By John Ward, Gainesville Sun Guest Columnist
Americans have perhaps never faced as many serious threats as confront us now, so it’s not surprising that the threat most dangerous and hardest to fix — the overheating of our world — has gotten less attention than others with more immediate consequences for most Americans.
But this danger is growing faster than scientists expected and will become more costly and harder to control the longer we wait to act.
A 2018 Federal Reserve paper found that “business-as-usual would cost the U.S. over $2 trillion more than meeting the Paris targets by 2050, and a staggering $50 trillion more by 2100,” along with great suffering and death. An April 2020 study in the journal Nature found that inaction would cost the global economy between $150 trillion and $792 trillion by 2100.
We cannot afford to put off the work to stop the overheating and its dangerous consequences, including more destructive climate and weather events and migrations of many millions of people whose ability to survive will be threatened by such events.
A January 2020 report by J.P. Morgan economists found that, “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened.” Many studies by reputable climate scientists in the last few years confirm these warnings.
The good news is that shifting to clean energy and other strategies will create many well-paying blue-collar jobs and reduce the threat to human health, while gradually stopping the rising heat. President Joe Biden appears committed to accomplishing this and will be assisted by the National Academy of Sciences.
The academy’s president, Marcia McNutt, said, “Our goal is to provide decision-makers at all levels with the types of actionable advice and information they need to respond.”
Although the short-term cost of keeping overheating to 2 degrees will be great, it’s an investment well worth making. According to a December 2020 Yale poll, most voters of both parties support climate-friendly energy policies. And there is much we can do by working together.
You can help by getting Congress to pass a carbon tax that requires that the money collected be returned to the American public. That proposal has been endorsed by 3,589 economists (Google “3589 endorse carbon tax”). It would help by rewarding Americans who reduced use of carbon fuel (two-thirds of whom would receive more money than they would lose from increased oil prices), while speeding the conversion to a clean energy economy.
Project Drawdown has rated other strategies. They include: converting rapidly to clean energy, which already costs less in many places than carbon-based fuel; replacing fluorinated gas refrigerants in air conditioners; cutting food waste and moving to plant-rich diets; increasing insulation in buildings; increasing the amount and capacity of carbon sinks to hold more carbon in the ground by such means as restoring forests, planting bamboo, protecting peat land and keeping it wet, increasing perennial staple crops and planting trees on pasture land.
The complete list is at www.drawdown.org/solutions.
Brewer Stone, in Fortune Magazine this January, proposed the creation of “a climate-innovation-focused investment fund, as an essential part of bipartisan efforts to improve infrastructure as well as of President-elect Biden’s proposed $400 billion in climate-related investments.” This could speed needed “developing, deploying, and scaling potential solutions to our mushrooming climate catastrophe, while also creating jobs and leverage for incremental private investment.”
Many projects are now underway to do these things, but slowed by inadequate funding. Sufficient money and collaboration are needed to create an operation akin to COVID-19’s Project Warp Speed. The faster we act, the more of the world in which we were designed to best flourish can be saved.
Scientists who study the climate threat say we can make a major difference if we act fast enough and on a large enough scale. It’s unthinkable that we could fail to limit the growing disruptions to our way of life before they get totally out of control.
I don’t want my two great-grandsons, who will see the beginning of the next century if they live as long as I have, to endure a dangerous, inhospitable world.
John Ward lives in Gainesville.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.