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Climate Crisis Reports

by p------- Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 06:47:12 PM EST

No one has written about the 2 reports on our climate crisis which were released today by the UN and by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern. So here are the Cliff's Notes and a thread for discussion.

From the BBC:

The world cannot afford to wait before tackling climate change, the UK prime minister has warned.

A report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern suggests that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%.

But taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.

Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".

International response

The review coincides with the release of new data by the United Nations showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases - a development for which Sir Nicholas said that rich countries must shoulder most of the responsibility.

"For every 1 invested now we can save 5, or possibly more, by acting now.

"We can't wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto - we simply don't have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto)."

Large risks

Sir Nicholas, a former chief economist of the World Bank, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unless it's international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required."

He went on: "What we have shown is the magnitude of these risks is very large and has to be taken into account in the kind of investments the world makes today and the consumption patterns it has."

The Stern Review forecasts that 1% of global gross domestic product (GDP) must be spent on tackling climate change immediately.

It warns that if no action is taken:

Floods from rising sea levels could displace up to 100 million people

Melting glaciers could cause water shortages for 1 in 6 of the world's population

Wildlife will be harmed; at worst up to 40% of species could become extinct

Droughts may create tens or even hundreds of millions of "climate refugees"

Clear objectives

The study is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than an environmental scientist.

Mr Brown, who commissioned the report, has also recruited former US Vice-President Al Gore as an environment adviser.

Mr Brown called for a long-term framework of a worldwide carbon market that would lead to "a low-carbon global economy". Among his plans are:

Reducing European-wide emissions by 30% by 2020, and at least 60% by 2050

By 2010, having 5% of all UK vehicles running on biofuels

Creating an independent environmental authority to work with the government

Establishing trade links with Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica to ensure sustainable forestry

Working with China on clean coal technologies

From the Chicago Tribune

Raising the stakes in the global warming dispute with the United States and China, Britain issued a sweeping report Monday warning that the Earth faces a calamity on the scale of the world wars and the Great Depression unless urgent action is taken.

The British government also hired former Vice President Al Gore, who has emerged as a powerful environmental spokesman since losing the 2000 presidential election, to advise it on climate change -- a clear indication of Prime Minister Tony Blair's growing dissatisfaction with U.S. environmental policy.

The 700-page report argues that environmentalism and economic growth can go hand in hand in the battle against global warming. But it also says that if no action is taken, rising sea levels, heavier floods and more intense droughts could displace 200 million people by the middle of the century.

The report said unabated climate change would eventually cost the equivalent of between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product each year. The report by Sir Nicholas Stern, a senior government economist, represents a huge contrast to the U.S. government's wait-and-see policies.

Blair called for "bold and decisive action" to cut carbon emissions and stem the worst of the temperature rise.

Stern said acting now to cut greenhouse gas emissions would cost about 1 percent of global GDP each year. "The benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs," he said. "We can grow and be green."

Blair, Stern and Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who commissioned the report, emphasized that the battle against global warming can only succeed with the cooperation of major countries such as the United States and China.

President Bush kept the United States -- by far the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming -- out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, saying the pact would harm the U.S. economy.

The British government is considering new taxes on cheap airline flights, fuel and high-emission vehicles. It also announced legislation that would set a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Under the Kyoto accord, 35 industrialized nations committed to reducing emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Britain is one of only a few industrialized nations whose greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in the last 15 years, the United Nations said. It said Germany's emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain's by 14 percent and France's by almost 1 percent.

Overall, there was a 2.4 percent rise in emissions by 41 industrialized nations from 2000 to 2004, mostly because former Soviet-bloc countries increased emissions by 4.1 percent.

Damn! They have altered the original Tribune article. It was initially quote harsh on the Bush Admin. Now it's kind of all over the place. I wish I'd saved the original...

Here is some information about the UN report: Report points to rising emission trends. I don't know if it says anything new...

Anyway, I think there are a few questions here:

If it will only cost 1% of the GDP to fix the problem, and will most assuredly cost more the longer we wait, why is the US govt. so hell bent on not being cooperative? It seems like savvy businesspeople would look at the longterm and realize it is in their best interest to act now. Plus, with tax incentives for green businesses and other initiatives, why must better environmental policy be so non-negotiable for the US?

Also, what role are local governments going to play in this? If you cannot force the US to sign the Kyoto treaty or force countries to get their act together, can we create a less orthodox international coalition of communities? Or am I totally insane? I am thinking about this because of the greening policies adopted in places like Chicago, which totally bypass federal government. Or are these things too little to make an impact?

