The Economics of Global Warming

The British government recently released a new report by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, which affirmed the urgent need to address global climate change. The report is of particular interest as “the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than an environmental scientist.”

In the press conference today, Tony Blair talked about global climate change as an economic disaster. I think this is a very appropriate perspective to take. Global climate change wouldn’t really be a planetary disaster. Earth has experienced global climate change innumerable times in the past. It has always adapted. No matter what we do, the planet will recover. Millennia will pass, species will adapt and evolve, and life will go on. Global Climate Change isn’t going to cause the extinction of humanity. The species is more resilient than that.

But our foolishness could cause economic and social catastrophe around the globe. Depressions that may surpass the global depressions of the 1930s, fuel and energy shortages to make the 1970s look like a cakewalk, even famines and mass displacement of populations would all be well within the realm of possibility. Such combustible conditions could conceivably wreak havoc with governments and even lead to widespread violence on an unprecedented level is certainly.

In discussing government environmental action (I believe he was talking specifically about the Kyoto Protocol and the administration’s refusal to accept the protocol’s terms), Dick Cheney has asserted that the American lifestyle is non-negotiable. In a sense he was right. When a lifestyle is quite simply unsupportable, no amount of negotiation can maintain that lifestyle. We have two choices: We can either deliberately choose now to adjust that lifestyle in an organized manner through careful planning, or we can blithely wait until the consequences of our recklessness cause our lifestyle to collapse around us in a catastrophe that could rival anything seen in hundreds of years.

Which shall we choose?

3 Responses to “The Economics of Global Warming”

  1. Jolard Says:

    Have to agree 100%. The really sad thing is the way that global warming has become politicized in the U.S. Many on the right reject it out of hand because it has been rejected by many in the Republican party, and now that it is politicized it will make it far harder for us to come to a consensus.

    I also agree that it is mostly an economic disaster, but mostly I think it is simply a huge challenge to our stability. Wars will start when countries need to obtain resources, refugees will stream across borders, and chaos will ensue.

  2. Frank Staheli Says:

    I agree that earth can recover from what we do to it. But that doesn’t take away our charge to be good stewards of earth. I never have liked that Cheney guy, and in this case his statement is ‘par for the course’.

    There are a multitude of ways that we can improve our environment, and I think we’re probably a lot farther behind where we could be simply because political conservatives buck against the liberal claim of global warming and don’t want to be seen as giving any credence to it.

    Credence or not, let’s do what we can to take care of our environment.

  3. Bradley Ross Says:

    It is worth noting Bjorn Lomborg’s response to the study cited in this post. A brief excerpt will make his point:

    Faced with such alarmist suggestions, spending just 1% of GDP or $450 billion each year to cut carbon emissions seems on the surface like a sound investment. In fact, it is one of the least attractive options. Spending just a fraction of this figure–$75 billion–the U.N. estimates that we could solve all the world’s major basic problems. We could give everyone clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education right now. Is that not better?

    I’m not convinced that massive spending on climate change–something we’re not sure we can fix anyway–is a wise investment with so many other pressing problems that we KNOW we can do something about.

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