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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Time to Act is Now!

The Johnson Bayou Branch Library is built for high storm water. Image: FEMA.

George Harvey

Scientists commissioned by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have produced their report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C” (bit.ly/IPCC-report-2018). Put as simply as possible, the report says we can keep global warming to 1.5°C, but we have to act decisively, and we have to act now. If we do this, climate change will get worse for a while, but it will be livable. If we fail to act, we can expect an average increase of 3°C, and that would be catastrophic.

Perhaps we should look at just one tiny example at what the figures imply. Keeping climate change to 1.5°C does not mean we can save Miami. An article in The Guardian, “Rising ocean waters from global warming could cost trillions of dollars,” makes this clear (bit.ly/rising-ocean-waters). Miami has a special problem, which is that the entire region is based on sandstone, and it is porous enough that water flows right through it. This means that even a sea-wall will not help.

The problem of rising seas is not just Miami’s. Cameron Parish, Louisiana, which had the highest percentage of pro-Trump voters of any county in the United States, comes to mind. The conservative, Republican government of Louisiana has told the people of Cameron Parish that they will all have to evacuate their homes permanently within fifty years, and depending on where they live, this could be much sooner. Some have already been forced to leave their homes because of rising seas. Coastal parishes (counties) have brought suit against oil companies, according to an article in Climate Liability News,(bit.ly/parish-climate-suit).

I should point out that sea level rise is measured by a number of scientific tools. NASA uses lasers, and the changes it measures are believed to be accurate to within less than a quarter of an inch. All of the waters of the Earth have been measured. The problem is not just that the land is subsiding, as some people like to claim.

The problem of climate change goes far beyond sea level rise, however. It will change every place on earth. Weather changes will bring alterations to our environment, dictating changes in agriculture, threatening our road and electric transmission infrastructure, pushing invasive species into new areas, rendering species extinct. That is the type of damage we can expect if we limit climate change to 1.5°C.

If things go past 1.5°C, things get far, far worse.

According to the IPCC report, however, stopping global warming at 1.5°C is still within our power. The cost of doing this is considerably less than the damage caused by allowing things to get worse.

Analysis published in the BBC News article, “Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe,’” says that addressing climate change will require investments of about 2.5% of the gross world product for the next twenty years (bit.ly/BBC-final-call). That is about $2.4 trillion per year.

That cost needs to be taken in context, however. We might compare it with the cost of World War II. My rough calculation is that World War II took up over 6% of the gross world product while it was going on. But wars are destructive, even to the winners. By contrast, addressing climate change will not deduct 2.5% from our incomes; it will shift the expenditures from the fossil fuel industries and their affiliates to clean technologies. The figure is well within our abilities.

Let me put that another way. While the Koch brothers and the big stockholders of ExxonMobil and Chevron might object, and while Donald Trump might try to tell you that he knows for a fact that I have an IQ of 65, addressing climate change is almost certainly the biggest business opportunity ever to be presented to human beings. It will produce jobs and income on a scale we have never seen.

Another aspect of this also should be mentioned. The side benefits of addressing climate change almost unquestionably include reducing air pollution, reducing water pollution, and reducing water use. Arguably, it will also reduce our bills for heat, transportation, and all products that need to be transported.

The not-for-profit organization Health and Environment Alliance estimated the health costs of our use of fossil fuels at $2.76 trillion per year, according to an article at triplepundit.com (bit.ly/fossil-health-costs). A quick calculation shows that if this is true, we can cover the cost of aggressive action on climate change with the money we save on health care alone.

We have a choice. By stopping climate change, we can have lots of jobs, be healthier, have more money, and live more comfortable lives. Or, through inaction, we can preserve the profits of big investors in fossil fuels and suffer the consequences.

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