By John Capece, Kissimmee Waterkeeper
Every voter is a climate voter, but sometimes it takes an extreme event like a hurricane to remind us of this fact.
Back in the 1980s most scientists working in the natural sciences recognized the seriousness of the looming climate crisis. Lacking the direct evidence necessary to capture public attention, these scientists and attentive politicians failed to mobilize society into a proper response.
But now, four decades later, the direct evidence is clear and undeniable. However, the public and political leaders are still failing to respond at the level demanded by the crisis.
Today’s situation warrants the scale of commitment we Americans demonstrated in the Second World War when our nation grew its economy and eventually spent a third of its GDP in overcoming fascism.
In today’s dollars that translates to annual spending of $7 trillion. However, expecting the U.S. economy to reach anything approaching this level in fighting abrupt climate change is wildly unrealistic, even with a climate gun held to its head.
As evidence, consider the fight Congress experienced recently in passing the Inflation Reduction Act. This unprecedented, yet relatively modest investment,allocated $375 billion to climate spending over the next 10 years, or roughly $38 billion each year (0.2% of GDP). This $38 billion is dwarfed by the $70 billion in damage inflicted upon Florida by a climate-intensified Hurricane Ian.
In 2021 the Climate Policy Initiative estimated that global annual spending toward averting a climate catastrophe needs to exceed $4 trillion per year. While the U.S.represents roughly 25% of the global economy, our responsibility for precipitating the climate crisis would easily justify that the U.S. spend $2 trillion per year or 10% of our GDP.
For 2019/2020, global spending on climate was approximately $632 billion, broken down into $321 billion from the public sector (governments); $256 billion from corporations, banks and various other investors; and $55 billion from households. The U.S. share of that is probably between a quarter to a third of the total ($160 to $210 billion), still only 10% of what it needs to be.
But how does the U.S. get from $200 billion per year to $2 trillion per year?
In WWII the nation achieved its transformation in just four years. In the same period defense related spending delivered an average 16% annual GPD growth.
Clearly, wars are good for business, even though a nation is simultaneously destroying most of what it creates and sacrificing too many of its most precious assets — its people. A war-scale response to the climate crisis can have the same unproductive effect if the money is disproportionately spent on resilience and fortification.
Wars against ever-strengthening enemies are not won by building bunkers and then hiding from the battle. To be meaningful over the long term, climate spending needs to focus on innovation and transformation through science, technology, industry, and education.
If you have any doubt that the climate crisis constitutes a low-level, steadily worsening war that we are waging upon ourselves, take another look at the recent images from Fort Myers Beach and the associated body count of Hurricane Ian.
Remind yourself of the other recent climate-intensified hurricanes that have ravaged an increasing number of our coastal communities. Recall the incredible fires that have raged throughout the western parts of our nation.
Hundreds of groups and over 20,000 representatives will gather in Sharm El Shiekh, Egypt a month from now for COP27, the annual United Nations climate conference where they will discuss and negotiate a path forward in this crisis. Campus Climate Corps, Kissimmee Waterkeeper and Collier County Waterkeeper will be attending and delivering daily briefings during the two-week event.
For our part in this global effort, we in the U.S. absolutely must look at the climate spending contained in the Inflation Reduction Act as a starting point, not a satisfactory end goal. Whether we rapidly scale up spending on solutions to the climate crisis depends on whether each of us takes our role as climate voters seriously.
John Capece is the Kissimmee Waterkeeper and director of Campus Climate Corps.
“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.