Climate scientists and oil experts warn that the time for debate is over. We must act now, and act fast, to avoid the worst effects of global warming and the unavailability of cheap energy. Education of the world’s leaders and citizens is continuing; but like children who could hurt themselves and others out of ignorance, most of us may need stronger guidance.
One of the least painful forms of coercion is the imposition of taxes. Simply put, people pay more for products based on how much waste is generated in their production, use, and disposal. This extra cost both makes wasteful products less likely to be purchased, and provides both an incentive and a source of money for the creation of less wasteful alternatives. Carbon taxes, for example, are taxes on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the production of everything from energy to homes.
A more vigorous approach is the enactment of laws prohibiting wasteful behavior and carrying stiff penalties for breaking those laws. Pollution laws, based on the “polluter pays” principle, operate this way. Such laws (or taxes) would need to be enforced worldwide to be effective.
The huge change required in the way people must learn to live will undoubtedly require both involuntary and voluntary responses. An excellent case study of adaptation to sustainable living is the nation of Cuba, which artificially experienced peak oil in the mid-1990s. The government and people worked together to implement energy conservation along with the use of renewable sources, adopted a more natural (and less resource-intensive) diet, and restructured their living and work arrangements to live within their limited means.