Is It Possible to Sustain Our Current Standards of Living and Also Slow down Climate Change?

Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Can we slow down climate change without slowing growth? 

Check out this answer from Consensus:

Slowing down climate change without hindering economic growth is a challenging but achievable goal. Policymakers must consider a range of economic growth scenarios and prioritize inclusive, risk-aware growth strategies. Stringent mitigation policies and early action, as advocated by the Stern Review, can help balance the dual objectives of economic growth and climate stability. By integrating climate risks into economic planning and investing in sustainable growth, it is possible to address climate change while fostering economic development.


The relationship between economic growth and climate change mitigation is a complex and often contentious issue. Policymakers and researchers are grappling with the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining economic growth. This article explores whether it is possible to slow down climate change without hindering economic growth, drawing on insights from recent research.

Economic Growth and Climate Policy

Economic growth assumptions play a crucial role in shaping climate and energy policies. The prevailing assumption that economic growth will continue at historical rates influences decisions on greenhouse gas emissions and climate adaptation strategies. However, the uncertainty of long-term economic growth necessitates considering a range of growth trajectories. Slower economic growth could limit future generations’ ability to invest in emissions controls or adapt to climate impacts, underscoring the urgency of transitioning to renewable energy sources despite potential short-term economic costs1.

Impact of Climate Change on Economic Growth

Climate change can directly affect economic growth rates, particularly in poorer regions. Modifying integrated assessment models to account for climate change’s impact on GDP growth reveals that climate change significantly slows down economic growth in low-income areas, while wealthier countries are less affected. This finding highlights the need for stringent mitigation policies to protect vulnerable economies and ensure sustainable growth2.

The Right Kind of Growth

Not all economic growth reduces vulnerability to climate change. Inclusive, pro-poor growth is essential for low-income countries to develop resilience against climate impacts. Effective growth policies, such as investing in skills and access to finance, can reduce climate vulnerability. However, growth strategies must incorporate risk management perspectives, particularly in infrastructure investment and market stimulation, to address climate risks effectively3.

The Stern Review’s Perspective

The Stern Review advocates for immediate and decisive action to stabilize greenhouse gases, arguing that the benefits of early action outweigh the costs. The review’s economic analysis, which includes a low discount rate and considerations of large uncertainties, supports the notion that investing in climate mitigation is akin to buying insurance against potential catastrophic outcomes. This perspective suggests that proactive climate policies can be economically justified and beneficial in the long run4.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Max Callaghan has answered Uncertain

An expert from Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Climate science

In the scenarios produced by the IPCC that are consistent with temperature targets, global GDP increases, meaning most people are better off according to the most common measure of prosperity. However, this does not mean that no changes in behaviour are necessary. Some sectors, like international air travel, are hard to decarbonise – and it is unlikely that we can continue to grow the sector as it has been growing while still achieving net zero. So it is likely that we may be better off in total, but that carbon-intensive behaviours like flying abroad are less common and more expensive than they might have been in a world without mitigation. But in this world we would have more money to spend on other low carbon goods and services. 

There are also many scholars who believe that sustainable societies are only possible if rich countries shrink their economies (otherwise known as degrowth). This would mean that some people in rich economies may have less money in the future, but with policies like the 4 day week they may also work less. This literature stresses that well-being is only partially correlated with GDP, and sets out a vision for societies that better provide well-being for all, with less overall GDP. What is very clear is that it will not be possible to sustain our current standards of living if we do not slow down climate change. Rapid reductions in emissions are the best way to safeguard living standards.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Andrea Birgit Chavez has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Florida in Geography, Ecology, Conservation Science

No, we are going to weaken our resilience to cope with drastic changes, increase marginality, susceptibility, fragility and decrease adaptability.

Studies have already documented deterioration of human health, increased food crop diseases, restricted water and food supply chains, reduced availability of natural resources, disrupted local and regional economies, and damage to personal property and public infrastructure. For example, in the Amazon region, extreme climatic events such as droughts and flooding have affected fishing, agriculture, and human health.

According to climate change models, the frequency, duration, and intensity of the effects of climate change are increasing. In the tropics, a highly vulnerable region, cases of temperature, and precipitation anomalies have risen in the past decade. Furthermore, recent trends and predictions have suggested greater variability in rainfall and drier summers in the tropics, which could lead to both more floods and droughts at the global level. There is already a good understanding of the many effects of climate changes. And the worst is coming to more vulnerable parts of the world. As damaged causes to people, property, and livelihoods continue to rise, we need effective policies and actions to adapt and transform current standards of living.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Lisa Schipper has answered Uncertain

