What Will it Take to Act on the Climate Crisis?

By Robert Bernstein   |   August 31, 2021

Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! As expressed so well by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, these are the things we evolved to fear. Unfortunately, in the modern world, these are not the things that really matter.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its latest report emphasizing the urgency of the climate crisis. Scientists have been warning of disaster for decades and the result has been endless delay and inaction.

In a sense, we have jumped off a cliff and are in free fall. And deniers keep saying everything is fine because we haven’t hit the ground yet. Now that we are seeing the effects as fires and floods in the U.S., some of these same deniers have switched to saying that it is real, but there is nothing to be done.

Why the denial? Because the climate crisis is the most in-your-face example of a “market failure.” It shows that pure capitalism cannot solve the most important problems facing society. Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything” makes this point. She wrote: “There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.”

Capitalism has changed the rules in the past. The same people who worship capitalism as a religion also worship the military and law enforcement. These are massive “socialist” government programs that are funded by taxing and spending on a vast scale. When the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, did free market capitalists say that the free market would magically raise an army and fight back? Of course not.

We are under a far greater attack now than Pearl Harbor and it requires urgent action on a global scale. That means taxing and spending a lot. Ideally, taxing those who are causing the climate crisis as well as those who can afford to solve it.

The good news: Scientists and engineers have known for decades what is needed. We need to stop using our atmosphere as a garbage dump for burned fossil fuels. Picture the skin of an apple and how thin it is relative to the apple. Our atmosphere is 20 times thinner than that relative to the Earth. We have dumped 100 million years’ worth of carbon into the atmosphere in just 100 years. The real wonder is how anything has survived this onslaught.

We need to build sustainable transportation and energy systems using technology we already have mastered. Sustainable transportation primarily should be electric public transit because land is too precious to be paved over for storing and moving private motor vehicles that waste so much space.

Project Drawdown has carefully documented the most effective ways to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gases. Carefully disposing of refrigerants turns out to be a major issue because current refrigerants are thousands of times more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide (CO2). We also need to reduce food waste and shift to less consumption of meat, especially resource-wasteful beef. We need to educate everyone worldwide to reduce population growth.

But the latest IPCC report has shown that even cutting greenhouse gases to zero is not going to be enough, due to so much delay and inaction. We need to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon engineering has existing technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. For about $150 per ton right now. That includes disposing of it in stable geological formations underground and/or using it for existing industrial processes.

But none of this will happen until, 1) People wake up and realize the urgency for action and 2) People vote for the needed taxing and spending to pay for it.

If we charge the true cost of dumping carbon in the atmosphere, then markets can provide the innovation to find creative solutions.

What is the alternative? Wildfires. Powerful hurricanes and tornadoes. Disease. Flooding. Vast prime land areas submerged. Drought. Crop Loss. Famines. Climate refugees. Wars. Mass extinctions. How much would that cost compared to preventive action?

Entire ice sheets can collapse, creating a surface that absorbs more heat in a “thermal runaway” situation. Vast ocean currents can irreversibly be changed, creating temperature extremes our species has never experienced. Once you jump off a cliff you can’t step back onto it.

Solving the climate crisis looks very cheap if you look at the alternative. There is no Planet B. Laws of physics carry on regardless of political denial. We need action. Now.


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