Climate Change for Beginners: Convincing the Deniers (Part 4 of 4 )
By Mike SanClements
Over the last day or so, Sarah and Kristin have done a wonderful job discussing the science behind climate change and arguments for winning over climate skeptics. And if we’re doing our job well, maybe we’ve convinced you of the science. But perhaps you’re still unconvinced that climate change is a big enough problem to require any action.
These days, most of us have become extremely disconnected from our climate. And even though I think about climate change on a daily basis at work, it only takes a minute of reflection to see how easily it might fall from your mind if you didn’t. We all have our daily lives to live, work to do, and problems to deal with, making the idea of upending our comfy status quo seem unthinkable (or at least like some abstract future thing).
When society does seem to voice worry about our climate it’s often met with the argument that addressing climate change will destroy the economy. A silly argument, because the economy exists within the environment and is already feeling the effects of climate change.
I also wonder if our hesitancy to act is partly driven by the mentality that we can come up with some sort of crash climate diet when things finally get a bit too dicey. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and the carbon dioxide (CO2 )we pump into the atmosphere today will continue to contribute to warming for ~100 years.
Unless you were under a rock last week, you likely noticed that superstorm Sandy hit the Caribbean and eastern seaboard of the US. In Haiti, Sandy has prompted fears of further food shortages and cholera outbreaks and made an already heartbreaking living situation more heartbreaking for thousands of people. In the US, Sandy led to dozens of deaths and more than $50 billion in total economic damage. Last year, Hurricane Irene cost more than $7 billion, with Katrina costing upwards of $100 billion. While the role of climate change in each of these individual storms is difficult to determine, it is known that extreme events have increased and are very very likely to increase further in the future. Sea level rise is also going to make them a lot more nasty, with higher storm surges flooding more and more real estate.
A study by the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Environmental Research estimates the annual economic impact of real estate losses to sea level rise and storms along with higher energy and water costs could reach 1.4% of GDP by 2025. Seeing that between 1947 and 2012 annual GDP growth averaged 3.2%, that’s no insignificant figure. By the way, 2025 is only ~12 years way.
No facet of our lives is exempt from the effects of climate change, including the military and foreign policy. Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defense has said, “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security…Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.” Other studies point to a warmer world being more violent, as resource based conflicts erupt more regularly.
Climate change will also affect economies and our way of life at the local scale. It’s going to have profound effects on tourism, tradition and recreation. Remember how much business our fair state of Colorado missed out on last year because of the lack of snow and terrible skiing? Or the loss of ice fishing days in the Midwest and the poorly timed Cherry Blossom Festival in DC this year (the blossoms had largely come and gone prior to the festival) Examples like these are total economic and social bummers. They hurt local economies, erode our sense of place and are, frankly, just kind of sad.
I could sit here and drudge up page after page of depressing examples, but that’s worthless. I think I have provided enough food for thought. However, if you do want to read more, check out this Union of Concerned Scientists report on the costs of inaction on climate change including categories like, public health and food prices.
While failing to mitigate and adapt to climate change is a mistake of unprecedented proportion, failing to take advantage of the economic opportunity inherent in addressing these issues is also a huge one. Yeah, that’s right, I said opportunity!
As I see it, we have two choices:
- We sit around with our thumbs up our butts as increasing natural disasters deliver massive economic shocks to our country until finally, sometime far in the future, we attempt to scramble out of a massive financial and logistical hole and deal with a complete mess.
- We tackle the problems at hand now and bolster our economy in doing so.
I’ve heard the phrase so many times in the last few months that I’m about ready to barf, but let me say it one more time. Job creation. Maybe we need to begin seeing climate change as not only a huge problem but also as a massive opportunity for job creation, growth, and morphing our economy into something more sustainable from an ecological perspective. Easier said than done, for sure. But, ‘opportunity’ is more enticing than the ‘biggest challenge humankind has ever faced’.