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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 31, 2014 at 10:10 AM

The biggest story in the world

The biggest news story today is not about Russia and Ukraine, or Janet Yellen discussing the jobless recovery. It is not about flashpoints in Asia. Nor is it about the fight for a higher minimum wage, the worst inequality since the Gilded Age, Obamacare, Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” or the Final Four. It is not even our disaster in Oso.

The biggest story is the one you probably won’t read, much less hear on television. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report today on climate change. Download it and read it during the commercial breaks on Duck Dynasty or Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. Better yet, check it out when you are tempted to read a story about how fracking will make America the world’s leading oil producer or wonder why the heck that socialist Obama hasn’t approved the Keystone XL pipeline yet.

Produced by several hundred leading climate scientists, the report is as big a wake-up call as anyone could ask for. Climate change is here, now, and more severe than expected. It will get worse. If nations do nothing to limit greenhouse gases, it will create a feedback loop that will become unstoppable.

From the economic perspective, climate change is already creating huge costs, but this is only the beginning. Food supplies are at particular risk. Rising poverty, displacement and competition for resources will make conflict among nations more likely.

Read the report.

There are no “deniers” to be taken seriously. Critics will say that writing such as mine risks overstating the risks, being alarmist, and actually setting back efforts to deal with climate change. Read the report and come away un-alarmed.

As a society, we live in denial that future historians will find fascinating. We’re having a pitched debate about adequately funding bus service in King County, a small but important element to reducing carbon, and much of the focus is on the costs. What about the trillions in costs from climate change?

And we hear much about how government spending must be cut, cut, cut, because we’re leaving our grandchildren so much debt. Let’s talk more about how, if we do nothing, we will be leaving our grandchildren a planet out of a dystopian science-fiction movie.

No, we can’t “adapt” our way out of the consequences if we continue on today’s trajectory. And no, climate change won’t hurt only poor, non-white people in the Third World.

The Pentagon and major companies are taking climate change seriously. It’s time we did, too.

What are a few of the intelligent responses that could be made now? Tax carbon. Invest in a Manhattan Project of renewable energy, as well as effective renewables that are available now. Invest in passenger trains and transit. Quit subsidizing fossil fuels, most of which must remain in the ground or we are…cooked.

Changing customs is difficult. Political leaders are beholden to the big fossil fuel companies, as well as the car-sprawl complex. As Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But the alternative to finally responding to the clear and present danger is a century of disruptions we can’t imagine.

But we do have a pretty good idea. Download the report and read it.


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