Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Kathleen Welch: A choice we can’t afford to ignore

By Kathleen Welch
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
 
LAST month, the nation’s leaders were still debating whether they could afford to tackle global warming. Today, they should be asking whether they can afford not to.

A groundbreaking new study by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, found that uncontrolled climate change could spark a worldwide recession, consuming up to 20 percent of global economic output over the coming decades. But instead of forecasting economic doom and gloom, Stern described his conclusions as “essentially optimistic.”

That’s because he also calculated the costs of emissions reductions, and discovered that we can avoid the worst consequences of global warming for just a fraction of the costs of inaction. Moreover, the steps needed to reduce emissions, like renewable energy development and carbon trading, actually open the door to billions of dollars in new technologies and markets.

Another recent study by the British division of Shell Oil found that climate-related markets could be worth a trillion dollars over the next five years. Recognizing these opportunities, a number of American businesses – from General Electric to Goldman Sachs – have endorsed mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Some skeptics have already attacked Stern’s report, claiming that its findings are out of step with previous cost-benefit analyses surrounding global warming. Forecasting economic trends is fraught with uncertainty, but further peer review is unlikely to undermine the basic – indeed, timeless – concept that an ounce of prevention costs far less than a pound of cure.

Moreover, even critics admit that their older studies focused exclusively on industrialized nations, while Stern found the areas impacted most by climate change lie in the developing world. The city of Lima, Peru, with a population twice the size of San Francisco, relies on glaciers for its water supply. Those reservoirs are 25 percent smaller than they were three decades ago and the glaciers there continue to melt.

In Bangladesh, rising sea levels could force between 10million and 30 million coastal residents from their homes this century. The relocation of a single village in Alaska, with less than 1,000people, is estimated to cost up to $180 million.

Combined, Peru and Bangladesh emit as much carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion each year as the United States releases in about four days. Our obligation to reduce emissions has an obvious moral dimension, but it has an economic one as well. In a global economy, problems in South America and Asia are often felt here at home, and Stern predicts worldwide impacts on the scale of the Great Depression.

Of course, we don’t have to look overseas to find cause for concern. On the Eastern seaboard, rising ocean temperatures portend stronger hurricanes. Melting snowpack threatens water supplies across the Missouri River basin, while out in the West a new study concluded that global warming will worsen wildfires.

Fortunately, there are also solutions at hand. Governors and mayors across the country are already taking action to reduce emissions. A number of bipartisan proposals in Congress would establish market-based mechanisms to reduce our global warming pollution, spurring the development of cleaner vehicles and advanced energy technologies. Now is the time to put these proposals at the top of our national agenda, since, according to Stern, the longer we wait to cut our emissions, the harder and more expensive this task becomes.

Stern shares this concern with many scientists, who report that our window for preventing catastrophic global warming is closing. According to NASA scientist James Hansen, another decade of business-as-usual emissions would make some of the worst climate impacts inevitable.

The Stern report provides a road map for turning a devastating liability into a valuable opportunity. But further delay is not an option. If we wait for the seas to rise before taking action on global warming, we may find that the road out of this dilemma has already flooded.

[email protected]

Kathleen Welch is the deputy director of the environment program at The Pew Charitable Trusts, 1425 K Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
 

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

0 Comments on “San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Kathleen Welch: A choice we can’t afford to ignore”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: