Forget fossil fuels: grow wealth with renewables

I remember exactly where I was when I heard US President Donald Trump was going to withdraw his country from the Paris climate agreement.

As an environmental scientist who specializes in sustainable development, I was in a meeting of peers to discuss a new report on how we’ll need to adapt to a warming world.

You’d expect such news to depress a group like ours, but on that day I remember being greatly encouraged by the immediate response to Trump’s announcement.

The mayors of mega-cities like New York and Los Angeles said they were still committed to the goals of the Paris agreement.

So did states like Hawaii, New York and California (which is also the world’s sixth largest economy).

A huge number of universities joined them, as well as many high-profile companies. In fact, the “We’re still in campaign” was able to show within 24 hours that more than 60 per cent of the US economy was promising to reach or go beyond those climate goals.

If anything, President Trump may have inspired us all to take bigger steps, more quickly, to slow climate change.

It confirms my view that action happening at a grassroots level is leaving nation states behind, as the market for decarbonizing our economy streaks ahead.

My own research shows that for most of this century we have been creating more wealth, with less and less fossil fuels.

Europe has been growing its wealth while declining fossil fuel use for 15 years, Australia and the US for seven years, and China for the past two.

Mostly, by getting smarter with energy use and dramatically growing renewables.

We just don’t need fossil fuels any more. We want to share a cleaner, brighter future with our grandchildren.  

Peter Newman is professor of sustainability at Curtin University.