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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Making Sense of the Climate Issue"

Jeff Sachs:

Making Sense of the Climate Impasse, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: All signs suggest that the planet is still hurtling headlong toward climatic disaster. ... Yet still we fail to act.

There are several reasons for this... First, the economic challenge of controlling human-induced climate change is truly complex. Human-induced climate change stems from two principal sources of emissions...: fossil-fuel use for energy and agriculture (including deforestation...). Changing the world’s energy and agricultural systems is no small matter. ... We need a practical strategy for overhauling two economic sectors that stand at the center of the global economy and involve the entire world’s population.

The second major challenge in addressing climate change is the complexity of the science... This scientific understanding is incomplete, and there remain significant uncertainties about the precise magnitudes, timing, and dangers of climate change. The general public naturally has a hard time grappling with this complexity and uncertainty, especially since the changes in climate are occurring over a timetable of decades and centuries...a

This has given rise to a third problem in addressing climate change, which stems from a combination of the economic implications of the issue and the uncertainty that surrounds it. This is reflected in the brutal, destructive campaign against climate science by powerful vested interests and ideologues, apparently aimed at creating an atmosphere of ignorance and confusion.

The Wall Street Journal, for example,... has run an aggressive editorial campaign against climate science for decades. ... Major oil companies and other big corporate interests also are playing this game... Their general approach is to exaggerate the uncertainties of climate science and to leave the impression that climate scientists are engaged in some kind of conspiracy to frighten the public. ...

If we add up these three factors – the enormous economic challenge of reducing greenhouse gases, the complexity of climate science, and deliberate campaigns to confuse the public and discredit the science – we arrive at the fourth and over-arching problem: US politicians’ unwillingness or inability to formulate a sensible climate-change policy. ...

When Barack Obama was elected US president, there was hope for progress. Yet, while it is clear that Obama would like to move forward on the issue,... special interest groups have dominated the process, and Obama has failed to make any headway.

The Obama administration should ... try ... an alternative approach. Instead of negotiating with vested interests in the backrooms of the White House and Congress, Obama should present a coherent plan to the American people ... for phasing in ... changes over time, and demonstrate that the costs would be modest compared to the enormous benefits.

Strangely, despite being a candidate of change, Obama has not taken the approach of presenting real plans of action for change. His administration is trapped more and more in the paralyzing grip of special-interest groups. Whether this is an intended outcome, so that Obama and his party can continue to mobilize large campaign contributions, or the result of poor decision-making is difficult to determine – and may reflect a bit of both.

What is clear is that we are courting disaster as a result. Nature ... is telling us that our current economic model is dangerous and self-defeating. Unless we find some real global leadership in the next few years, we will learn that lesson in the hardest ways possible.

    Posted by on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10:17 AM in Economics, Environment, Politics, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (27)


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