In 2005, the British government asked Stern to lead a team of economists in preparing a review of the economic impacts of climate change. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is the seminal work on the issue, and it is an overwhelming read. But he now says it is dated. He now says it underestimated the dangers and the damages. Last week, he succinctly summarized his new understanding of the depth and intensity of the climate crisis:
It is increasingly likely that hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from their homelands in the near future as a result of global warming.More specifically:
"When temperatures rise to that level, we will have disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts," he said. "Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth."Almost two years ago, I wrote that climate change is the most important issue humanity has ever faced. As Stern's words make clear, the crisis has only grown worse. The research and reports come in almost daily.
On Monday, a British newspaper reported on America's first climate refugees. That same day, British and Australian scientists announced that without climate mitigation, more than half of all plant species and one third of all animal species will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080, with biodiversity declining almost everywhere. On Wednesday, came news that after a year that saw privately insured property losses of $35 billion, which is $11 billion and almost 50 percent above the past decade's average, the insurance industry accepts the scientific reality that by burning fossil fuels humans are causing climate change, which the industry expects to get worse. On Wednesday, we also had this:
“We are in the midst of dramatic assault on the security of the food supply,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The group promotes ecological research into the nexus of diet, food production, environment and human health.A couple weeks ago, the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2012 was the ninth hottest year on record, and the years 2001-2012 were among the hottest thirteen on record. That same week, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached levels not seen since before humans existed, a time when the Arctic was a stunning 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now.
The primary culprit of all this menu mayhem is climate change, which is choking off certain crops already weakened by both genetic tinkering and chemically based farming, some experts contend.
And the climate crisis is growing worse.
Join me below the fold to find out more.
The scientists are sounding the alarm:
"I wish it weren't true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat," said Scripps geochemist Ralph Keeling, who has taken over the Keeling Curve measurement from his late father. "At this pace we'll hit 450 ppm within a few decades."
And the scientists are sounding alarmed:
"This is another global emissions target that we've blown past without doing anything," said Jim Butler, director of global monitoring at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory. "Stronger storms, droughts, rising seas. We are already seeing the impacts of increased CO2 in the atmosphere ... How much further can we really go?"
Because the scientific evidence is alarming:
"The next big emissions target is 450 ppm," Butler said. "That's the one the IPCC [The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] warns we really don't want to rise above. Based on our current rate of emissions, we could be there in 25 years. That's a scary prospect."That global warming and climate change are happening, and that people are causing it, long has been settled science. Over a year ago, I compiled a list of the national and international scientific bodies that were on the record verifying this scientific reality:
National Academies of Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Society, Geological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society of Agronomy, American Society of Plant Biologists, American Statistical Association, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, Botanical Society of America, Crop Science Society of America, Ecological Society of America, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Society of Systematic Biologists, Soil Science Society of America, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Science Academies of the G8+5 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa), European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Australian Institute of Physics, and International Union of Geodesy and GeophysicsAnd this week, the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on global warming revealed that of those works that rendered an opinion, 97 percent agreed with the consensus that humans are causing it. As Greg Laden summarized:
This is not the first study to look at this question, but it is the most thorough effort. This should, however, be the last paper to report this kind of research because, really, we’re there; climate scientists are in very strong agreement about this issue and with this landmark study further demonstration of this fact is superfluous.There is no legitimate debate. The science is conclusive. The traditional media continue to ignore and distort and obfuscate to a degree that no longer can be dismissed as mere incompetence, and increasingly suggests something much worse, but the science is conclusive. There is no legitimate debate.
As the 2005 Stern Review explicitly delineated, the impacts of climate change will be devastating. And given that we are talking about literally the entire planet, those impacts encompass and include all other issues. All other issues cannot even begin to be resolved without first placing them in the context of a potentially disastrously changing climate. The bullet points make clear that climate issues include all issues.
Poverty and wealth disparity?
All countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most.Immigration, emigration, refugees and human rights?
By the middle of the century 200 million may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought.And of course, that includes all the international security issues involved in hundreds of millions of people needing new places to live. It includes the massive potential for the spread of pandemic diseases, and incomprehensible burdens on health care systems and other basic infrastructures. It includes traditionally privileged populations and demographics taking advantage of their traditional privileges to best survive what the traditionally dispossessed will most suffer.
In March, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa, offered his perspective:
America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
And the Stern Review also included the economic consequences of the climate crisis:
Unabated climate change could cost the world at least 5% of GDP each year; if more dramatic predictions come to pass, the cost could be more than 20% of GDP.In a nutshell:
Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.Of course, actually facing up to the climate crisis could have the opposite effect:
Shifting the world onto a low-carbon path could eventually benefit the economy by $2.5 trillion a year.And Stern already had addressed the risk to biodiversity, plants and animals:
Warming of 2C could leave 15-40% species facing extinction.As I explained in March, the climate itself is migrating. But in January, Stern admitted his famous Review had been wrong:
Lord Stern, author of the government-commissioned review on climate change that became the reference work for politicians and green campaigners, now says he underestimated the risks, and should have been more "blunt" about the threat posed to the economy by rising temperatures.There is no scientific debate about anthropogenic climate change, but there is political debate. Part of that is due to the failures and complicity of the traditional media. Most of it is due to the failures and corruptions of the world's economic and political systems. Climate change should be something the entire world is working on together, to address and mitigate. But it isn't. In the United States, the Republican Party is at war on science itself, which is beginning to cause a war within the Republican Party itself. But that means there is an enormous political opportunity for the Democrats, if they truly took the lead by following where the science leads.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Stern, who is now a crossbench peer, said: "Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then."
The Stern review, published in 2006, pointed to a 75% chance that global temperatures would rise by between two and three degrees above the long-term average; he now believes we are "on track for something like four ". Had he known the way the situation would evolve, he says, "I think I would have been a bit more blunt. I would have been much more strong about the risks of a four- or five-degree rise."
Climate change is scientific reality. It is an unprecedented global crisis. It shouldn't be political, but it is. And that means that by doing the right thing, by doing what is necessary, by doing what the scientific facts demand, by doing what the health of the planet demands, the Democratic Party could reap unimaginable political rewards. But not to do so would mean much worse than political failure. Because in addressing this crisis, without excuse or compromise, all of humanity cannot afford to fail.