Low-carbon economy : As a part of my Climate change course, a peer-reviewed essay on what a low-carbon economy would look like was part of the requirement. Instead of writing about climate change refugees (which was the other option), I decided to look at how I would envision such an economy. I must confess, I would have included organic-inorganic buildings and more radical solutions if I had more leeway, but as per the rubric, here is my essay....

A Low-Carbon Economy would be one which invests in new technology as well as in managing consumption. As a counterpoint to the heavy energy draining economies, a low-carbon economy would be one which creates jobs and resources in areas such as nuclear fission and fusion research[1].

Instead of using coal, natural gas and petroleum, it would focus on hydroelectricity, solar and wind power as well as harnessing the energy from the sea (both from wave energy as well as temperature differential) as well as other newer tech[2]. More than anything, a low-carbon economy would look at trying to achieve a life-cycle assessment for all power sources to come to as close to zero as possible[3].

Very different from a traditional economy, one would get rewarded for low-carbon choices and actions taken to reduce one's footprint. Some of the choices made in this scenario may not be comfortable, but it would be for the well-being of their children and their future generations.

Ideally, a low-carbon economy should aim to reduce carbon emissions in all areas of industry, while investing in cleaner technology which would reduce the burden on cost. Private industry can be given subsidies which are currently being given to coal and petroleum industry for lower carbon LCA alternatives[4].

Any economy which takes the leadership position in creating new technology automatically becomes a growth economy, and first movers can take this pole position. Early adopters also have an advantage in this scenario, as there may be niche areas in the alternate energy area and land management, management of mitigating strategies etc. which can be refined and developed.

Least attractive is the late adopters. Typically developed countries have been late adopters and other than the China story, the solar cell technology has benefited developed countries as far as technology leadership, patents and manufacture is concerned.

Technology is changing very rapidly now, and there are low-carbon alternatives in almost all areas. Growing more trees and creating rapid ability to harness water in the air along with creating alternate energy sources will be key to managing carbon emissions[5]. As mentioned before fusion and fission power is something we may need to use safely. A lot of the technologies exist today, while some vital technologies need a decade of work to see fruition[6].

Some of the basic ways we operate may change, but the idea is fundamentally change our consumption, while managing the change in such a way that we all have access to food, water, electricity, transport and communication, with managing the carbon emissions. Such an economy does not need to be a zero-growth economy, it just needs to have different values and systems. Growth would be measured in terms of reducing carbon emissions while also creating new jobs and opportunities in the alternate energy industry.

It may be impossible to exist in silos as we have done for so many years, and in some ways, the world is all in this together. It may be time to create a global governing body, especially with regards to climate change as this is probably the only way that countries will buy into, and participate in reducing their respective carbon emissions.

One of the other new research areas are how the microbiome affects climate[7]. This may be an area of opportunity in the future, and how we can understand and manipulate microorganisms around us, may be crucial to managing the climate. Every spoonful of dirt has millions of microorganisms, and what role they play in climate change is just starting to be researched.

The social and cultural ethos of such a society would be highly ethical and very measured. The populace would be highly educated in science and especially in the understanding of how the climate change can be managed. As such, it is more likely that such a society would voluntarily travel by public transport, plant trees and plants, practice rain water harvesting, using local produce, practice city and vertical farming[8], using LED lights, waste less food per person and use electricity sparingly. While it is not always possible to extrapolate such an economy, the drivers of such an economy would have to be very different from the consumerist and consumptive economies we have spawned today.

It is most likely that populations will continue to be concentrated in cities, but there is less need for people to travel and commute, which would make it a very different kind of life experience for people who live in our low-carbon economy.

[1] References: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-business/wp/2014/10/15/nuclear-fusion-energy-in-a-decade-... and Farnsworth reactor http://www.google.com/patents/US3386883

[2] http://archives.datapages.com/data/bulletns/1997/08aug/1292/1292.htm?doi=10.1306%2F522B4DE3-1727-11D...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_assessment#Life_cycle_impact_assessment

[4] http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/ ...... http://paidtopollute.org.au/ptp-fossil-fuel-subsidies..... and http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27142377

[5] Water from air http://www.gizmag.com/extracting-water-from-the-air/2796/

[6] http://www.science20.com/mark_halper/kite_energy_leveraging_jet_stream_renewable_power-93059

[7] http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/ecology/book/978-3-319-11664-8...... http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/41078/title/Incorporating-Soil-Microbes-in-Cli...

[8] http://mitcityfarm.media.mit.edu/

Earlier post on Climate Change: https://plus.google.com/110884604033336753419/posts/ViUSqY8Y5FS

What is the science behind Climate Change? : https://plus.google.com/110884604033336753419/posts/TLEAg68ktWt

Pic courtesy and low-carbon city : http://www.asianscientist.com/2012/11/topnews/iskandar-malaysia-low-carbon-smart-city-2012/

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