Dirk Verschuren / Research Professor

UGent / Paleoecology, Paleoclimatology, Limnology

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From the perspective of my field of expertise, my greatest concern is the magnitude and rate of ongoing environmental change that can be attributed (in-)directly to anthropogenic climate change, compared to that of past environmental changes caused by natural climate and ecosystem dynamics. Impacts of anthropogenic climate change compound the impacts of demographic pressure and near-complete exploitation of earth’s natural resources to support an economic model relying on ever-increasing consumption and material wealth, notably in already rich post-industrial societies at the expense of the rest of the world population. Combatting climate change is thus also a fight for sustainable resource use and worldwide social justice. Actions to reduce my personal carbon and ecological footprints are1) living in a renovated townhouse in the city; 2) limit heating of living rooms to 21°C, and no heating in bedrooms and storage rooms; 3) summer cooling through shading and good ventilation, not air conditioning; 4) home-work commuting and virtually all other daily mobility by (non-electric) bicycle; 5) travel within Europe mostly by train; 6) replacing international meeting attendances by Skype or videoconferencing; 7) use clothing until signs of wear are obvious; 8) repairing clothes, tools and appliances rather than discarding them, even if replacing them costs less; 9) recycling and multi-functional use of all kinds of supplies; and 10) eat vegetarian 3-4 times a week. What I intend to implement in the near future are 11) replace my personally owned car by ride-sharing; and 12) eat greater proportions of local and bio-foods. Difficulties I encounter to further reduce my footprint are that products costing a lot of resources and energy to produce are no longer repairable; and that an economy in overdrive keeps creating artificial needs which force you to consume more, rather than less. Key changes in society to address these combined environmental crises require abolition of 1) the paradigm that greater quality of life depends on increasing material wealth, and thus economic growth; and 2) naïve faith that the climate crisis can be solved by technological progress. The former neglects the fact that continuous economic growth runs into the wall of earth’s resources being finite, not endless; the latter is blind to the reality that for each new technological invention helping to combat climate change, many more inventions merely stimulate more consumption.