And lastly, why doesn't the world bully us into getting our act together? You have to breath our air. We are devouring your resources. Where's the outrage? Where are the boycotts and the voting out of office those who appease Bush and his lackeys? (Ok, you're doing well on that last point.) But seriously, where are your hardball negotiators?

Anyway... Thanks to Jerome et al. for Energize America. I think we all know what needs to be done. Now we just have to find a way to get it done.


[Update]: Mea Culpa. Rdf's diary on the subject. Go read the comments.

Not to blow my own horn, but I have a thread up with citations to this Stern report:
The End of the World

I also posted a similar thread dealing with the WWF report several days before:

The  Climate Eureka Moment

However, I yield to a front page diary, if it will promote a bit more discussion than I was able to inspire.

I have a lot of criticisms with the Stern report. The principle one being its lack of acknowledgment that we are entering an era of permanent raw material scarcity and that growth (even "smart" growth) is not a realistic goal. I made the same remarks about Al Gore's recent speech as well.

The west, especially, has to migrate away from an economy where material "stuff" is considered a sign of a healthy society.

I'm not surprised at Stern's outlook since he comes from the World Bank. His entire professional training is based upon lending money to generate material outcomes - roads, factories, mines, etc.

I'll continue to beat my lonely drum until everyone gets tired of hearing me or until some others take up the theme, to wit: the west has to scale back (not grow) their economies to a level that is sustainable. My recent guess for the US was about 20% of the current size in terms of raw material and finished goods use.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 07:23:10 PM EST
Sorry I missed your diary. Though in all fairness, that's more of a comment than a diary...  The thread was good, though, so I will link to it.

I totally agree with you about our material culture.  But I do think it is significant that an economist is acknowledging our global warming crisis and even demanding some kind of action is taken.  The business community, at least here, has been silent on this for too long.  It is a step in the right direction.  And I am happy to see someone, anyone, call out the US on its irresponsible policies, and have it publicized around the world.  We need more of that.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 11:44:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's getting some play here in the UK. But - what's tragic is that Blair has a little bit of a credibility problem right now. And it's also being presented as 'green taxes', which isn't sitting at all well with a population that feels it's being unfairly and excessively taxed already.

The central point - sustainability - is being lost in the scrum. Certainly no one seems to be connecting the dots and reaching the point where GDP will be down by at least 20% if something is done, and by a lot more than that if nothing is done.

(What a crappy century. Can I have 1996 back?)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 09:05:48 PM EST
You wouldn't believe it!!! Even Howard here in Australia is admitting that climate change exists! It must be that they found a way how to make money out of it! Now they are drumming loudly: "Economic catastrophe (more severe then 1929) is going to shake us globally in just 10 years..."
Still they do not want to sign Kyoto.
Are we scared ...you bet!!!

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 09:40:43 PM EST
it still staggers me that the only way the media can talk about our parlous situation, and the only way the "leaders" can conceptualise it, is in terms of cowrie shells (money).

it is as if someone told a patient solemnly, "the fact that you have stage IV brain cancer may have a significant effect on your earning capacity over the next decade or so."   I'm sure it would.  but would that be my main concern?

my apologies to Jerome for striking a very painful note.  I do not mean this to be a trivialising reference at all, not a joke.  there is nothing funny here.  but rather a non-trivialising reference -- what we are dealing with here is not about "money" -- it is about life and death, terror, misery and suffering, tragedy and loss, grief, despair, catastrophe far beyond the make-believe realm of tickertapes and markets and little inedible tokens whose value is established by collective fantasy and manipulated by elite consensus.

money cannot begin to measure what we are losing, what we have already lost.


mass extinctions.  the collapse of food chains and the devastation of watersheds.  the decline of pollinators.  the death of whole fisheries and the poisoning of whole oceans.  the vanishing of continent-spanning rivers, the shrinking of ecosystem-central lakes and their tributaries, the drawdown of aquifers, disappearance of snowcap.  the loss of arable land.  possible runaway carbon feedback loops.  rising sea levels.  mass migration to escape desertification, flooding, heavy weather.  just some of what is already happening.

and all these people can see ahead is "we could suffer a market recession"???

yes, well, and I suppose the Black Death was rather bad for trade.  and Katrina did rather put a dent in the tourism industry.

[bangs head on desk]

Hornborg was right.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 10:50:09 PM EST
Agree.  It's as if someone says, "The sun will become a supernova in 24 hours," and you reply,"That's going to interfere with my tee time."

