What will make people care about climate change?
The Economonitor is something of a skeptic when it comes to the Economist and the near-religious fervor with which it is worshipped, especially among the US chattering classes. But sometimes it hits the nail on the head, and yesterday’s blog on climate change is one of those times:
THE PROBLEM of global warming is a near-perfect example of the tragedy of the commons. Greenhouse gas emitters, from corporations to cows, reap all of the benefits of their dangerous habit, but pay almost none of the costs. It is thus very difficult to get them to stop…
It is hoped that America will finally decide to get serious about the problem, thanks to the report’s conclusion that the costs of inaction are bigger than the costs of serious emission reduction: a reduction of 20% of global output is not out of the question.
The problem is, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the costs to America will be higher than the costs of inaction. The damage of climate change seems likely to be unequally distributed–some regions may actually benefit, while others, like Bangladesh, will be devastated.
Moreover, though economists have long argued over how much people should discount future costs when weighing them against current benefits, voters incontrivertibly do so. Especially when averting those problems requires them to give up significant current comfort. And politicians, who are unlikely to be in office when the problems materialise, are even more aggressive discounters than their constituents.
The Economist seems to think that the only hope (!) for the world is that global warming be seen to be happening so fast that voters begin to take it very seriously. Increased scientific literacy will have to be a major part of that process: Maybe the International Polar Year, from 2007-8 – the largest coordinated research effort of all time – might be able to help.
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Sitting here in the hills of Lancashire, wearing shorts in late October, I wonder what more can be done to encourage individuals to make radical changes to their way of life. Almost no one I know has compromised their lifestyle one jot, even in the face of the relentless media barrage and the visible signs of global warming. People seem to be either being wantonly Panglossian or cynically fatalistic about global warming, I see very little in the way of genuine pragmatic action on the part of individuals.
Maybe, if parts of Bangladesh start getting washed away and thousands of people die, people might sit up and take notice, but I doubt it. Perhaps, only when the ski season is reduced to 2-3 weeks a year and Provence becomes a desert, people might think a little harder.
My suspicion – actually more than a suspicion – is that the “climate change” bandwagon is being driven by the nuclear industry – at the expense of paying urgent attention to other forms of pollution.
Overall, may be too obvious to say, but we need to develop better approaches to very directly showing how much global pollution costs specific groups of individuals – personally – focusing first on those who do the most damage. If that person is an executive or part of an illicit toxic waste disposal syndicate – perhaps to make the impression that they can only assume others are abusing the system as much as they are and to think about that every time they eat, breath or drink a glass of water.
Then develop effective ways and means to profit from (really) reducing and fixing global pollution.
In the meantime, buy uranium. The canaries in those mines still seem to be singing. Although I’m not convinced the nuclear industry’s ‘solution’ is the best answer.
Also not sure what voters are to do about pollution drift from, let’s say China and particularly uncomfortable with the nuclear solution there…
Winslow Conservation Index Outperforms the S&P 500 and Russell 2000
Global warming is not supported by facts. Markets do not respond to fairy tails unless its driving sales of entertainment