social impacts of future global mineral needs.
According to Edmund Nickless, Chair of The IUGS New Activities Strategic Implementation Committee and former Executive Secretary of the Geological Society of London, there is a need for a social contract that ensures fair distribution of wealth. If you think you have a solution to this global issue, the IUGS currently has an open call for small funding proposals. The deadline for proposals is 31 May 2016 and more information can be found here.
Sian Loveless is Early Career Scientist representative for the Energy Resources and Environment Division of the EGU. She is a Hydrogeologist at the British Geological Survey. Following her PhD Sian spent two years working in the Geothermal Energy sector in Belgium. She completed her PhD on the hydrogeological properties of faults in sediment, at the University of East Anglia, during which time she undertook a policy internship at the Centre for Science and Policy. Her BSc was in Environmental Earth Science.

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