On the other hand, it's the unrelenting drive to make money that has largely led the industrial revolution and all the greenhouse gases that come with it, and so it might be a good thing if the  people who are most obsessed with money began to realize how expensive global warming will be and how it could interfere with profits.

Already people are trying to figure out profitable ways to cope with or mitigate global warming, carbon emissions, etc.

by Plan9 on Mon Oct 30th, 2006 at 11:16:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it is as if someone told a patient solemnly, "the fact that you have stage IV brain cancer may have a significant effect on your earning capacity over the next decade or so."  
My very good friend was diagnosed with "Primary Biliary Cirrhosis" which is a deadly autoimmune disease and only thanks to some new medication she can now expect to live more then 5 years. She never had a drop of alcohol in her life and probably got the disease  from a great stress she had at work lately. She admitted when she found out about what the disease is all about her first thought was " Shell I be able to work in these 5 years left to me"...She's got a kid in private high school and half a million in mortgages...
My hair just went up! That's how materialistic we are now and the only way to scare us is "money talk"...unfortunately. I do not work (by choice) and am not that much demanding person all though my kids are adults now so it is getting easier financially but I can sympathize with people stuck in their debts...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:01:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary, poem, thanks for putting in the time to craft this and get this out to us.

So...are any other governments listening out there??

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 12:39:58 AM EST
Some links (thanks to Le Monde):

Dangerous climate change is hitting Africa hard say top aid and environment groups

A new report from unique coalition of the UK's leading development and environment agencies says the international community must act now, or Africa will go `Up in smoke.'

Climate change is already having serious impacts on peoples' lives across Africa, and is set to get much worse unless urgent action is taken according to a report from a coalition of UK development and environment agencies. The report is released in the run up to the next major UN Conference on climate change in Nairobi and the publication of the Treasury's Stern review on the economics of climate change.

The report, Africa - Up in Smoke 2, is based on the latest available scientific research and evidence from those living on the front line of global warming.  It shows that climate change is already having serious impacts on peoples' lives across Africa - and is set to get much worse unless urgent action is taken.

Africa is already warmer by 0.5°C than it was 100 years ago, putting extra strain on water resources. According to the UK's Hadley Centre, temperature increases over many areas of Africa will be double the global average increase, and drought patterns stand to worsen catastrophically.

Act on green taxes now or the world will pay terrible price

In a leaked letter to the Chancellor, David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, has proposed a package of environmental taxes meant to encourage people to use public transport, buy smaller cars and fly less. These include charges on petrol-guzzling cars, road pricing, a £5 levy on airline travel in Europe and £10 for longer-haul flights, and higher charges for dumping waste in landfills.

African apocalypse: The continent burning into a desert

Nobel laureate delivers talk on global warming

Sustainable growth and improvements in technology are the key ingredients for limiting the impact of climate change, while developed nations need to get serious about reducing emissions, Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling said in Taoyuan yesterday.

"We should not attempt to urge developing countries to sacrifice development significantly in the interest of holding down greenhouse emissions," Schelling said in a speech on global warming and climate change delivered at the National Central University.

Schelling shared last year's Nobel Prize in Economics with Robert Aumann for his work utilizing game-theory to understand conflict and cooperation.

"Developed countries like my country and yours probably should devote the next decade to not only taking this problem seriously, but demonstrating to countries like China that we are taking this seriously," he said.

Only then, he said, can developed nations ask the developing world to "climb on board."

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 03:30:38 AM EST
I would like to keep Nomad´s DIY Energy visible to stay focused and show our practical efforts because I can talk, but...

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 04:00:56 AM EST
It would also be a good push-factor for myself to keep tinkering with it - although I'm currently pretty swamped.
by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 06:04:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is an example of the expected type of push back.

OPEC says British climate change report "unfounded"

A hard-hitting report on climate change published by the British government on Monday has no basis in science or economics, OPEC's Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo said on Tuesday.

People don't want to believe the science, and those that do think we can grow our way out of shortages.

I realize that economists are trained to think that everything has a price, but where are the ecologists, moralists and philosophers?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 08:31:38 AM EST
I am beginning to want a new blog.  the title:  Dumb As Yeast.  the content:  the endless drivel of "grow our way out of environmental collapse" cargo cultists.

if I keep pounding head on desk I'm gonna get a concussion.  OTOH then I wouldn't be able to read the drivel, so I'd be calmer.

Monbiot has responded to Stern with a modest proposal for a practical carbon reduction programme...  but of course it requires treating the AWOL as negotiable, so...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 05:46:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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