UCLouvain, Stanford University / Geography, environmental science
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My initial optimism on humanity’s ability to respond to environmental challenges is increasingly challenged by three observations: (i) the most dangerous forms of environmental changes are accelerating, especially climate change and biodiversity loss; (ii) current policy responses – both national and international public policies, and private sector initiatives – are largely inadequate; (iii) adoption of sustainable consumption by a significant fraction of the world’s population is too slow to have an impact at scale, due to ingrained human behaviours and social norms.
In my personal life, the two major changes I have implemented are: (i) a large reduction in meat consumption: no meat at home and only once or twice a month in social situations where it is more convenient; (ii) I don’t own a car when living in California five months per year: I mostly travel by bike or public transportation, and I use a care-sharing program when I have no other option.
I have not been able to suppress my ecological footprint caused by air travel. I teach five months per year at Stanford University in California and conduct field research in tropical regions. I hope that the benefits of my research on the design of more effective environmental policies more than compensates for the carbon emissions related to my air travel, but this is difficult to assess. However, I decline invitations to give science talks in distant countries unless the benefit of these talks for environmental policies or education is likely to negate the impact of my air travel – which is generally unlikely. My wife and I did start an ecological restoration project in an ancient agricultural landscape, with benefits for biodiversity and carbon storage. This compensates for some of my emissions due to air travel.
To avoid missing humanity’s short window of opportunity for a sustainability transition, I believe that every person should: (i) significantly reduce meat consumption and shift toward a vegetarian diet; (ii) commit to have no more than one or two children; (ii) adopt at least one major sustainability resolution that best fits one personal’s lifestyle. Governments should agree on a universal carbon tax that reflects the social cost of carbon, to be applied to all sectors and by all countries. All private companies should adopt transparent commitments to significantly reduce their environmental footprint in their operations and supply chains, and consumers should make consumption decisions based on these commitments.
Originally posted 2018-05-10 16:29:31.