Happy warriors in the climate casino? New year thoughts inspired by California’s Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Professor William D. Nordhaus
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California’s Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. delivered inspiring remarks – accessible fully on YouTube – on December 14, 2016, at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco; this was the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world in 2016. James Fallows of the Atlantic commented on this speech stating that “It’s a genuine fighting speech, with a tone that is resolute but positive, rather than resentful or doomed. It’s a rousing call-to-battle against the environmental backwardness and larger disdain for fact of the coming era, from a person who as he nears age 80 has struck a distinctive Happy Warrior tone of resistance. Happy, in its confidence. Warrior, in its resoluteness.”
Almost at the same time of the Happy Warrior speech at AGU, a Concerned Scientist, Professor William D. Nordhaus, one of the founding fathers of the economics of climate change published his latest article, “Projections and uncertainties about climate change in an era of minimal climate policies” , with some eye-opening and blunt conclusions such as:
- ”… that it will be extremely difficult to achieve the 2°C target of international agreements even if ambitious policies are introduced in the near term.”
- “a major upward revision in the social cost of carbon (SCC) and the optimal carbon tax in the current period”
- “the international target for climate change with a limit of 2 °C appears to be infeasible with reasonably accessible technologies – and this is the case even with very stringent and unrealistically ambitious abatement strategies. This is so because of the inertia of the climate system, of rapid projected economic growth in the near term, and of revisions in several elements of the model [DICE]. A target of 2½ °C is technically feasible but would require extreme virtually universal global policy measures.”
- “The approach of studying business as usual has fallen out of favor with analysts, who concentrate on temperature- or concentration-limiting scenarios. A careful study of limited-policy or no-policy scenarios may be depressing, but it is critical in the same way a CT scan is for a cancer patient.”
- “Moreover, notwithstanding what may be called “The Rhetoric of Nations,” there has been little progress in taking strong policy measures. For example, of the six largest countries or regions, only the EU has implemented national climate policies, and the policies of the EU today are very modest. Moreover, from the perspective of political economy in different countries as of December 2016, the prospects of strong policy measures appear to be dimming rather than brightening.”
- “This study makes one further important point about uncertainty. On one question there is no doubt: the scientific crystal ball is cloudy for the path of climate change and its impacts. The ranges of uncertainty for future emissions, concentrations, temperature, and damages are extremely large. This does not imply, however, that current policy is to wait and do nothing. To reiterate, when taking uncertainties into account, the strength of policy (as measured by the social cost of carbon or the optimal carbon tax) would increase, not decrease. “
Within their own realms – politics/policy and science respectively – both argue for strong and quick climate action. William D. Nordhaus called the global situation a high-stakes “climate casino” in his famous 2013 book; according to him there is still some time to turn around and walk back out of the casino. Both him and Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. have the ideas and determination to move ahead on this low-emission, climate resilient route. With a reference to Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and Trump’s choice for Energy Department/Secretary, Governor Brown stated: “Rick, we’ve got more sun than you have oil, and we’re going to use it!”. I would add that this is a global truth: the low-emission, resilient (energy) transition is inevitable; but its gearstick (speed) is certainly in our hands. Former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, made a stunning plea on his Facebook page on 7 December 2016.
As we enter the new year we should continue to listen to science, continue/start evidence-based policy making and ensure that (investment) decisions of 2017 on trillions of dollars going into infrastructure do not lock us in for a high emissions pathway.
We have the will, we have the tools and we have the historic chance. Let’s make sure that we will be remembered as part of the unique first generation who realised the impacts of climate change and as part of perhaps the last generation who could take decisive and sufficient actions to mitigate climate change. Let’s face the sometimes unpleasant/inconvenient realities and take action toward a comforting future for all.
Let’s become science-driven Happy Warriors in 2017.