An expert from Oxford University in Environmental social science

Economic growth has come with tremendous exploitation of resources, people and ecosystems. If we think this cost is necessary to maintain a certain ‘standard of living’, this is quite a flawed perspective . Some people are not living with good standards, and for them things will get worse with climate change. For those of us who are living well, we may have to rethink exactly what we need to feel good – we can live without a lot of the luxuries that we now have access to. The fundamental human rights are what we need to keep in mind – do we have food, shelter, can we prosper. Can we buy the next new smartphone is not on the list of criteria for the standards of living that we should be aiming for.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Gabriel Filippelli has answered Likely

An expert from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis in Geochemistry, Paleoclimatology

Sort of. (1) We need to change our food systems, which are responsible for a significant amount of our carbon emissions through livestock production. (2) We need to change how we power the electrical grid, with renewables and distributed electrical storage, and how we design the grid to allow for these more sporadic energy sources. (3) We need to take gasoline and diesel out of our transport industry and replace with electric. (4) And we need to convert all home-based appliances to electric. The last three actions can be taken with little impact at all on our lifestyles beyond bearing the economic costs. The first action will require a major change in how we view climate-friendly foods and how we provide protein to the planet.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Dennis Hartmann has answered Likely

An expert from University of Washington in Climatology

Yes, quality of life and living standards will improve if we decarbonize the energy economy wisely. In particular, generating electricity from sources other than fossil carbon will improve quality of life now and in the future.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Adriana Gomez-Sanabria has answered Unlikely

An expert from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Energy Systems, Environmental Science, Climate science

No. Our current living standards are based on consumption, meaning that production has increased tremendously to meet our demands. This production requires energy consumption, extraction of materials, processing of material, shipping and so on. These activities negatively impact climate, air, water and ecosystems . We need to reduce our footprint in we want to slow down climate change. This also includes a dietary change (less meat consumption)


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Grant Wilson has answered Unlikely

An expert from Birmingham University in Chemical Engineering

It depends on the standard of living being considered – e.g. even for the UK, probably not. However, the basis of a ‘standard of living’ is likely to change, i.e., the economy that the UK has will change, and thus the question of ‘standard of living’ will have to change too.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Aysha Fleming has answered Likely

An expert from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Climatology, Agricultural Science, Sociology

Yes, the best way to slow climate change is to switch to renewable energy and stop all fossil fuel burning. Renewable energy technology is readily available and reliable and will likely improve our standard of living (reduce price of electricity).


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Roger Jones has answered Uncertain

An expert from Victoria University in Climatology, Environmental Science, Economics

This is a loaded question. If we ask what ‘our current standard of living’ means, it is different to different people. Inequality is so entrenched in the global economy that we need to unpack it. If a working class person in a developed country in an industry seeing no wage growth believed that they needed the economy as a whole to maintain its current structure, they would require this inequality to persist for them to keep going (This is the story they are being sold by the press and politicians and it is bunkum). For the higher-end consumers and those on higher personal incomes – their ‘standard of living’, i.e., levels and structure of consumption has to change.

Could the world on average have higher standards of living than they do now? Yes, but it would require restructuring the economy and curtailing the rent-seeking sectors that reduce value in the overall economy. Back to our working class example, their standard of living would be more secure and probably improved, but maintaining the economy in its current form will lead to collapse sooner rather than later.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Steven Sherwood has answered Uncertain

An expert from UNSW Sydney in Climatology, Atmospheric Science

This is a hard question because standards of living are so uneven in today’s world. Aggressive efforts to mitigate carbon emissions do come at some cost, but this would be small compared to the much greater negative impact of widespread economic policies already in place that lead to the severe economic inequality in most countries (with some instructive exceptions) which leaves many people with few opportunities and little reward for hard work. If we fixed both problems, we could make life better for most people at the same time as eliminating carbon emissions. But if we mitigated emissions only by putting more burdens on those already suffering economically, this would be very bad and could lead to backlashes against mitigation and societal instability.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Gab Abramowitz has answered Near Certain

An expert from UNSW Sydney in Climatology, Hydrology

Absolutely. As an example, transitioning to renewable electricity in a cost effective manner will already mean that we’ll likely be consuming much more electricity than we currently do – power will be zero emissions and much cheaper than before in the near future – standards of living will only improve.


Is it possible to sustain our current standards of living and also slow down climate change?

Richard B. Rood has answered Unlikely

An expert from University of Michigan in Environmental Science, Climate science

Often, standard of living is measured by economic metrics, and they are highly correlated with energy use. Energy use remains highly correlated with fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions. Though “sustaining” a standard of living might make sense in the developed world, many in the world need to improve their standard of living. Population is increasing most rapidly in those parts of the world that need to improve their standard of living. They need access to energy.  Hence, we need more energy in these parts of the world, and they are most likely reliant on coal. Therefore, to address both climate change and sustaining and improving the standard of living requires decarbonizing our energy supply.  Hence in the short term, decades, we cannot universally sustain and improve standards of living and slow down climate change.


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