The debate surrounding global climate change has been a hot button issue for the past few years. In most cases, the average person doesn’t know enough about the science behind this issue to make an informed decision. The fact is that climate change will become a major issue within the next two decades and will have a host of environmental as well as economic impacts in the United States. Climate change will play a major role in the way our economy functions as well as the way our legislators make decisions.
by Nicholas Varilone, The Green Economy Post
Cause and Effects of Climate Change.
Our climate is being affected by the emission of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere through various human industrial processes. A greenhouse gas is a gas that traps solar radiation reflected off of the earth’s surface, not allowing excess heat to escape into space. The majority of the harmful gases being trapped into our atmosphere are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Methane (CH4). Without the interference of humans these gases stay in relative balance in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is emitted and absorbed in the natural environment through a process known as the Carbon Cycle.
The growing supply of these gases in our atmosphere is causing extreme changes in our environment. The polar ice caps are melting, sea-level is rising, the concentration and frequency of tropical storms are growing, the flow of rivers are changing, and certain regions are experiencing extreme rainfall while others extreme drought. The possibility of major shortages in food production as well as access to fresh water is also a major consequence associated with climate change. Without the reduction of these gases in our environment our planet faces serious peril in the 21st Century.
Costs of Climate change.
Most people do not realize that inaction against climate change will not only have a serious environmental impact, but an extremely viable economic impact as well. A recent report by economist Nicholas Stern of the British government known as the Stern Review accesses the damage climate change will have on the global economy.
MAJOR CONCLUSIONS DRAWN FROM THE STERN REVIEW
- 5% of global Gross Domestic Product per year will be lost. This is compared to the 1% of global GDP that would be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
- If no action is taken the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions could double pre-industrial levels by 2035. This would result in a global mean temperature increase of 2 degrees C.
- The worst effects of climate change can be managed if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be stabilized between 450 and 550 ppm C02 equivalent.
- In order to stabilize global climate greenhouse gas emissions must bet cut down to more than 80% current emission levels.
This report assesses the major economic problems that will arise if no action is taken to combat climate change. The temperature change proposed in this review is equivalent to the temperature change from the last ice age to today! Such a radical temperature change would no doubt result in many economic problems. We may experience mass migrations from drought ridden civilizations, as well as having our coastlines swallowed by the ocean. The time to act is now, there can be no delay.
What is Being Done? Barriers to a Solution.
Fortunately, progress is being made in this arena. In late 2009, the United Nations Climate Change Conference or Copenhagen Summit was held. This summit was a major step forward and brought the issue of climate change to the attention of world leaders from countries such as the United States, China, Brazil, and South Africa. On December 18th, 2009 the Copenhagen Accord was ratified. This document recognized that serious action should be taken to keep global mean temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees C.
In order to actively combat climate change strong direct policy action must be taken now. Policy must be designed to not only achieve its goal on an environmental level, but also must be economically viable. The reliance on dirty non-renewable energy sources such as oil and coal must be averted. As long as there is a market for fossil fuels, no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be achieved.
This should awaken legislators to realize that action combating climate change can be a boost to economic growth and not a deterrent. Already in the United States we are seeing an explosion in the clean and renewable energy sectors. New alternative energy technologies are becoming more efficient, affordable, and easier to access. This stimulus to the economy is due in part to legislation designed to promote growth in these sectors. The 48C: Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit was written into law by the Obama administration and will provide $2.3 billion in tax incentives for the manufacture of renewable energy technologies.
Such a dynamic problem as climate change is bound to have barriers toward a solution. The most important barriers toward a solution are as follows:
- Climate Change is Global- The fact that climate change transcends all borders makes it one of the most difficult problems to solve in human history. Current legislation designed to buy and trade permits to emit greenhouse gases are not solving the problem. By reducing emissions in one sector then selling permits to pollute in a different sector is redistributing the problem not solving it. Also without an international governing body documents such as the Copenhagen Accord can never be legally binding. This problem needs to be dealt with through a legally binding international framework and an understanding of long-term goals.
- Belief in the Science- The fact that this is a relatively new problem discourages acceptance of this problem’s existence. Scientific data in this area goes back only 40 or 50 years. Without concrete scientific data on the amount of pollution created and if this will have a serious impact on the general public’s way of life, no resolution will be reached. A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post showed that only about 70% of Americans believe that climate change actually exists!
- Economic Growth- From a cost-benefit standpoint most people believe that the investment in legislation, research, technology, and policy implementation to combat this problem will be much too costly. They believe the cost is too high to risk on impacts of a problem that cannot be explained in the short run.
There is no doubt that Global Climate change will be a defining characteristic of the way the global economy will be moving in the 21st century. While progress is being made, many obstacles stand in the way of such a dynamic problem. As our society moves forward we must invest in the R&D, technologies, and policies that will drive our civilization into a much brighter tomorrow.
© 2010, Nicholas Varilone. All rights reserved. Do not republish.