What could be the worst thing that could happen?


A Patagonia Glacier 1928-2004, B. Merchant, Greenpeace

In terms of climate change that is. What is the worst thing that could happen? Weather patterns go crazy and civilization breaks down, reducing human existence to a post-apocalyptic rendition of survival of the fittest, or those who hoard the most and fend off competition the best. I would rather find a “soft landing” scenario for all of us.

A very good little video on this subject was recently forwarded to me by a friend who works for the Federal Government.

The consensus of science is that human introduction of carbon (and other greenhouse gasses) to the atmosphere is heating the planet. There could be some information out there yet to be found which would change this consensus. But this gent’s argument is regardless of whether it’s ever provable.

There are basically four ways of looking at it: Global warming is happening, or not, and we do something about it or we don’t. He makes a matrix of the four scenarios based on these two pairs of concepts. Because inaction’s worst-case scenario (total social, economic, ecological collapse) is worse than the worst-case scenario of spending to address climate change (a global depression), we must choose to act to avoid the really more costly worst-case scenario of not addressing climate change.

I appreciate what he has to say. The interesting thing is to what degree do we fund, and how do we select, different global warming mitigation strategies and tactics. There is a spectrum of choices.

The other thing is, if we decide to tax/regulate industry or spend gov funds on mitigation, does that quite mean an economic recession? Some say that by encumbering business with costs for mitigation will slow the economy and possibly, because it is not market-directed, mean a recession or worse. I want to explore that – how do we get markets to incorporate future costs? Demand insurance scheme participation? A gov’t entity taking designated taxes? Where would they put the money?

I don’t think that private parties should complain about the costs of compliance. If everyone is forced to comply, it is a level playing field. Legacy industries are of course going to complain about an unfair disadvantage, but if they had considered this in their business planning instead of fighting it, they would be fine. Now they will have re-allocation difficulties and people may lose jobs. But the work of addressing climate change, finding non-fossil fuel energy and work sources, and cleaning up the mess will all mean new creativity and that will mean new jobs and work, regardless of aggregate growth or not.

Gov’t spending tends to increase economic activity which benefits the society in general, if the spending creates multipliers. Spending to support aggregation of wealth to corporate interests (CEO compensation tends to go to big-ticket items) has fewer multipliers than just sending everyone a $300 refund check (that money circulates through more small busineses more rapidly). So, how do we implement policy spending/tax-regulation burdens which actually mitigate global warming but also spread the wealth/share the pain of burdens the most?

These are often the hardest to implement, thus least likely to win in the budget debates. It’s easier to hire Halliburton or whoever already has a capacity to “do something.” Like dealing with terrorists – it’s easier to send in an army than to figure out how to spend the same amount of money on democracy building, economic development and global civics work. But a Dept. of Peace could be the starting point for that.

Maybe Homeland Security should put together a “Global Warming Task Force”!??! I would rather see government spending and requirements for business sector spending to address global warming by forcing alternatives to greenhouse gas emissions at all levels. I think it could be implemented in a way that would be good for the majority of participants, and would avoid the worst-case scenario of global climate chaos.

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