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Monday evening, the PBS' Newshour hosted a segment on climate change issues building on Secretary of State John Kerry's strong comments over the weekend equating climate change with weapons of mass destruction.

The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3-D movie. ...

Terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, all challenges that know no borders. The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them.

Secretary Kerry called on citizens -- worldwide -- to call on leadership to lead on climate change.

Secretary Kerry also commented about disinformation, including disinformation about cost-benefit analysis related to climate change mitigation:

We shouldn’t allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact, nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits.

There are people who say, “Oh, it’s too expensive, we can’t do this.” No. No, folks.

Secretary Kerry continued to highlight that the costs of inaction are too high:

President Obama and I believe very deeply that we do not have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society. One of the arguments that we do hear is that it’s going to be too expensive to be able to address climate change. I have to tell you, that assertion could not be less grounded in fact. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Serious analysts understand that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh the costs of investing in solutions now. You do not need a degree in economics or a graduate degree in business in order to understand that the cost of flooding, the cost of drought, the cost of famine, the cost of health care, the cost of addressing this challenge is simply far less – the costs of addressing this challenge are far less than the costs of doing nothing. Just look at the most recent analysis done by the World Bank, which estimates that by 2050, losses – excuse me one second – losses from flood damage in Asian ports – fishing ports, shipping ports – the losses in those ports alone could exceed $1 trillion annually unless we make big changes to the infrastructure of those ports.
Sadly, the Secretary's comments suggest that there is a minority who believe that climate mitigation costs outweigh the benefits: that is actually the mainstream perspective.  The 'mainstream', however, is sadly horribly wrong due not just disinformation from those opposing action and denying basic science (for whatever set of reasons) but more fundamentally due to the difficulty of assessing 'wicked problems'.  Secretary Kerry  also solely discussed the issue in terms of avoiding costs of damaging climate change (an insurance value) as opposed to discussing the direct benefits from action. Analysis that doesn't stove-pipe issues -- that forthrightly seeks to tackle the 'wicked problem' -- would reveal that the benefits of climate mitigation and adaptation action (massively) outweigh costs -- e.g., a set of investments that will provide massive returns.

With these points in mind, within the PBS discussion as to "can the United States compel action on climate change," World Resources Institute's (WRIAndrew Steersnuck in a point that merits emphasis:

Most people look at the challenge of climate change and they think, my goodness, it’s going to be costly.

Well, it turns out that, just as the science is firming up, so too the economics is firming up.

It turns out that if we do it right, we can have a transition to a low carbon future that actually has more jobs, more technology and actually benefits people.

This is a critical point:  our economic system will be more fruitful (in the near, mid, and long-term) for all [1] if we pursue a low-carbon future due to better job creation, better living standards, better health, better education, better ..., and, oh by the way, reduced risk from catastrophic climate chaos.

Sadly, the global discussion is dominated by 'it will cost to take action to mitigate climate change' rather that assessing, embracing, and educating the truth that smart mitigation policies will strengthen economies while reducing climate change risks and costs.

Steer went on to highlight that the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (WRI is one of the member institutions) is seeking to help change this general understanding.

the New Climate Economy project, bringing together some of the world’s foremost economic experts to examine how stronger economic performance can be supported by good climate policy. The project aims to contribute to the global debate about economic policy, and to inform government, business and investment decisions.

“Climate impacts are rising and the evidence of warming is increasingly clear, but most economic analysis still does not properly factor in the increasing risks of climate change or the potential benefits of acting on it,” said Commission Chair and former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón. “We need urgently to identify how we can achieve economic growth and job creation while also reducing emissions and tackling climate change.” ....

“At a time when governments throughout the world are struggling to boost growth, increase access to energy, and improve food security, it is essential that the full costs and benefits of climate policies are more clearly understood,” said Lord Nicholas Stern, Vice-Chair of the Commission and author of the 2006 Stern Review. “It cannot be a case of either achieving growth or tackling global warming. It must be both.”

While there are those who strongly dismiss the potential for 'green capitalism' [2], a fundamental truth is that sensible climate mitigation policy offers the potential for accommodating improved human living conditions (improved economic performance) while offering a potential for avoiding utter catastrophic climate chaos.

Secretary Kerry - and others who understand the critical need for climate mitigation policy and investments -- would be well served to pay attention to The New Climate Economy Project.


[1] Of course, "all" is not a fully true term.  Those heavily invested in fossil fuel (foolish foolish) endeavors will not necessarily see the economic benefits that the vast majority of humanity and economies will reap from sensible climate policy.  However, we should explicitly recognize that these businesses, individuals, institutions, nations, etc are privatizing profits (to themselves) while socializing costs (pollution costs -- health, climate, etc ...) to all.

