Saturday, December 15, 2012

Climate Change is not just another business risk

 

KettleFishA couple of news stories this week focused on a new study that predicts hard times for winter tourism: Report: Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States. Last year’s warm Northeast winter must have given the winter tourism industry the jitters, which is odd because many Climate Change studies have been predicting warmer winters and less snowfall in the Northeast for quite some time:

  • “Outdoor recreation regions and communities dependent on natural resources may be negatively affected by higher temperatures and reduced snowfall or snowpack as the result of climate change. Communities in the Adirondacks region that depend on tourism associated with cold-water fisheries (e.g., trout) or wintertime snow-based activities (e.g., skiing and snowmobiling) may be particularly vulnerable.” (Page 68, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011))
  • “Communities whose economies depend on skiing and snowmobiling will be negatively affected by higher temperatures and reduced snowpack. Communities that depend on tourism associated with coldwater fisheries such as trout could be particularly vulnerable, although there could be increases in warmer water fish species that could help offset these losses.’ (Page 26, New York State Climate Action Council Climate Action Plan Interim Report New York State Climate Action Council Interim Report 11-9-10)
  • “Other activities are likely to be harmed by even small increases in warming, such as snow- and ice-dependent activities including skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.” (Page 88, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States | The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  2009)

What’s tragic about this present focus on a billions-of-dollar a year industry, which includes skiing, skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and all the ancillary business associated with them, is that it’s probably too late to save them. Because of the lag-time associated with Climate Change, where the emissions of greenhouse gases stay in our atmosphere and oceans for many, many years, saving these winter businesses should have started long ago. That stored heat, as physics demands, must play out.

This explains the urgency behind the failed Climate Talks at Doha, Qatar last week. The efforts to keep global temperature at or below 2 degrees Celsius ended with only the extension of the Kyoto Protocol that the US didn’t even sign on to, and little more.

A series of reports released during the Doha talks said the world faced the prospect of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2F) of warming, rather than the 2 degree (3.6F) limit that nations adopted in 2010 as a maximum to avoid dangerous changes. (December 9, 2012) Reuters )

This high emissions scenario means that because we are not looking into the near future, but only at our immediate self-interests, it will be too late to stop the inevitable consequences of Climate Change. Like the Northeast winter industries, there will be a lot job losses, failed businesses, not to mention an accelerated warming that will ripple through all levels of our environment because we failed to act in time.

Some shrug this dreary scenario off by a slavish devotion to economics as it is practiced today. “Climate change is like any other business risk – it will create opportunities for some, misfortune for others.” (from Warmer winters threaten Northeast's smaller ski areas) Under a system of economics that only understands the environment as an externality, this is called creative destruction. Creative destruction is economics’ way of saying that you should be thankful to the drunk driver who ran over and paralyzed you because otherwise you wouldn’t have written that book about your experiences and made millions. (True, perhaps, but hopelessly depraved.)

What the idea that ‘Climate Change is just another business risk’ misses is…, well, everything. Climate Change isn’t just another risk; it’s a different kettle of fish altogether. When the whale oil industry, which slaughtered millions of the ocean’s keystone species for their oil to light our lamps, died at the beginning of the Civil War, the other kind of oil (from the ground) took off and now rules the world. Nice for fossil fuels: bad for the whale oil industry. But Climate Change isn’t like the switch from whale oil to petroleum. Climate Change, like a Biblical flood, will take everything in its path—animals, plants, businesses, water, air, agriculture, and our future. There’s no business model for that. There’s not even a nifty economic term for it. The 4 degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of this century that we are headed for is ‘uninhabitable’—a term that doesn’t ever appear in economics textbooks.

Keeping our global temperature at or below 2 degrees Celsius is the hard reality we are up against. Nothing short of it will do. Even creating cap and trade schemes, which pays bankers nicely, probably won’t work. Read Storms of My Grandchildren's Opa 13 December 2012 James Hansen. Or listen to this great podcast from Climate One: James Hansen Receives the Stephen Schneider Climate Science Communication Award. Dr. Hansen nails it.

No amount of denial, foot dragging, small efforts, despair, rationalization, dismissals, blame, or wild business-speak ideas will get the global temperatures back to the Holocene, where we thrived.

In the end of one of the articles I was reading this week on the possible collapse of the winter tourism industries, a commenter lamented, “Every week now, there’s at least one article on Climate Change. How about some real news?” Ya gotta laugh. Inept as many mainstream media outlets are today on covering Climate Change, they won’t be covering this issue less. More awakenings, like the winter tourism industry, are in the pipeline for the future.

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