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One lesson that most of us humans, individually and institutionally, seem to have a hard time internalizing is the cost of deferred maintenance.

That applies to everything from fixing bridges to getting more exercise. Delaying means damage. Combining heavy use with the impacts of the elements and age and buildings will deteriorate, roads crumble, bodies weaken. Wait long enough before initiating preventive maintenance and only extraordinary repairs will patch the harm. Wait too long and the consequences will be fatal. The years of deferral finally cause so much damage that no amount of remedial work can mount a rescue. The bridge collapses. The road must be rebuilt, not merely restored.

Deferred maintenance is how we're treating our planet's atmosphere. Despite what we now know to a certainty about the effects caused by pouring billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the air every year, we just keep doing it—at an increasing level—and making all kinds of rationalizations for not stopping. Meanwhile, the percentage of one of those gases in the atmosphere—carbon dioxide—is higher than it's been since Homo erectus was the most common human species on the planet 830,000 years ago.

The authors of the final volume of the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change don't think our past unwillingness to take serious action has created an irreparable situation ... yet. But that time is not far away. The IPCC's Working Group III, which released the 37-page summary of its Mitigation of Climate Change Sunday, has concluded that we have to make changes and make them fast if we're going to prevent even more devastating impacts of climate change than the panel says are already happening or in the pipeline.

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.” [...] “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”
The climate change deniers—both the ignoramuses who really believe humans aren't causing climate change and the policy-making marionettes of the plutocrats determined to burn every last drop of fossil fuel—are, of course, opposed to any action, much less quick action.

But the delayers are just as bad if not worse. They are the folks who agree that climate change is happening and will get worse but are unwilling to do anything substantial about it just yet. Delay is simply denial in another guise.

Please read below the fold for more analysis on this subject.

If you've even cursorily followed the debate over climate change policy, you know that the delayers are going to spout nonsense about Working Group III's recommendation: Taking action now is too expensive, they will say. It will wreck the economy, destroy jobs and impoverish millions. They seem to believe magic or the Rapture is going to rescue us from this crisis of our own making. Their extraordinarily reckless myopia is an invitation to catastrophe.

Framing isn't going to deliver us from our predicament. But one change in our messaging is needed. We should stop letting the delayers and the deniers call taking action on climate change spending. It is, in fact, an investment, and it ought to be characterized that way.

According to Working Group III, taking action now to keep us within the 3.6°F average planet-wide temperature rise above the pre-industrial level—the level that scientists believe we can live with, that is needed to avoid worse impacts—would be quite cheap. That's in part because the costs of renewable energy technology—wind, solar, geothermal and others—have fallen dramatically in the past few years after a slow but steady decline over the past three decades.

How cheap? WGIII says it would amount to about 0.06 percent less consumption growth annually. In other words, average growth of 2.5 percent annually would be cut to 2.44 percent. A rounding error. Total reduction in consumption growth 2015 to 2100? About 5 percent.

But that doesn't take into account the gains from taking action.

As Joe Romm points out, a worldwide "aggressive abatement" of $110 trillion to keep atmospheric CO2 from rising above 450 parts per million would save a "net present value" of $615 trillion to $830 trillion between now and 2100, a six-to-one savings.

That's a six- to eight-fold return on investment.

If we don't take action soon—as in right now—our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to depend on techniques to remove CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to undo the damage from our deferred maintenance. Will we have technologies to achieve that? Will they be affordable? Will they actually do the job without some unintended consequences that make matters worse? Besides the boneheads and greedheads, who wants to wait to find out?

•••

Laurence Lewis has a discussion of this subject here.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Apr 14, 2014 at 02:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, Gulf Watchers Group, and Daily Kos.

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