Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Greater Economic Challenge Than Austerity and Debt: Very Serious People Wake Up To Climate

by R. L. Miller, Climate Hawk, Daily Kos, February 11, 2013
In the National Journal, Coral Davenport's must-read cover story on the scary truth about how much climate change is already costing you examines the impact of climate change on everyday Americans: a Virginia accountant needing to take days off to board up his property, an Oregon oyster farmer losing his harvest to ocean acidification, a St. Louis urban planner, a Colorado farmer facing drought. Iconic American business Coca-Cola acknowledges risks from climate-driven water shortages. Insurance companies are spiking rates or pulling out of some markets entirely.
The Very Serious People have finally grasped that climate change is an economic problem.  David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times and thus a VSP, writing on why It's not easy being green, concludes that President Obama should stop talking green jobs and start talking climate change.
Green jobs have long had a whiff of exaggeration to them. The alternative-energy sector may ultimately employ millions of people. But raising the cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day — a necessary effect of helping the climate — is not exactly a recipe for an economic boom.
The stronger argument for a major government response to climate change is the more obvious argument: climate change.
The equally Serious People on the editorial board of the Washington Post editorialize that Obama needs to tell the truth about climate to the American people in his State of the Union address:
In past addresses, talking about green jobs didn’t work, nor did talking about energy independence. The credible way to justify fighting climate change is to discuss the science, the real reason to cut carbon emissions.
Davenport's companion piece urges President Obama to be brutally honest about climate change: "To warn Americans about the threat posed by climate change, the president will have to tell hard truths about the long and difficult road ahead."
What has brought on the newly serious language?
Obama is expected to announce, either at the State of the Union address or shortly thereafter, new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gases from existing power sources; the Washington Post editorial came out strongly in favor of a price on carbon instead of regulation.
Look offshore for more serious talk. Global elites recently concluded a World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in which Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund and thus a Very Serious Person, warned that climate change, not debt or austerity, would be the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century. Future generations would be "roasted, toasted, fried, and grilled," she warned. Until this speech, the IMF had been content to leave climate change discussions to international environmental groups.
The reality of climate change is beginning to spook investors. As climate change influences investor risk, investors are beginning the long ugly process of grappling with the fact that fossil fuels are becoming stranded assets - assets worth less in the market than they are on balance sheets, due to changes in market conditions. One estimate has 55 percent of portfolios exposed to risk of becoming stranded assets, either by investing in fossil fuels or high risk businesses. That's a lot of money to lose in the transition to a clean energy economy.
President Obama has framed climate action as a choice between jobs and environment. That frame is entirely wrong.
The choice is between an economy teetering from disaster to disaster, and one in which smart investments in mitigation and adaptation are made.
Perhaps the biggest mistake made by Very Serious People to date has been in framing climate as yet another environmental issue. Environmentalism can never address climate change; the transformation of a global economy from a fossil-fueled one to a sustainable one powered by renewable energy is beyond the scope of any green organization, no matter how big, to address. It's good to see climate change being taken seriously by quintessential inside-the-Beltway types who usually rank "jobs and the economy" far above "environmentalism." The fact that it's taken so long does not bode well for humanity's ability to adapt.

No comments: