Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

7 Jan 2022

Changing how we behave

Posted by Michael Keating

A global organization created nearly 50 years ago to deal with oil shortages now says people have to embrace a future where they stop burning oil and other fossil fuels that are disrupting the climate. The International Energy Agency (IEA) was set up because of the 1973-1974 oil embargo by major producers that left many countries scrambling to get affordable supplies. For much of its existence it equated energy security with more fossil fuel supply.

In recent years the IEA, like most governments and businesses, has realized this is not sustainable. Last spring it called on governments to stop approving new fossil fuel projects and plan for an orderly but rapid wind down of existing operations.

In a paper in late 2021, Do we need to change our behaviour to reach net zero by 2050? the IEA said technology change is necessary but not enough. It said, “…behavioural changes – meaning adjustments in everyday life that reduce wasteful or excessive energy consumption – are also needed. They are especially important in richer parts of the world where energy intensive lifestyles are the norm. Behavioural changes include cycling or walking instead of driving, turning down heating, and going on holiday nearer to home. In addition, efforts by manufactures to use materials more efficiently and encourage consumers to recycle can reduce energy use in industry.” It estimates that nearly two-thirds of the energy reduction needed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 will require changes in what we consider “normal” behaviour.

Governments can help by settling lower speed limits and improving energy efficiency in appliances. Individuals can help by driving slower and less often in fossil-fueled vehicles, using mass transit and generally reducing energy use. It will not be easy but can be done. The COVID-19 crisis showed that most people will accept major lifestyle changes for the good of their health and that of their society. However, it also showed limits to how fast and how far governments can move. The greatest challenge in governance in coming decades will be how well leaders can convince and assist people in shifting to a low-carbon lifestyle, giving up some things to gain others, such as better health and reduced risk of natural disasters.  

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