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?