The Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote a thought provoking column, where (among other things) he advocates a recession in the rich world in order to buy time to prevent runaway climate change. Even though I often find myself agreeing with Monbiot’s positions, I found some points in this column too simplistic. First of all, I have little trust on peoples interest in protecting the environment when they see their personal well-being eroding. When that happens, people will start worrying about themselves and their families more and care less about others. Such circumstances promote tribalization rather than collective responsibility and are more likely to create societies with even less regard for environment than what we have today. Also, such societies would probably see even stronger polarization than what we have today, as people start fighting for their share of the ever decreasing pie.
Monbiot also points out the fact, that no society has managed to increase its GDP while at the same time reducing its energy consumptions. While this is probably true, it does not follow that growth in the energy usage implies growth in CO2 emissions. Also, decreasing GDP does not always imply decreasing CO2 emissions. There are, after all, ways to produce energy (renewables and nuclear) without dumping CO2 into atmosphere. This option he conveniently ignores for what I believe to be purely ideological reasons. (For example, finnish CO2 emission declined substantially in the beginning of 80s while the economy was growing. However, our CO2 emission did not change substantially during our severe recession in the beginning of 90s.)
Furthermore, I don’t see how “carbon eliminating” recession could be confined to a rich world. The economic growth in the poor world is largely dependent on exports to rich countries and this source of income would vanish if rich countries face serious recession. It would be interesting to have an example of a recession which would have caused hardship primarily among the rich. The crap usually drains downward and rarely percolates upward.