[2] For an in depth discussion -- bringing economics and environmentalism -- of the challenges of 'economic growth' within the fixed constraints of the world's carrying capacity, see Brian Czech, Supply Shock:  Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution.  Czech directs the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). An interesting counterpoint, which should challenge anyone with an open mind, is Ramez Naam, the infinite resource: the power of ideas on a finite planet.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:33 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The worship of market forces as the answer... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ashaman, John Crapper, HeyMikey, A Siegel

    …is one of the things driving the opposition. The myth that the market is somehow all-knowing and will always arrive at the optimum allocation of resources to solve problems just isn't so. If it doesn't show up on a balance sheet, the markets can't/won't deal with it - and many a fortune has been made by structuring balance sheets to keep things from showing up on them, AKA externalized costs, breaking the law, etc. etc.

    But it's even simpler than that. Market forces know no morality, don't give a damn about history or the future, and too often have an excessively narrow focus.

    If the cheapest and most abundant fuel for generating electricity happened to be baby pandas, then the markets would insist we build baby panda-fired generating plants. Anything else would be decreasing shareholder value!

    Further, the problem with a global economy is that too many people act as though there's still "somewhere else" to throw our trash, with labor to exploit, resources to plunder, and so on. It's catching up with us.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:52:07 AM PST

    •  Market Forces are the answer - unfortunately (5+ / 0-)

      right now those mules aren't harnessed to the right plow.  Taxpayer subsidies of the Fossil Fuel Industry has harnessed them to a destructo machine that's going to kill us all.  Stop the subsidies and change the regulations to put a price on carbon and that same mule team will be the power that turns the whole situation around.  (Slowly, like turning an aircraft carrier - but it will still do the job before we crash on the rocks.)

      •  Krugman: cost of action is modest. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, RunawayRose

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 11:10:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Krugman, (4+ / 0-)

          with all due respect to his brilliance and wonderful writing, falls into the very trap that I am talking to.  The work he is citing (such as the CBO and Nordhous and ...) all suffer from stove-piping and do not look to the systems-of-systems benefit streams.

          PS: TY for linking to that piece. Hadn't read in a longtime and should have discussed it years ago.

          Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

          by A Siegel on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 12:16:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's very difficult to see (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            this big of a Big Picture and realizing just how synergistic dealing with climate change - or not - actually is.  But my point is that what we refer to as Market Forces is the power that will either drive us so far into the hole we can't get out or will actually turn us around and bring us to safety.  Market Forces are the motive power, the mule team, jet engine, or whatever term you wish to use for it.  It's/they're a force of nature - human nature - and as such are neither good nor bad.

            •  Market forces are the answer IF (0+ / 0-)

              and only if the right incentives are incorporated into them, positive and negative - and that's not something we can leave up to the Invisible Hand, which too often has its thumb on the scales.

              It takes regulation, in the public interest.

              "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

              by xaxnar on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 06:52:31 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Absolutely - that's why I use the mule (0+ / 0-)

                analogy.  Harnessed (regulated) to the Public Interest, they can and do the work that's needed to be done.  Left to run loose (unregulated), they'll trample everything and eat us into starvation and themselves into foundering.

  •  This diary brings up some extremely (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, A Siegel, engine17, RunawayRose

    important points.  How we frame the climate disruption argument is critical to our ability to persuade.  A gloom and doom framework will never sell.  

    A positive, brighter, cleaner and more prosperous future framework is what is required.  

    Economists are not good at thinking outside the box.  Most are incapable of viewing issues outside their capitalism blinders and consumptive measurements of wealth.  And too many environmentalists love to frighten the hell out of people with the "bend over slowly while counting to 10 and kiss your ass goodbye" arguments.

    I had a much more  in-depth comment  ready to post but hit a button on my I-pad and it went bye bye.  It will have to wait for another day and another time as I'm under the weather today.  Great diary!

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 11:02:02 AM PST

    •  Future framework (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      John Crapper, A Siegel

      Sorry you're feeling like shit...

      A positive, brighter, cleaner and more prosperous future framework is what is required.
      I describe such a framework in my documentary-in-progress, A Most Convenient Convergence - . It includes emergent technology  which will allow us to reverse the flow of carbon dioxide in industry because it uses carbon dioxide as feedstock to manufacture fuel, plastics and food.

      I'm putting together a Kickstarter appeal to raise money to finish my film. When I get it up and running, I'll have multiple diaries here begging for traffic.

  •  Still Slogging Away W/Big Heart & Bad Thinking (0+ / 0-)

    I love and admire prophets seeking the light for their followers.

    I am in absolute awe of Pope Francis with the vast beneficial changes he has made but could never again follow because of what I view as the continuing degradation of women through the mythology of the faith.  

    It is much the same with Mr. Siegal and his determined denial of plain facts.

    As Japan was headed toward a second nuclear holocaust, there were plans made to launch an armada of solar satellites to beam down power like Scotty used to beam down the crew of the Enterprise to planet surfaces.  Maybe some day we will know how to do both but for now we cannot nor can we make manmade nuclear power plants with today's technology safe.

    Meanwhile Japan with easily available safe nuclear power far greater than all other energy sources on earth put together from bounteous Mother Earth herself crimped development for mythological religious reasons the same as our Hawaiians have done.  The late revered Senator Inouye even boasted to cheering crowds about wangling money from Uncle to Sam to stop one large geothermal power development.

    We will learn or perhaps we will perish.  

    Best,  Terry

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